Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

December 2003
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Improving Listening

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

Effective listening is a learned skill; it doesn’t come naturally for most people. The following are some practical steps you can take to become a better listener.

1. Listen more to God. Our sensitivity to others will grow as we become more sensitive to God. Furthermore, the closer we are to Him, the more wisdom we will have to perceive the true message and meaning of others.

I will listen to what God the Lord will say… (Ps. 85:8)

2. Search for something you can learn. Treat everyone you listen to as though he knows something better than you. Make it your point to listen long enough to find that something.
3. Be an active listener. Ask open-ended questions. Look at the speaker and concentrate on what is being said. Make the communication two-way. Ignore the person’s appearance, mannerisms, personality or delivery if they distract you. Focus on content. Reach for the idea that is being conveyed. Help the speaker with your attentiveness and verbal expressions of interest. Restate what you’ve heard to clarify understanding. Be alert to nonverbal communication. Listen between the lines for hidden meanings.
4. Guard yourself. When certain “trigger” words or ideas come up, don’t react emotionally. Bite your tongue when necessary. Watch your tone of voice. Don’t interrupt. Don’t jump to conclusions; hear the person out.
5. Sit or stand at the same level as the speaker. Remove barriers that create distance, such as a desk in-between you.
6. Work at it. Effective listening takes energy and you get better at it as you practice. Prepare for a meeting by studying the subject and thinking about it. Then listen actively and energetically. Afterwards, reflect on how your listening could be improved.
7. Resist external distractions. Sit where you can see and hear without being distracted. Go with the person to a more private place if necessary. If you are in the middle of something, put it on hold. Don’t try to multi-task while you are listening.
8. Give serious matters serious attention. If someone comes to talk about a serious matter, let him know up-front if your time is limited by another commitment. Reschedule if necessary.
9. Take meaningful notes. Make them brief, easy to interpret, and easy to review. Determine what style of note-taking is most practical for you. Be flexible since many speakers do not follow a logical outline; pick out the information that is genuinely useful to you.
10. Capitalize on thought speed. The average talker speaks about 200 words per minute, but a listener can process information at around 300 to 500 words per minute. Instead of using this “time-lag” for daydreaming or other mental tangents, use it for more productive use such as internally summarizing or visualizing what is being said, or associating what is being said with something already stated.
11. Ask others (spouse, friends, coworkers, leaders) how well you obey James 1:19-20. Ask them which areas you are strong in and which you need to work on. Be accountable to others in your listening.

To check your listening effectiveness please use our Listening Effectiveness Inventory.

Here are two practical exercises that will help you improve your listening effectiveness:

Active Listening Exercise.

Silence Exercise.

Our next Leadership Letter will present some guidelines that will help you to be more effective in getting others to listen to you with understanding and reception.

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