It is so much easier to talk about people than to listen to people.
Wise people recognize the importance of listening. Benjamin Disraeli was "one of the shrewdest men who ever ruled the British Empire." He said, "Talk to people about themselves, and they will listen for hours."1 Isaac F. Marcosson, a journalist who interviewed hundreds of celebrities, noted that, "the ability to listen seems rarer than almost any other good trait."2
Many people find it hard to listen because they are "drunk with a sense of their own importance."3 Not Paul. Here was a man who was extremely busy, but not too busy to listen. We see this in Acts 17. Paul is in Athens on one of his missionary journeys. Even in the midst of his cross country travels and church planting efforts he took time to listen. I think it is part of what God used to make him so effective in reaching people with the Good News.
So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. . . . And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. Acts 17:22-23; 18:4 ESV
Paul loved people enough to enter into their world.
- He looked (For as I passed along).
- He observed (and observed the object of your worship).
- Then he talked (this I proclaim to you).
Paul looked, observed, and then talked. This is a great pattern to follow.
When Paul talked it was a dialogue, not a monologue. Interestingly, the word for reasoned is DIALEGOMAI, the word from which we get DIALOGUE. It means to discuss, to debate, to reason with. This takes a listening ear.
Recently, Michael Hyatt released a post entitled, 5 Strategies For Becoming A Better Conversationalist. His comments are a great reminder for anyone who wants to be a better conversationalist. You'll notice that the list begins with the word, "listen."
- Listen with your heart. Words are a small part of any communication. The intellectual exchange is only part of the exercise. You can pick up a lot by paying attention to the non-verbal cues, including the other person’s eyes, their tone of voice, and their body language.
- Be aware of how much you are talking. I try to talk in sound bites. Frankly, I learned this from doing hundreds of radio and TV interviews through the years. If I didn’t periodically stop talking and give the interviewers a chance to speak, they weren’t bashful about interrupting me or bringing the interview to a close. People are more polite, but you can still lose them, as the would-be consultant did with me.
- Hit the ball back over the net. Nothing communicates value and respect to a person more than asking them what they think. Unless you’re giving a formal speech, every encounter should be a dialogue. That means you have to consciously hit the ball back over the net and give the other person a chance to respond. The best way to do this is with thoughtful questions.
- Ask follow-up questions. The best listeners I know never stop with just one question. Like peeling an onion, they ask follow-up questions, going deeper each time. This is where you learn the most and where you tap into the possibility to add real value to the other person’s life. One question I like to ask is this, “How did it make you feel when that happened?”
- Provide positive feedback. A “poker-face” may help when you are playing cards, but it does not help build trust or develop relationships. People need to know that you are listening and understand them. Nodding your head and providing verbal affirmation are critical skills that anyone can learn, but they must be cultivated.
Many people call a doctor when all they really need is a listening ear.
They need it! You've got it! Take time to listen to others today and watch what God does!
1 Dale Carnegie, How To Win Friends And Influence People. New York: Simon & Schuster. Revised ed. 1981. Page 141.2How To Win Friends And Influence People, page 121. 3 How To Win Friends, page 123.