Are You a Good Listener?


G.K. Chesterton has said, “There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.” I agree.

If you have been reading my recent posted articles, you are aware there has been a theme about listening. Yes, I have been reading an outstanding book about listening, The Listening Life, by Adam McHugh, but this is a subject and area that has been a keen interest of mine for likely the whole of my life.

If I were to ask you if you were a good listener, many (if not most) of you would say you are a “decent” or “pretty good” listener. Some of us may be and so we are factually answering the question. More of us are not but know we should be good listeners, or we want to be good listeners. No matter where we are on the continuum, ALL of us can grow in this area.

I am not giving you a “listening quotient” quiz, but perhaps you can assess how you’re doing by looking at some of the traits of a good listener and how you fit with each one.

A good listener

Doesn’t try to rescue, correct, evaluate, impart knowledge, or fix others. It can be so very easy (often with good intentions) to do just that. The problem is that it seems to position us as someone above the one we are listening to and suggests we know more, are better equipped, and thus covertly devalues the person. Adam McHugh writes that it can seem as if we are “standing over people rather than sitting with them”.

A good listener

Seeks to spend time with great, seasoned listeners. We can learn more from them than any book with a list of techniques. How do we know if they are a great listener? One way is how we feel when we are with them. They make us feel as if they have heard our hearts, not just our words. Their questions are not casual because they desire first to truly know us. They never try to dominate the conversation or manipulate us.

A good listener

Is not one who seeks to “one up” me when I share, nor are they waiting to turn the conversation back to them. They do not try to project who they are onto me  to suggest they understand me perfectly because of that same experience or feeling. They also do not make me feel as if I am sitting at the FBI being grilled and questioned because they are just curious, looking for information, or because they read a book that said asking questions was a key to good listening.

A good listener

Remembers the conversation is not about him or her. Even though he or she may be eager to share something, they are focused first and foremost on the interests, needs, heart, and spirit of the other person. When we ask open questions (ones that cannot be answered by “yes” or “no”), we show true interest in the person versus asking questions out of courtesy so we can get back to talking about ourselves.

A good listener

Seeks to understand before being understood. If you have gone through the Stephen Covey material (Seven Habits of Highly Effective People), you know that is one of the habits you are taught. Covey reminds us that “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

A good listener

Doesn’t assume they know you so well they have nothing more to learn. They are open to surprise and hoping to know you more deeply as the relationship grows. They are willing to listen a long time and savor the nuggets of the essence of who we are.

A good listener

Even listens to the silence when it occurs and listens to the tone, the emotions behind and in the words, the feelings behind the thoughts, the things that seem to be left unsaid without pushing the person to say them. They hear our doubts and uncertainties even if we have not succinctly stated them.

A good listener

Knows that conversation is (as McHugh says) “a sacred art”. McHugh further states: “Sacred conversation seeks to listen for that divine drama, that redemptive story, the tale of lost and found again that is written in our souls. With this perspective, a conversation does not have one speaker and one listener but always two listeners. When two or more listen in his name, Jesus listens too.”

A good listener

Is patient and listens long when we are in pain. They know themselves and the Lord well enough that they can be present with us without expectation or a desire to escape since they cannot fix us.

They do not rush to quote scripture passages or ask how they can pray for us. They instead take time to respect, honor, and value us by listening long and well. They know what we experience matters and has meaning for us. Too often Christians stumble with timing here and offer truth before they offer their hearts and ears. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because Christians are talking when they should be listening.”

Of course, there are more qualities that describe good listening, but those I have mentioned are certainly key.

Learn to be quiet enough to hear the genuine within yourself so that you can hear it in others.” Marian Wright Edelmann


6 thoughts on “Are You a Good Listener?

  1. I love that we’re writing about the same thing this week, friend. It makes me smile when I think of how our paths have continued to cross through the years. I hope you are well …


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