Learning to Listen as a Leader
By Filoiann Wiedenhoff
People say that listening is an art form, that not everyone can do it, or that it takes a "special" person to be a good listener. Although I will say that some people are better at listening than others, I disagree that it is a gift.
I believe everyone has the ability to listen, if they wanted to. Even Jesus speaks it many times to the church, that "All who have an ear let him hear what the Spirit is saying." Well, we all have ears, and that was Jesus' point. He gave us two ears and one mouth, and that alone should tell us something.
The Bible says be swift to hear and slow to speak. The word "swift" means to be capable of moving at a quick speed. In other words, be quick to listen and hear what's being said to you. There are many times we want to rush to say something, give our opinion or make a point, and the entire time we're not listening to the other person. Furthermore, in reality we are preparing in our mind what we want to say next, so we really don't hear everything the other person said.
If people knew that half of the time people aren't listening to them, they probably would never want to speak to us again. It's a good thing people can't read minds or we would never have any friends. The point is, listening is something we have to be willing to learn how to do and practice.
Listening does not come naturally to most of us. If it did, I believe there would be more lay counselors and ministers reaching out. I say this because sometimes the best medicine you could ever give someone is your ear to listen and your shoulder to cry on. They don't want you to fix their problem as much as they need someone to talk to and someone to care.
So how can we become better listeners?
Ask God to help you to listen and hear what the person is saying, and ask God to give you wisdom and discernment. By saying a silent prayer to God at that moment, you are doing three things. You are asking God to help you listen; you are inviting the Holy Spirit into your conversation; and you are listening to what the Spirit wants to say to them through the wisdom God gives you.
If someone approaches you while you are among a group of people, tell them to hold their thought as you take them five or ten steps away from everyone else. This will not only help you to listen more intently, without distractions, but it will also send a message to others around you that you are having a private conversation.
Try to restrain from interrupting the other person, but stay focused on listening to what they are saying. The most common occurrence is after someone speaks two or three words we automatically want to chime in with a solution or opinion. This is where you practice restraint and allow the person to finish their thought or what they want to say. By doing this, you will get the full picture of what is going on or see the bigger picture. You will then be able to minister effectively because you have listened intently; focusing on what was said, and even noticing what wasn't said, but the Holy Spirit has given you wisdom.
Find the Purpose
As you are listening, also listen for clues to why they are talking to you and what they need from you. Do they need prayer? Are they coming to you for comfort? Are they just venting and need a sounding board? Do they need assurance about something they are struggling with? Do they just need someone to listen? Do they need encouragement? By understanding their purpose in coming to you, you can then respond appropriately.
Don't Make Assumptions
I can't stress this enough--DO NOT ASSUME ANYTHING. Making assumptions, or having pre-conceived ideas about someone or their situation, is bringing your own thoughts, ideas and opinions into their situation. This can lead you off track spiritually. Biblically, our thoughts, opinions and ideas mean nothing and amount to nothing. The Bible says that wisdom comes from above; it comes from God, and it is God Who gives us His divine wisdom through the Holy Spirit and His Word. By jumping to conclusions, we short circuit what God wants to speak or do for the other person through His Word. At the same time, we stop listening to the Holy Spirit because we are then drawing from our own conclusions on the matter, and not God's.
Listen with Compassion
Having compassion with humility of heart will help you to relax and listen patiently. We are in a "tyranny of the urgent" society, and if someone takes longer than a minute to finish their thought, our minds start wandering and we try to cut the conversation short. Remember that people matter to God more than your time. We all have places to go and things to do, but five or ten minutes of your time to listen and talk to someone could make all the difference in the world to that person's life. It could actually change their life; not because you are that good, but because God's ministering power is at work through you to them.
If you follow all the previous steps, you will be able to respond in the Spirit and biblically. Not hyper-spiritually but biblically and practically. Encourage them, offer comfort and hope for their situation, or if they just want someone to listen, offer to pray for them. Sometimes that's all they really want--someone to listen and pray for them.
If, after listening, you feel you have a situation where you don't know what to say, be honest and offer to pray for them, comfort them and direct them to someone who can help them. Being a good listener sometimes is all they need. They will appreciate your time more than anything else, and your honesty.
Know God's Voice
One of the most important parts of ministering is hearing God's voice because you want to minister His Words and not your own. So how do you do this? Jesus said that the sheep know His voice. They know His voice because they know Him. They have been cared for by Him, fed by Him and loved by Him, and they know Him intimately. Just as a child knows their father's voice, so the sheep know the Shepherd's voice. It comes by knowing God through His Word and spending intimate time with Him daily.
When you hear a voice speak in your heart, and it not only matches with God's Word but is pure, full of love, and unselfish, it usually is God. What does the Bible say about wisdom from above? It is first of all pure. You have to test everything, especially if you are not used to hearing His voice. The most important thing is to know God's Word and know God intimately, and begin to listen to His still, small voice, knowing He is faithful. Pray and ask God to help you discern between your voice and His.
Continue to practice listening every chance you get. You will find that as you practice focusing, and listening patiently and prayerfully, you will become a good listener before you know it. It will not only make you more effective in ministering but also more selfless and compassionate because listening is more about doing for others and less about you.
FILOIANN M. WIEDENHOFF is a pastor's wife, work at home mom, Woman's Biblical Counselor, Bible teacher and writer. To read more by Filoiann, please visit her website at http://filoiannwiedenhoff.com/