Think about someone you’ve met who immediately made you feel like a friend. What did they do to make you feel like you’d known them for years? Chances are, they made you feel loved by genuinely, effortfully listening to you. We have the opportunity to make that kind of impact on others. The problem is, active listening is far harder than our never-met-a-stranger friends make it seem. Active listening can be situational—we listen to old ladies at church for a different reason than we listen to our boss, our parents, or our team members for a school or work project. However, the basis of genuine listening is the same, and we can use our daily conversations to show a Christ-like attitude to others.
Why to Listen
Prov. 21:23 instructs, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” Listening requires us to close our mouths and open our ears—which, according to this proverb, will keep us out of trouble. Also, when we shift our focus outward to others, we open countless opportunities to learn, as Prov. 19:20 teaches: “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” We have so many opportunities to grow when we open ourselves up to others and listen to their instruction, whether it is verbal or through their examples.
In addition to providing us the opportunity to learn from others, listening allows us to demonstrate Christ-like kindness and humility. Genuinely listening shows others, “I care about you. What you have to say is more important than what I have to say.” That kind of real kindness is evident to those we talk to, whether we are listening to a stranger’s name or a best friend’s story about a stressful day, and it can make an enormous impact.
How to Listen
Listening to others requires a conscious humility. For a moment, our stories, feelings, and preferences have to wait in lieu of caring about those of others. Of course, listening does not require that we give up talking completely; a vital part of active listening is knowing when to talk. Listening ensures that the conversation does not focus entirely on us, and instead focuses on others. Peter described this humble, selfless mindset in 1 Pet. 3:8: “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” The Christ-like attitude that Peter described is not acquired by accident. Listening is a way of showing others brotherly love, and just like acquiring those traits, it takes work.
If you, like me, have trouble actively listening, try this:
- Adopt a humble mindset and value what the other person is saying.
- View the conversation as an opportunity to learn and/or to show a Christ-like kindness and compassion for others.
- Picture yourself in the other person’s situation to better understand the context of the conversation.
Daily, we have opportunities—although not always easy ones—to listen and show Christ’s love to others. Set aside your own stressful day in order to focus on someone else’s struggles. Step out of your comfort zone to talk to a church visitor. Thoughtfully listen to your friend during a tough time. Listening opens doors. It will help us be kinder, more selfless friends, and it allows us to learn from others. It’s not always easy, but it is always worthwhile.