As Christians, I think our neglect of the second greatest commandment – “love your neighbor as yourself” and Philippians 2:3 – “count others more significant than yourselves” can often come in the form of a failure to really listen to others. When it comes to love, listening takes a backseat to speaking which is more active and obvious. It’s much easier to tell when someone isn’t loving you with their words because words are objective and simpler to interpret, so we spend more energy choosing our words carefully. But many of us have gotten into some bad habits when it comes to listening and I think people notice more than they let on. With that in mind, here are a few ways we can seek to love people more with our ears.
1) Give a summary statement – Discipline yourself to follow a person’s conversational trajectory close enough to be able to give a one-sentence summary in reply, then ask if you got it right. This will show the person that you were purposefully tracking with him instead of daydreaming about something lame like stadium nachos. The person will then be free to continue, or you can insert an opinion or observation.
2) Ask questions – As a person is talking to you, think of appropriate questions to ask him about the content of what he is saying. This communicates a greater interest in that person and it shows that you’re not simply waiting for him to stop talking so you can finally speak your mind.
3) Don’t look away – Unless you’ve got a toddler you’re keeping an eye on or the curtains next to you just burst into flames, then keep your eyes on the person talking to you. If your eyes are constantly darting toward every movement in the room, then you are communicating that you think your time would be better spent doing something else.
4) Reference your conversation at a later time – Doing this will communicate that what the person said affected you beyond your five-minute conversation. The next time you see the person say something like “I was thinking about what you said last week and I realized…”
5) View your conversation more like volleyball than bowling – Bowling is a one-sided game. One person pounds the pins with a 15-pound ball, but the pins don’t send it back. Volleyball, on the other hand, is two-sided. One team cannot keep the ball on their side of the net for very long before sending it across, and then the other side must do the same. Similarly, when you are given an opportunity to speak in conversation, respond directly to what the person has said and, before too long, send the conversation back to him. A conversation is not the same as a lecture; if we are going to love with our ears, we cannot monopolize the exchange.