Open mind, Open Heart, Open Ears

Listening Well as We Emerge From the Pandemic

As we emerge from the pandemic, each of us is re-learning how to be around each other.

The COVID-19 pandemic demanded we isolate ourselves. Many of us got used to being alone so as we begin to gather together in person again, we are invited to be intentional about being present in relationships. As a pastor who listens to folks as a profession, I thought I’d share some pastoral tips on listening to others. I pray this might be helpful as we all work to re-learn how to be in community together.

In a world where everyone is talking, a listening ear is a precious gift. I invite you to open your mind, heart, and ears to people communicating with you today.

  1. Before your intentional interaction, reflect about times you felt listened to and times you felt ignored. Ask yourself what actions communicated good listening.
  2. Relax. Try not to be anxious. If you are anxious about listening, it shows up in the way you listen. Anxiety is communicated even without words.
  3. Remember your goal. Is your goal to listen or to tell a story? If you have something you want to share, it’s a different posture than if you are approaching an interaction with the goal of listening. If your goal is listening, try to clear your mind and be open to what is communicated. Free yourself of an agenda.
  4. Don’t interrupt. If you’ve got something to say, write it down or just let it pass. Remember why you’re doing this.
  5. Start with a warm-up question. This is a question that can be answered free of emotion but hovers in the area of the target subject. For example, if your goal is to hear about your child’s emotional state at school, start by asking what topics are being taught. Then, when the student starts opening up, you can narrow in the focus to the target topic.
  6. Avoid questions that can be answered with yes or no. Instead of “Was today a good day?” ask, “What were your highs and lows of today?”. When you ask a question that can be answered with a yes or no, the conversation shuts down. When you ask an open-ended question, the conversation opens up.
  7. Use superlatives to get the conversation going.…”What’s the best about_____? What’s the worst about_____? What are you most worried about? What are you most excited about?” Asking about extremes helps open the person up and then you can go deeper.
  8. A good technique for hard, emotional conversations is to stage a parallel activity. When people don’t have to look each other in the eye, it is often easier to speak from the heart. Example of parallel listening activities are: driving and cooking. You are side-by-side but still together.
  9. Remember the parrot. When you are listening to people, it is helpful when you parrot back to them what they said to you. Then they can correct any misunderstandings. 
    If they say, “I had a hard day because….” You can say, “It sounds like you are feeling down because…..Is that right?” This technique affirms their feelings but also lets them know they are being heard.
  10. Practice.

Some of these exercises might feel forced at first, but with practice, you will be able to develop your own listening patterns.

In a world where everyone is talking, a listening ear is a precious gift. I invite you to open your mind, heart, and ears to people communicating with you today.

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