Genuine listening requires us to look the person in the eye, convey our interest and attention, hold the look, lean in a little, and say, “How are you?” Then keep quiet. Philosopher Simone Weil said, “The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say, ‘What are you going through?’” Be genuinely interested in hearing the other person’s story—the truth of what is going on right now. Don’t correct, preach, talk over, or editorialize. Don’t offer your own opinions. Just listen to theirs.
If we will genuinely listen to people this way, they will usually tell us how they really are. They may even tell us things that shock us. People become extraordinarily open when they sense we are really paying attention. Try using a couple of phrases liberally while genuinely listening, such as “Wow!” or “That’s really interesting.” This helps us deal with our own desire to respond in the moment without having to hijack the conversation. Genuine listening opens the possibility of entering into an authentic conversation in which we allow God to control the outcome.
Listening is an important skill in all relationships, and it’s exceptionally important for connecting with seekers and non-believers. When they encounter the sacred gift of empathetic listening, they will share their hearts’ true pain, sorrow, and joy because they feel safe.
—Mary Schaller is president of Q Place, a ministry that equips Christians to lead small groups for spiritual seekers. In 2006, Mary graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary with a Masters in Divinity. She is the author of How to Start a Q Place, and the co-author of The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations.