Have you ever been part of a conversation where it’s obvious the other person doesn’t understand your point? Have you ever stopped at that moment to wonder if you’re truly listening to their perspective?
Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.—Stephen R. Covey
The truth is, it’s easier to hear than to speak, but it’s hard to listen with the desire to understand and appreciate.
I think gratitude plays an important role in improving our listening skills. And as a result of becoming better listeners, we will also become more grateful.
The Importance of Listening
Here are five reasons why listening plays an important role in our lives. All of these lead to increased gratitude.
#1: Active listening increases personal well-being.
We all long to feel connected and appreciated. When people listen carefully to us, we feel esteemed, understood, and valued. The results are improved emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical health.
Michael Hyatt teaches the power of listening in artful conversations. I remember having lunch with him. It was perhaps one of the greatest experiences I’ve had of someone being genuinely interested in me. It left me feeling important, appreciated, and seen.
“One of the greatest gifts any of us can ever receive is the gift of listening. It is also one of the greatest gifts we can ever give. Unfortunately, it appears to be a lost art.”—Michael Hyatt
#2: Listening makes us a better friend, spouse, and coworker.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Half-eared listening despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person.”
On the other hand, good listening shows the heart of God. Jesus said the second greatest Commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves. So if we want others to listen and appreciate us, we also turn around and listen to them.
This requires patience, especially when we’ve already decided we don’t agree with them. The smarter you are, the harder this may be. But realize that when we choose to not listen, we diminish the other person, who is also created in God’s image.
#3: Listening helps us appreciate perspectives different from our own.
Perspective bias seems to be more deeply reinforced by the abundance of media outlets available today. We listen increasingly to those we agree with, and we change the channels on those we disagree with.
Unfortunately, we do that in our relationships as well. We shut down people we can’t tolerate.
Good listening opens us to understand and appreciate viewpoints different from our own. Scientists know to avoid confirmation bias by considering many approaches for understanding data. Likewise, we continue to grow in knowledge, insight, and relationships as we appreciate various points of view.
#4: Listening opens doors for ministry.
Bonhoeffer writes, “We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.” David Mathis adds, “The best ministry you might do today is to listen to someone’s pain all the way to the bottom.”
I can’t shake the image of our friend Becky, who gave her undivided attention to listen to me and then shared a verse that will stick with me for a long time. Her example challenges me to listen more for God’s voice throughout the day.
#5: Deep listening helps us to hear God’s voice.
Bonhoefer challenges us with these riveting words:
“He who can no longer listen to his brother will soon no longer listen to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God. . . . Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to (remain) quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.”—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
In contrast, when we remain quiet, we will learn to hear God’s voice.
7 tips on listening that lead to gratitude
Here are 7 quick tips to help you listen better, which then can lead to increased gratefulness.
#1: Turn off all distractions
It’s hard to listen well if you’re regularly distracted by text messages, notifications, or phone calls. I notice my counselor friends are very good at turning all their devices, but they still have an emergency line for those rare calls that need to interrupt.
I was interviewing a guest recently when his children texted him in the middle of the call. It took him a few minutes to get refocused. Illustrating this, Cal Newport contends it can take up to 45 minutes to get our flow back after a disruption.
#2: Be still
What stillness looks like for you may be different than for me. Sometimes, I do my best listening while I’m walking. Other times, I need to be absolutely still. The point is, don’t try to multitask. Give your full attention to the other person or God.
#3: Be curious
“The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water,” says Proverbs 20:5 (ESV), “but a man of understanding will draw it out.” Good listening involves asking great questions. That’s what Michael Hyatt did during that lunch. He had done some homework, but he then started asking lots of inviting questions. The conversation was engaging and energizing.
#4: Restate what you’ve heard
This step may be the hardest and the most often skipped. We think we’ve understood the other person, so we jump right into responding. Mark Oelze suggests that we take time to repeat back in our own words to make sure we’ve understood. Let the other person clarify if you’ve misunderstood.
#5: Resist the temptation to disprove, correct, or argue
One of the reasons conversations become debates is many of us are prone to argue instead of understand. Resist this temptation. Run from it. Keep listening.
#6: Seek to appreciate why this person believes what they do
Instead of debating, seek to appreciate. Try to step into their shoes and see things from their perspective. What can you learn from them? Keep asking questions.
#7: Express gratitude for the uniqueness of the other person
Before asking for permission to share your perspective—if that’s even relevant—affirm the other person. Express gratefulness for who they are and acknowledge the perspective they hold, even if you don’t agree with it.
Seek to have one grateful conversation today where you assume a listener’s posture the entire time. To keep yourself focused, simply lean in and keep your eyes fixed on the other person. Try to implement even one or two of these suggested tips. Let me know how it goes.
Father, I thank you that you perfectly listen to me. Teach me to hear your voice and to patiently pay attention to those around me. Show me how to quiet my thoughts so I can focus on their thoughts and intentions. I pray you will break down the walls of hostility that so often divide me from others. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.