Men and the Art of Listening
We’ve all experienced talking to someone who isn’t listening. And we’ve also been the distracted or inattentive one. As Christian men, perfecting the art of listening has deep implications for how we build meaningful relationships and the kingdom of God.
By the Man in the Mirror Team
The world today is moving at a frenetic pace. So much so that we rarely stop to listen to each other.
We’ve all been in conversations with someone we felt wasn’t listening. The body language appears jittery, they keep looking at their watch or at other people around them, they nod and say mmhmm—but we feel like a stranger talking to a wall.
Listening is a skill sorely missing in today’s world. It’s even more of an issue for us as men when it comes to how we relate to one another. We may excel at small talk, sports talk, and other brief conversations, but struggle to connect on a deeper level as brothers in Christ.
To listen is to love. To listen, therefore, is to love another as Christ loves us.
The Character of a Listener
One of the most beautiful characteristics of God is that He listens to us.To listen is to love.Click To Tweet
1 John 5:14 says, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.”
We are told to go boldly before the throne of God to tell Him our needs. Such is God’s heart that even in all His omnipotent glory, He still makes time to listen to His children.
How much more then should we strive to be good listeners? Allowing someone to open up and share their life with us communicates the simple truth: you matter and I care about your life.
We are called to be men of godly character, and that includes our ability and willingness to listen. Central to the art of listening is humility.
To cultivate humility is to cultivate godly character. The Bible tells us that those who have humility have wisdom (Proverbs 11:2). Paul tells us to be completely humble (Ephesians 4:2) and to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit (Philippians 2:3). And we are to clothe ourselves in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Colossians 3:12). In fact, Paul never stops encouraging Christians to slow down, hold our tongues, and be humble.
Being humble listeners does not mean that our opinions or advice aren’t valuable. But it does mean that regularly demonstrating the simple art of listening is part of what it means to live a godly life, doing everything in love.
Listening with Compassion
When we are with someone who is processing something difficult, compassion can often look like listening without feeling compelled to solve or advise.Such is God’s heart that even in all His omnipotent glory, He still makes time to listen to His children.Click To Tweet
Women tend to instinctively be better at this form of listening. They can talk for hours and not necessarily be focused on sharing information. Instead, they are sharing their experiences, processing emotions, and letting out everything on their minds.
Often, they don’t expect a lot of pushback or solutions to be offered. They just want their friends to listen and empathize.
While we are not suggesting men have to converse in the same ways as women, we need to be able to talk freely with a friend and know we’ve been heard. It may look like venting, getting something off your chest, or saying what you really think without fear of judgment or rebuke.
But we need friends we can complain to and confide in. And we need to be that friend to others, offering a compassionate, confidential ear.
3 Steps to Better Listening
If you want to become a better listener, here are three steps that are crucial to cultivating godly humility and compassion in your conversations with other men.
1) Ask open questions.
Sometimes all you need to do is offer questions that men can answer with honesty and vulnerability, such as:
- How are you feeling about that?
- You said __________. Can you say more about that?
- What do you think you need or want in this situation right now?
- What would help right now?
- Is this driving you crazy right now?
- Have you talked to anyone else about this?
One of our team members shared a story about an active listening workshop that took place at his previous church in Jacksonville. They paired participants up, with one given the role of “talker” and the other of “listener.”
A timer was set for 10 minutes, during which the listener could only ask open-ended, follow-up questions. Easier said than done!
But the impact was profound. With three minutes still on the clock, the person talking began to cry because he felt so overcome by the experience. He’d never been given the space to talk in this way or had someone care enough to be intentional in asking him to expand on his feelings, thoughts, and experiences.
2) Wait in the awkward silences.
Plenty of us struggle to sit in silence while someone is thinking. Even more so if they are emotional and need a minute to gather their words.
It can be tempting to launch into those moments and try to fix it or give answers—to try to say something to make it less awkward.
Avoid this at all costs. Let the silence be a chance to honor your brother in Christ and allow him to say what he needs to say.
Have you ever played the game Telephone? You think you’re communicating one thing to the person next to you, only to realize they heard something much different. The same can happen in our regular conversations.
One skill you can practice to combat these kinds of misunderstandings is to ask questions and then repeat back what you heard. The purpose of this is to confirm you understood.
A phrase you can use is, “What I hear you saying is…”
You can also repeat the whole story using the salient points from what he just said. Be sure that he agrees with you, and if he alters your clarification, be sure to acknowledge the change.
The Art of Listening
A thriving relationship is one in which we can listen without judgment. Where we can love each other by having the humility to simply listen. Whether the matter on a person’s plate is relatively light or overwhelmingly heavy, it’s a privilege to enter into it by humbly letting them talk and listening with compassion.
This is an art form that we as Christian men have a responsibility to hone. And if your skills in listening and asking questions are sharp, then you will be a more effective friend, colleague, spouse, and father.
THE BIG IDEA: To listen is to love, and doing it well demonstrates the heart of God.