Years ago, my church decided to contact former members to find out why they’d left. Before starting the process, two church members went to Befriender’s for some intensive training on how to listen. When they returned, we who were on the committee to interview the former members spent about six months of weekly sessions to learn the proper way to accomplish the task.
All that to say that listening is far more than just a simple act. It seems to be an art and a science wrapped up tightly together. Anyone can do it. Few do it well. You see, the problem is that you need to ignore actions like talking, suggesting, interrupting, fixing, waiting for the next pause in the conversation so you can suggest, fix, or re-direct the flow of the conversation. For most of us, this is difficult. For some it’s impossible. It took our committee six months to get to the point where we could do nothing but listen and encourage the talker to say more, and to do it naturally.
The results of our training were positive. We learned that very few left for the reasons you would expect, like not being able to stand the sermons. There was usually a circumstance involving family where the support expected from the church was not up to expectations. Had the church members listened better, the family might still be sitting in the pews. Listening is essential, folks.
Let me repeat. True, pure listening is essential. It’s crucial!
In our day-to-day living, in our jobs, in our families, in our churches, even in casual contact at the grocery store, an attentive ear can bring peace to a broken heart or a stressed out friend. Many times a well-intended suggestion, a potential solution, a direction based on personal experience – all these can lead to further frustration on the part of the person sharing. Always, I think, these responses are given with the best of intentions. But realize, the person spilling their guts already knows the solution. They don’t need you to tell it to them. They already know. They just aren’t ready to do what they know has to be done. Silence on the listener’s part, broken only by encouraging the sharer to share more, is what needs to be present. They will leave thanking you for just being there, and might be just as grateful for a hug before you walk away.
The process is simple but extremely difficult. It takes courage to listen well. It takes forgetting all the things you should be doing and being present in the other person’s life for a short time. The benefits are joy-filled for both of you.
Oh! You’re wondering how to start these conversations? Just a simple, “Hi! How are you?”
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