There is GREAT power in a GOOD question. But GOOD questions without GREAT listening only patronizes the other. Most of us are good at listening with our ears. But, listening with our hearts is different and more difficult. People can feel the vast difference between the two, though they may not have the language for it.
David Augsburger says, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” Listening well is so important in making people feel safe and loved, but it is not easy.
The following concept has helped me. Let’s call it “360º Listening” — listening for what you hear coming from every direction. It looks like this:
LISTEN LONG: It takes many people time to gather their thoughts and get them out. Stop rushing people. Keep waiting. Allow for awkward silence. Often, the most important things are shared after enough patience and space has been created for it to flow out.
LISTEN DEEP: There is always more going on under the surface. Proverbs 20:5 says that the heart of a human is like a deep well; one who has insight draws it out. Using that analogy it may come out one small bucket at a time. Don’t listen for what is only laying at the surface. Listen deeper.
LISTEN WIDE: Often when we practice good listening and make people feel safe, stuff will come out of LEFT field or enter from stage RIGHT that feels like it came out of nowhere. Watch for this stuff— it matters. And it is often much more connected to what is going on than it seems at first. Welcome “unrelated” ideas and let them find their way into the story you are listening to discern.
LISTEN BACKWARDS: Often when we create a safe place for people to be heard, stuff comes up from the past that may have nothing to do with you or the present situation, but simply remind the sharer of a past pain. Sometime what we hear when we listen well is some history that matters in the present. Let it in, and be careful not to shut it down when you initially don’t see the connect.
LISTEN FORWARDS: Sometimes we will hear fear of the future as we listen. What if that happens again? Where is all of this going? Remember in practicing good listening, we allow the freedom for them to bring what is real and mattering to them into a safe space. Don’t underestimate the power of listening with the heart…long, deep, wide, backwards, forwards.