“He who answers before listening—that is his folly and his shame” (Proverbs 18:13 NIV).
There’s a big difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is simply the vibrations that take place in your ear. Listening is how you decode those vibrations in your brain. Many times I’ve heard my wife, my kids, or someone at my church say something—but I didn’t listen.
Listening is a skill that’s developed through practice, attention, and the desire to learn. Here are four tips to become a better listener.
Withhold judgment and criticism from the start.
Don’t evaluate until you’ve heard and comprehended it all. I’ll admit that this isn’t natural. When someone else is talking and you hear something you disagree with, you’re tempted to say, “Time out! Stop right there! Let’s deal with this.” And you never get any further. But you need to hear the person out.
Many times people just need to unload. Take the time to understand what they’re saying, or any disagreement is your fault (Proverbs 18:13 NIV). When we answer before listening, we’re usually basing our answer on faulty assumptions.
Don’t be distracted by mannerisms or personality. Whenever we listen to somebody who is not presenting what they’re sharing very well, it’s our responsibility to decode what they’re saying. Stop and say to yourself, “What’s the content and what can I learn from this?”
Don’t become defensive. It’s inevitable that you’ll be criticized. The only way to never be criticized is to never do, say, or be anything.
Proverbs 19:11 says, “A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.” If you’re patient, you’re wise. You need to be patient with people who are less mature and who misjudge.
Be an active listener.
You become a good listener by asking creative questions. Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” You can grasp someone’s meaning by listening to what they have to say, but to truly understand their views, you have to ask questions to draw those views out.
How do you do that? Ask clarifying questions: Who? What? When? How? These questions will let those you are listening to know that you are paying attention and want to know what they have to say.
Paraphrase and summarize.
To be a good listener you must be able to tell a person what they’ve just told you before you talk about what you need to talk about. Before you share your side of the story, you need to let the other person know you understand where he or she is coming from by paraphrasing what they’ve just said.