The Lost Art of Listening


Incourage.Me

Lisa-Jo Baker // incourage.me

I was listening to a podcast recently by two of my favorite human beings — Emily P. Freeman of Chatting at the Sky and Myquillyn Smith of The Nesting Place (this podcast is called, Hope*Ologie and I recommend it as a sort of Vitamin D for the soul). Anyway, they were each taking a turn answering listener questions but soon discovered that while one was sharing their answer the other was inevitably not listening because they were too busy trying to think up their own answer.

It made me laugh.

It made them laugh.

Listening to friends laughing while you’re folding laundry is a great way to start a week.

But it got me thinking.

Because some days I think friendship feels like that — one person sharing and another person thinking about what they’re going to say. Instead of listening to what’s being said.

Some days a friend is trying to share and instead of laying down all the things we’re mentally fiddling around with and focusing our heads, hearts, eyes, and mouths at our friend, we’re actually preoccupied with a sort of mental gymnastics planning what WE want to say next.

Sometimes I imagine those conversations like this:

Friend: Gah, I’m so sad today. I feel stupid and dumb at my job, and there’s this weird nagging loneliness I can’t seem to shake.

Me: (internally thinking: Oh man, I know EXACTLY how that feels — this week has been the WORST. Just wait till I tell her about how I blew that deadline and how I’m sure my boss thinks I’m stupid and why won’t my kids go to bed on time anymore.)

Friend takes a breath: —-

Me: Oh man, I know EXACTLY how that feels — this week has been the WORST. Just wait till I tell you about how I blew that deadline and how I’m sure my boss thinks I’m stupid and why won’t my kids go to bed on time anymore.

Friend: (stranded and without a way to steer the conversation back to the encouragement they so desperately need just feels even lonelier instead).

The thing is, sometimes it’s not our turn to talk.

“Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear.” {James 1: 19-21, MSG}

Sometimes, listening is the most powerful gift we can give a friend. Especially when they’re trying to share something that feels vulnerable to them or that feels vulnerable to us — for example, when they feel misunderstood and they’re trying to tell us about it.

912015_Lisa-Jo_Baker_picnic table with friends

Because sometimes our determination to speak before we’re properly done listening is an act of self-defense. We load our responses, our arguments, and our words up in front of us to block out what’s being said and lob our own point of view out into the conversation instead.

Nothing will shut down true communication faster.

But nothing will disarm a friend more than the grace you grant them when you listen with palms up and walls down — inviting their hurt or their joy, their exhaustion or their delight, their fear or their fun, into your own self so you can understand it from the inside out.

Nothing is more powerful than giving someone the gift of truly hearing them without tagging on your own conditions, explanations, or justifications.

Here are three easy ways to put this into practice:

1. Listen to the whole story before you start formulating a response.

2. Ask follow-up questions.

3. Repeat the key parts of what you heard, empathizing with them.

Question for you: What makes you feel truly heard? Let’s crowd-source some of the best ways we can revive the lost art of listening well.