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7 Easy Ways to Become a Better Listener

Want a no-cost way to improve your relationships? Try listening.

Man cupping ear to listen better.

Truly listening to others may be a lost art. Yet, listening is a key to learning and also a key to showing others they are valuable.

When we listen to someone, we are saying (without words) to that person that he is of value to God and also of worth to us. We know how we'd like others to listen to us, so we can use the Golden Rule approach to improve our listening skills.

1. Desire to understand others.

The simple truth is that if you want to listen to others, you can. Just make an effort.

2. Ask open-ended questions.

Words like "what," "why," and "how" form questions that require more than a yes or no answer. Ask for more information or for clarification. Don't cut off communication by offering advice too quickly.

For instance, an associate says, "I've got a terrible headache." Her coworker replies, "I don't want to hear it unless you've taken an aspirin." The reply cut off communication and probably worsened the headache!

What if the coworker had said something like this: "Yeah, I can see how you are holding your head in your hands. I'm sorry your head hurts. What do you think you should do?" That reply opens communication and shows you care. And rather than dictating a quick fix of medical advice, it leaves the next step to the person whose head hurts.

3. Concentrate on the speaker.

Put down your smartphone when someone speaks to you. Don't answer your cell phone when talking face to face with others.

I have poor hearing in my left ear. Because of that, I cannot hear my wife when the TV is on. When she is talking, I mute the TV so I can concentrate on what she is saying. After all, my wife is more important than the TV.

4. Use reflective responses.

Try using phrases like "Tell me more," or reflect back part of what was said. Rather than thinking about what you will say next, pause to hear fully what the other person says.

For instance, a wife says to her husband: "I think I'll visit my sister for a couple of hours."

Husband: "Your sister?"

Wife: "Yeah, she's feeling kind of lonely, and I believe I can cheer her up."

Husband: "You're good at lifting people's spirits. It's one of your best attributes."

The husband used the reflective approach when he asked, "Your sister?" It may have sounded repetitive, but that let his wife know he heard her. It also gave her the opportunity to say why she needed to go, which then led him to affirm and encourage her. The result? Communication improved. The relationship strengthened.

5. Observe nonverbal messages.

We communicate more nonverbally than we do with words. If you want to explore this, try writing a verbatim report of a recent conversation.

Also, note any nonverbal responses like He turned away from me and stared into his empty coffee cup. Writing verbatim will help you concentrate on both verbal and nonverbal responses.

Ask God for insight to improve your understanding of others.

6. Pay attention to your tone.

Some tones invite communication; others shut it down. Sometime when you're alone, rehearse aloud a conversation you anticipate. What is your tone indicating?

7. Focus on the other person.

Listen for what he believes is important. Rather than focusing on your opinion, center on his point of view. You do not have to agree fully with someone in order to understand him. Active listening lets others know you hear them. To do this, pay close attention, and from time to time, accurately play back to them what you heard.

The Truth about Listening

Listening is active, not passive. Active listening extends the Golden Rule to communication. The key to good listening is considering how you want others to listen to you and then practicing that with them. Golden Rule listening will improve the quality of your relationship with others in your home and on your job.

Article courtesy of Mature Living magazine.

Bill Patterson and his wife, Debbie, live in Henderson, Kentucky, where he is director of missions for the Green Valley Baptist Association.