7 Tips for Becoming a Better Listener

My friend and I were standing in the hallway at church. It had been a hard week, and I was sharing something particularly troubling. Although she had said yes when I asked if she had a minute to talk, I could tell almost immediately that I did not have her full attention. Every few seconds her gaze would slide past me to a point somewhere behind my head. Her eyes scanned the crowd milling around us. Every now and then she’d smile at someone walking by, and once she even waved silently. Then her eyes would slide back to mine, and she’d frown in mock concentration and nod sympathetically. 

I thanked her for her time and ended the “conversation” as quickly as I could. It was apparent to me that she was not listening. 

Before I come down too hard on my friend, I need to admit that I’m not always the best listener either. Always mindful of the next thing on my To Do list, sometimes I fail to give the person in front of me my full attention. I’ll check email on my phone while my husband’s trying to tell me about his day. I’ll mentally write my grocery list while eating lunch with a friend. Sometimes I’ve even stooped so low as to send a quick text message during church. 

I suspect I’m not alone in my less-than-stellar listening. This is why I’ve dedicated this post to the skill of listening.  I call it a skill, because while some people are naturally good listeners, it is possible for the rest of us to learn to listen well.

A wise man once said, “A conversation begins when the first person listens,” and I agree. Listening comforts, validates, empowers, and encourages. James, the brother of the Lord, exhorts us:

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). 

If you have a friend with the gift of listening, you are truly blessed. She doesn’t even have to say anything to help you feel better—her listening ear is often enough to part the clouds and let the sun shine in. 

I want to be this kind of friend, and I suspect you do, too. 

In an effort to become the best speaker I can for the Lord, I am a member of Toastmasters International. While preparing for a recent presentation, I discovered several helpful tips for becoming a better listener. I share these, with my comments added, from the Toastmasters International Competent Leaders manual. 

7 Tips for Becoming a Better Listener

1. Keep an open mind. 

Avoid making assumptions and judgments before the speaker is finished speaking. This is especially important when dealing with our loved ones. Oftentimes we feel like we know them so well that we are able to accurately predict what’s coming next. Listening all the way to the end will often pleasantly surprise us. 

2. Maintain eye contact. 

Give the speaker your full attention. My opening example and the fact that I still recall the feeling of being marginalized long after the encounter demonstrates how important eye contact is to the listening process. 

3. Watch your body language. 

Uncross your arms (even if you’re feeling defensive), lean forward, nod, and smile when appropriate. Using your body language to communicate openness and engagement often speaks more powerfully than our words. 

4. Listen for key ideas and full understanding. 

I’m easily distracted by details, so I find it especially important to listen intentionally for the main points. 

5. Rephrase what the speaker is saying. 

This is a great technique to affirm and clarify. Capturing the essence of a person's thoughts and mirroring it conveys your understanding and gives your speaker a chance to clarify anything you’ve misunderstood. 

6. Ask questions. 

Another technique for clarification, asking questions can also help you understand more fully. 

7. Evaluate. 

This is probably the most challenging part of listening—thinking about what someone has said before firing off a response. To pause and think honors the speaker and allows the Holy Spirit time to help you give you a wise answer. And sometimes the wisest answer of all is to listen well and say nothing. 

“Listen, my son, and be wise,” Proverbs 23:19 reminds us. 

Will you join me in this challenge to honor our friends, family, and Lord by listening well? 

What about you? Has someone blessed you by listening well? I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment below and share your thoughts. If you’re reading by email, CLICK HERE, scroll to the end of the post, and click Comments to share. 

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  1. Listening is so important! No one wants to talk to someone who isn't listening, and you can't connect with someone if you or he won't listen. I think smart phones have hurt our communicating skills as you mentioned. Thankfully, my friends don't feel the need to check their phones every five minutes so we can have meaningful conversation without being interrupted by our phones.

    1. I agree, Nikki, smart phones are a distraction from face to face conversations and such a temptation. I know one wise family who requires everyone to drop their cell phones in a basket as they sit down to family dinner. They stay there until the meal is done, greatly enhancing the interaction around the table. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!