Developing Healthy Relationships by Listening

a male walking down a carpeted hallway

When pastoring, I would often tell myself to walk slowly when leaving the worship service. Just a quick “hello” to someone, addressing another by name, or asking brief questions about a parishioner’s week can often hold deep meaning to a person. Over and over again I have heard a word, detected a voice tone, seen an expression on someone’s face, or a tear in an eye that has given me insight into someone’s heart. Taking the few seconds to “hear” your people can be a wonderful gift and a clue for pastors when meeting the needs of their congregation members.

People often communicate without words. Our family members give us signals all the time. The church board, the staff, parishioners, other pastors, even the people who serve us at the grocery store are communicating continually. Are we listening? 

Leadership coach and author, Glen Liopis, reminds us, “Listening is a leadership responsibility that does not appear in the job description. Those who do listen to their employees are in a much better position to lead the increasingly diverse and multigenerational workforce. The “one-approach-fits-all” way of thinking has become outdated and those who embrace the high art of listening are destined to be the better, more compassionate leaders.Liopis, Glen, Forbes 6 Ways Effective Listening Can Make You a Better Leader 5/20/13.(

  • 85% of what we know we’ve learned through listening.
  • Humans generally listen at a 25% comprehension rate.
  • In a typical business day, we spend 45% of our time listening, 30% talking, 16% reading, and 9% writing.
  • Less than 2% of all professionals have had formal education or training to understand and improve listening skills and techniques Ibid

Listening includes using intuition, reading body language, and hearing voice tones all while paying attention to the words someone is speaking. All of us have a “third ear” that hears communication by focusing on more than just words. If we’re careful to pay attention, we’ll understand with greater accuracy what others are really saying, or are trying to say.

The person you’re talking to mostly wants to talk about what is on his or her mind

Many, perhaps most, people are lonely.  Few people have others who really listen to them and hear what they want to say. Pastors and church leaders are often lonely. They desire to talk about their lives, their tastes, and their views. To the extent that you let them do that, you facilitate conversation.

He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame.
~ Proverbs 18:13

Listening takes discipline, focus and concentration

I understand that our minds can process thoughts at least four times faster than the average person can speak. If we’re not careful, there’s a lot of opportunity for a listener to get bored. We can use this extra attention span for listening to what the speaker is not saying with his or her words but with body language: eyes, lips, hand movements, posture, etc. Our intuition, our emotional intelligence, is a gift that we can develop.

 Establish a sense of common ground

If the person is from Washington state, talk about how often you’ve been to Washington (if you’ve been there) or how beautiful it is. If they’ve experienced a recent loss, briefly explain a loss you’ve had. If you sense that you’re not on common ground ask them what they do for a living. Have them explain how their job works, what they do for fun, or their hobby. This will build a sense of rapport.

People love to hear kind, affirming, and encouraging words

Honest, kind words give people encouragement and energy. Talk about how beautiful their home area is or offer compliments about something else. If they react negatively to compliments, move on to another non-threatening area, such as what they enjoy doing with their free time, or etc.

 Our comments about ourselves should be brief

Don’t respond to a question about where you’re from with a long, detailed answer about all the places you’ve been. Answer in detail only if the person asks for detail. Try to remind yourself that this conversation is about them, not you.

Keep the focus off of you

Don’t brag unless you do it in a funny way. Don’t tell people how much money you make or how expensive your car or home is. Remember that name-dropping usually makes others feel inadequate or defensive. Don’t tell people how cool you are. No one likes a braggart. No one likes to feel small compared with someone else.

 As a pastor or leader, we are a normal person talking to a normal person

We all have idiosyncrasies and challenges, as well as hopes and dreams. Trying to find common ground as a human being will be disarming.

If you talk about current issues, do so in a genial, friendly way

Certainly, as Christ followers we have convictions, doctrinal beliefs, and strong opinions – but when listening to others, we want to take time to hear and develop a healthy relationship. Arguments about religion, politics, or the news can increase tension. Just smile and at times laugh throughout the discussion to keep it light. If the person you’re talking to insists on saying provocative things, change the subject.

Be aware of the person’s time and energy

Make whatever points you want to make in a hurry, and then leave. Everyone’s time is valuable. He or she could need to move on because of an appointment, a priority item, or a monetary concern that is important to them or to you. You oblige people by saving their time.

Listening, observing, and perceiving are all skills that look very different from being aggressive. When we listen, we desire to hear the other person’s opinion, to sense the person’s heart, and to understand him or her. God listens to us, and we can develop our ability to hear those around us. This gift of listening could be a life changer to someone who has trusted us to hear his or her story.

About the Author 

Dr. Wayde Goodall is a member of the Church Growth International Board (CGI) under the direction of Pastor Yonggi Cho, and an adjunct professor at several Christian universities and seminaries. For the last seven years, he served as Dean of the College of Ministry at Northwest University in Kirkland, WA. Founder of Worldwide Family, Inc. and Integrity Coaching international, he is a frequent global speaker on topics such as men's issues, business and church leadership, pastoral care, and marriage and family.

© 2018 Focus on the Family.

You Might Also Like: