There are so many things that could go on a list of important skills to develop when building or establishing a relationship. I've been counseling for over ten years, and all of the supposed words of wisdom that I've uttered since that day pale in comparison to the good that this single skill has accomplished in my counseling and personal relationships.
What is the most important social skill? Here it is: the art of listening.
There have been innumerable times, it seems, that people have stepped into my office with a problem that they don't know how to handle. They sit down with a defeated air, a strained expression, and hopeless eyes. I begin, "What can I do for you?" And they begin to talk. They talk. I listen. So many times they stand up after the session is over with a completely different attitude. "Preacher," they say, "you've been so helpful. Thank you so much. I feel so much better." I may have said all of a dozen words, but just having someone who was interested in their problem did the most good. Just having someone willing to listen is all that most people need.
Recently, a very distraught young lady called me with a problem. The problem was with someone else in our Church, and she began with the statement, "I can't go back to that Church anymore." I asked her if she'd like to talk about it. She indicated she would, so I scheduled a time for her to come on down when my wife would be around. She arrived and I asked her, "Could you tell me about it?" She did, and as she talked everything changed. She went from 'that Church'to 'our Church' by the time the conversation was over. I talked some, but mostly I just listened. She decided she didn't want to leave after all.
Finding someone who will listen, and I mean really listen, is a very rare skill now a days. We seem to want to say our peace, give our opinion, and insert our notions into a conversation. Few people know how to turn the mouth off and the ears on.
There is significantly more to listening than merely hearing what someone is saying. I'd like to give you a few suggestions and tips, if you'll hear me out, that'll help you develop this essential social and communication skill.
LOOK THEM IN THE EYE
How many times have you sought to talk to someone who was looking somewhere else? Frustrating isn't it? We often demand that our children look at us when we talk to them, because if we can't see the eyes, we feel they aren't listening.
Look someone in the eye when they are talking to you. Give them your undivided attention. It'll do wonders for how people perceive you.
Nod in the appropriate place, or shake your head when it is called for. Add a helpful, "Wow," or a, "That's interesting," or a, "I'm sorry," comment here and there.
Make sure that your facial expression reflects the fact that you are listening. Don't stare off into the distance, or fiddle with your fingers, or tap your foot impatiently. Look patient and interested. Give them your full ear and attention.
ASK SMALL, CLARIFIYING QUESTIONS
This is important. When someone is talking, only ever interrupt to ask small, clarifying questions that demonstrate your willingness to listen to them. Doing this also accomplishes two other very important things.
First, it shows them that you care. People who don't care, don't care enough to ask questions. When someone cares for you they inquire after your health, or ask about your family, or ask your opinion on something. When listening to someone ask questions that show how much you care. People always gravitate to that.
Secondly, it steers the conversation towards the best resolution. When someone is hurting, excited, or struggling they often can't see the problem clearly. Since you don't have as much of an emotional stake in the issue, you will probably see it better than they do. That being the case, your questions gently steer them towards the obvious resolution.
Most people know what needs to be done with a problem. But while under the emotional impact of the problem, they become paralyzed or befuddled in their thinking. Asking these questions helps steer them to what they know they should do. Many times I just end up agreeing with their final analysis after asking some very appropriate questions that gets them to think better about the issue.
The art of listening is an essential skill for anyone who wants to help build their relationships, endear people to them, and foster trust between two people. If married couples would take the time to listen to each other they would find a significant portion of their problems evaporate.
A good listener makes people feel secure, loved, cared for, and accepted. Give it a try. You'll like it.
Greg S. Baker is a Pastor, Counselor, and Author specializing in building and strengthening relationships.
Please visit our website at: fitlyspoken.org
For more books and resources on how to communicate better, express yourself, and strengthen social skills. Check out our book, 'Fitly Spoken', a Christian based book that explores the intricacies of human communication and expression in relationships.