Listening Through Attending Behavior

You need to understand this powerful method of communicating attention (or lack thereof).

Note: This material was originally written to help pastors improve their listening skills during visitations. It also applies to small-group leaders, both during a meeting and in one-on-one conversations.

As a pastor, my responsibilities include visiting the members of my flock inside their homes. I have experienced some success in this part of ministry, but I still find myself apprehensive about visiting people.

Why? Because I'm afraid I won't say the right thing at the right time. Maybe I won't say the appropriate word to calm the grieving widow or counter the objection of the unbeliever. Maybe I won't know what to say during a stretch of seemingly pointless conversation.

I can overcome such fear in one of two ways. I can learn to always say the right thing at the right time—but let's face it, that's never going to happen. Or I can realize that it's not saying the right things, but listening in the right way that's crucial to personal visitation.

I'll take the latter, and not because it's easier—actually, good listening can be grueling. But when I focus on listening to another person, it takes the pressure off me. I become less concerned about myself and more concerned about the person I'm listening to. I don't come as an expert ready to spew forth, but as a learner seeking to discover.

Attending Behavior

One of the most important listening skills I have encountered is attending behavior—the nonverbal parts of conversation. This includes eye contact, facial expressions, and body posture.

Attending behavior, for all its seeming passivity, is a powerful skill. In one experiment, six college students were trained in attending behavior. Then a visiting lecturer, not ...

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