Jesus listened. He was in the moment, totally focused on whoever was in front of Him. Sometimes He was listening when no one thought He was, like when He overheard James and John debating who would be the greatest.
When I’m with my group, I put my own life on hold. I want to use every available ounce of energy I have to focus on these guys . . . to hear what they’re saying . . . and to understand where they’re coming from. And I want to teach them to do the same.
Many years ago, my company engaged a consultant to teach us all to be better listeners. He showed us three levels of listening . . . attending, content, and feeling. I understand there are even more, but these three helped me immensely. Here’s what each entails. . .
Attending – The most basic listening skill, attending, has to do with our physical positioning. When I attend to someone, I face them, maintain good eye contact, and show them with my body that I’m paying attention. I’m not looking at the papers on the table in front of me. I’m not looking at my phone or out the window. I’m looking at them. My hands are quiet. I’m not fidgeting . . . tapping my fingers or my foot. I’m physically focused on the person I’m listening to. Everyone can do this one. Try it with your wife and kids, then with friends and coworkers.
Content – Next, focus on the content of what they’re saying. Word-for-word, track the exact words they say, trying not to interpret or read between the lines. The content of what a person is saying is just that. It doesn’t include their feelings about what they’re saying, and it doesn’t include your interpretation of what they’re saying (or trying to say). It’s what they’re literally saying, as a court reporter would type it. Practice this by repeating what they say . . . “You said _______.” You’ll quickly see just how hard it is to really listen.
Feeling – We are always feeling something. And when we are talking, we are feeling something as we’re communicating. If I’m telling you about the birth of my new granddaughter, I’m feeling “happy” because grandkids are so much fun. Or, if I’m describing her delivery, I may be feeling “relieved,” as she is healthy, and both she and her mother are doing fine. We’re always communicating a feeling when we talk, and the best listeners are those who can read those feelings and connect with them. You can practice this one by paying close attention to the person who’s speaking. Then, at the appropriate time, say back to them, “You feel _______” and use the feeling word you think describes how they feel right now, as they’re telling you their story. You’ll be amazed at how hard it is to guess what they’re feeling. But when you demonstrate that you heard what they said and connected with their feelings, they’ll respond, sometimes powerfully. We all love to be heard and understood.
And understanding is the ultimate goal of a good listener, a good husband, boss, friend, or mentor.
I want to really understand you . . . what you’re saying . . . what you’re feeling . . . and what you mean. If I understand you, then I might be able to help you. At a minimum, you’ll feel my love because I listened to you.
And in our fast-paced culture, it’s rare when someone listens to you well enough to understand what you’re saying and how you really feel.
Mentor Tip: Incorporate listening skills into your mentoring season. Take some time during one of your meetings to have your mentees practice with each other. And then have them go home and practice with their wives. Here’s the full exercise if you want to see it or print it out.
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