Getting Better At Listening By Going Overboard

better listening

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion (Proverbs 18:2)

“Just as love to God begins with listening to his Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them” (Bonhoeffer)

The Problem

It’s become a major objective of mine to become actively intentional about everything that I do; everything that is of importance and priority in my life. 

I’ve been working through a helpful book in order to improve my conversational skills and have come to understand that one of the most important characteristics of any conversation is listening, a practice that I am actually horrible at. 

In fact, I am one of those dreaded people who is thinking of what to say next the whole time the other person is talking instead of listening intently at what is being said. This is a distraction for both parties. It communicates to the other person that I am not concerned about what they are saying and it keeps me from understanding them in order to create a more meaningful conversation. 

The Plan

So I took some time to consider why this is and why, even if I set off in the morning with the goal of being a better listener, I at some point lose focus and forget it. Considering this, and considering my disposition, I concluded that the only way to succeed at this is to go overboard. 

Sometimes we have to plan to overdo things in order to ensure they at least get done.

So what was the conclusion? This:

To become a better listener by entering into or starting every conversation with the exclusive intention of listening. 

This will be the primary focus of every interaction. This will be the primary goal of every interaction. In doing so, in going “overboard,” this will assure that it, at a minimum, gets done.

The Three Outcomes

In taking this approach, I hope to ensure three things:

  1. That I am genuinely and thoughtfully listening. I told my wife a while back that I was done with small talk; that I would rather sit in silence then have a meaningless conversation. One way to ensure a meaningful conversation is to listen thoughtfully and attentively to the other person. This allows you to ask meaningful follow up questions directed back at them which discourages small talk. Most importantly this shows that you care about and value that person and what they have to say. 
  2. That I am not talking too much. Many of us have a tendency to always shift the conversation back to ourselves or our own stories or experiences, even when the topic has nothing to do with us. Also, many of us find the need to fill any hint of silence with more small talk. I often do this by adding more useless small talk to fill those gaps. By having the exclusive intention of listening, I can allow for the other person to carry the conversation and limit my own ramblings to what is actually important and relevant. 
  3. That the conversation flows naturally. So this begs the question: When will you get to talk? Well, the answer to this question comes naturally and organically. You talk when you are asked something or when the opportunity presents itself to further the immediate conversation. It ensures that you stay on topic. It ensures further, meaningful dialogue. Nothing is forced.

Conclusion

For many of you, this “overboard” approach is not needed. You are already good at listening or find it easy to be intentional about doing so. However, if this is a weakness of yours, like it is to me, maybe you also need to go overboard to ensure the minimum gets done.

 

How have you become a better listener? How do you remind yourself daily to be intentional about this? Let me know about it in the comments.