How to be a better listener: part 2

I had a walk and a coffee with my good friend Sarah yesterday and once again I was blown away at how well she listened to my ramblings. At the end I felt heard, affirmed and loved.

And it's not just me she's great with. Apparently people regularly begin to 'unburden' themselves to her within the space of five minutes.

So in the interests of us all learning how to be better listeners, I thought I'd ask my friend a few questions about this amazing gift she has.


Is being a good listener something that you've consciously tried to cultivate? And if so, from what age?

No, it's not something I've tried to cultivate until the last couple of years. I spent some time a few years ago doing some pastoral care training at our local hospital in order to visit the maternity unit there as a pastoral carer.

I had this huge connection with all I was hearing about pastoral care and felt that this was something I felt very drawn to, and passionate about walking with people in such momentus times in their lives (both in joy and sorrow), and I loved the idea of sitting and listening to people.

One of the most delightful images I had of this process was of a stomach all churned up, and a head in chaos, but as people talk through their 'churnings', it's a way to clear the head and often a way forward became clear to themselves. I love being part of helping someone in that process. I've been very much helped by that process myself.

[source]Were there people in your own life who taught you about good listening?

My mum. I can picture her many a time on the phone giving sympathic 'mmm' sounds as someone obviously unburdened to them. And then of course she was like that with me - giving me the space to talk, asking questions and giving me lots of affirming 'yes' and 'mmm' s. I also had a chuckle to myself when I did the course that I mentioned above, because I was the youngest by far, but here I was with a whole stack of older me's, as we listened to each other as we would talk through what we were learning.

What do you actually do in your process of listening?

I guess if I think about it, I am trying to get a better idea of what a person is struggling with (and when I think about it, it's often the burdens I am listening to with friends), and trying to draw out how it's making them feel, why and how are they going to keep on living in that.

I do sometimes consciously swallow my own story that relates, or the fact that I would like to unburden myself, as I feel it would stop the flow of the person talking and it's not about me anyway. If someone divulges something fairly hefty, and I'm wondering in my head what the heck should I say, I sometimes remember to pray to God for words to help, but also I find mirroring back what the person might be feeling helps the conversation to keep going.

Are there any downsides to being a good listener?

Not very often. Sometimes the weight of someone's problem might get to me, but I'm getting better at listening without feeling like I have to 'fix' anything, and in fact knowing that listening can be such a help and also bring on the person who is talking some sense of clarity and comfort. The huge benefits is that I feel I have many rich and honest friendships, which I love.

What are your biggest temptations as you listen to other people?

Sometimes within myself, I have to stop comparing myself with people and feeling better about myself because I'm not struggling like that other person - so that's pride I would think. The other temptation is to make myself look like I'm having a harder time of it by weaving in my story, but then that can shut down conversations.

How do you want people to listen to you?

Well, like my mum listened to me. And no doubt my mum, who has built her life on Jesus, built her listening on putting others interests and needs in front of her own. I don't want people to fix my problems (on the whole), I want people just to understand my pain, check up on me after they've listened so that I know they are still thinking about me, and walk with me in it.

For Part 1 of how to be a better listener click here