Years ago, my company at the time engaged a consultant to teach us all to be better listeners. He taught us three levels of listening . . . attending, content, and feeling. I understand there are even more, but these three have helped me immensely, even to this day. Let me explain . . .
Attending – The most basic listening skill, attending has to do with our physical positioning. When I ‘attend’ to someone, I simply 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 the text message I just received. I’m not looking 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 your kids and then with the people at work and your friends.
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 just what they’re saying, just as it would be typed by a court reporter. Practice this by repeating what they say . . . “I just heard you say _______.” You’ll quickly see just how hard it is to really, 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 about the birth of my 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, has all of her faculties, 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’ that you think describes how they feel right now, as they’re telling you their story. You’ll be amazed at a couple of things . . . how hard it is to come up with a good word to guess at what they’re feeling, and the powerful emotional response they have when you get it right! When you demonstrate that you heard what someone said and connected with their feelings, they’ll respond . . . and sometimes powerfully. Because people love to be heard and understood.
And understanding is the ultimate goal of a good listener . . . of a good husband, mentor, boss, or friend.
I want to really understand you . . . what you’re saying . . . what you’re feeling . . . and what you really mean by what you’re saying. If I understand you, then I might be able to encourage you. At a minimum, you’ll feel my love because I listened to you.
And in our 21st century culture, it’s very rare when someone listens to you well enough to understand what you’re saying and how you really feel.
Scripture: To answer before listening—that is folly and shame. (Proverbs 18:13)
Mentor Tip: The most important thing you’re going to do as you start to mentor is listen. The mentor who is talking is not a great mentor.
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