If you want to know the difference between listening and hearing, ask a married couple or parents of teenagers. In their top-ten list of oft-used phrases, you’re not listening to a word I’m saying is number five. There is a difference between hearing and listening.

I learned the lesson of listening well several years ago visiting a grief-stricken family in the church I pastored. They were suffering the tragic loss of their son and I stopped by to check on them. I sat down at seven in the evening and left around eleven and, in that four hours, barely pieced a sentence together. Seriously, other than a brief prayer at the end of the evening for them, I barely said more than ten words in four hours.

As I was leaving, the man said, “Young man, everything you said tonight helped us far more than you will ever know. We will cherish every word you spoke.”

I drove away befuddled; I never said anything of substance. However, the evening spent with them taught me more about the power of lisening well than any book I’ve ever read.

Driving home, I reflected on the conversation to understand what I did to encourage them. Nearly twenty years later, I have observed those who listen well and here are my conclusions:

  • People who listen well:
    • Listen to what is not being said
    • Make eye contact
    • Repeat words they hear the other person speak
    • Ask meaningful questions
    • Probe for further detail when appropriate
    • Empathize with body language (folded arms are a no-no)
    • Act like they care
    • Lean in towards the speaker, instead of leaning away
    • Communicate with facial expressions
    • Pick up on the body language of the speaker
    • Build trust
    • Don’t judge
    • Don’t offer advice unless it’s asked for

The most powerful lesson is this: if you listen well enough, you will help people discover solutions to their own problems.


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