Do you think you are a good listener? Most people, like the mother who scolded to control her upset son, are not. She was in the “Critical Parent” ego state, and thus unable to understand or encourage her son. When we are in this state of mind, or in the “Not-OK Child” ego state, we are just going with our judgments and feelings, and we cannot listen. Nor love. The famous theologian Paul Tillich said, “The first duty of love is to listen.” Love means caring, trying to understand, forgiving when you don’t feel like it, going the extra mile, turning on acceptance. How well do you listen when you’re mad?
We should realize listening is WORK; takes time and energy. You try to grasp the perceptions and feelings of another person, which may be different from your own. Poor listeners are afraid that listening means giving in. Good listening is actually strong, even creative.
Don’t be afraid to change, through what you might hear. This can be tough, because our beliefs are tied to our self-image. And it’s not easy to be open to criticisms.
Don’t interrupt. We might try to get our point across before we forget it, or we get upset upon hearing something we disagree with, and so want to quickly correct the other person. Trust life and God; pray—you’ll get your chance to make your points. Remember: listening is loving.
Concentrate: give the talker good eye contact, undivided attention; silence cellphones. If half your attention is focused elsewhere, he/she may feel somehow cheated. Also notice the body language and eye movements of the talker; tension and other feelings are important. “You look really upset; care to talk about it?”
Have an accepting, non-judgmental attitude. The founder of “Non-directive counseling,” used “Active Listening”. Carl Rogers stressed the importance of unconditional positive regard, and the importance of paraphrasing back to the talker what they are saying. It’s like a hand pump: you take the water that’s already come out, and pour it back in to prime it for more. Draw the talker out.
If something puzzles you, ask questions. Over and over Proverbs says seek understanding. Also be humble, open to new ideas, unlike the narcissist who has to impress with his knowledge.
Look for common ground with the other person. (The root of communication is “common”, or “to share”.) Be curious; ask open-ended questions about things you might have in common, or know little about, with a taxi-driver or family member. Often it’ll lead to deeper thoughts and feelings.
Use relevant self-disclosure. Suppose your boy comes home from school upset because his teacher scolded him. What if you said, “I remember back when I was in grade school, I got into trouble once too—it felt awful!” Can you see how this could help him feel better and talk about it rationally, in the “adult”?
Finally, the “neighbor” we’re told to love “as yourself” may be in our home, and even God is a listener! (Ex 3: 5; Ps. 94: 9)