Becoming a Good Listener
By Norma Kelly
Who listened to you as a child? As a teenager? As an adult? How did it feel to be listened to and how did it feel when you were not listened to?
The greatest gift we can give another person is to share the love of Christ. One of the other great gifts is listening. It’s the highest form of hospitality – the gift of ourselves – our time, our full attention, our energy. The depth and quality of our relationships will be determined by our ability to listen.
Each Friday, I have the privilege of listening to women in a low security prison in central Florida. The style of listening I apply is active, reflective listening, reflecting back the major points of the woman’s story. By doing so, she is assured that I have understood her.
During the session I engage in three-dimensional listening: listening to God, listening to the woman, and listening to myself.
1. Listening to God on behalf of the woman calls for spiritual sensitivity and discernment. After reflecting back the woman’s story, I often speak a word of encouragement and blessing into her life. If she has difficulty focusing and maintaining continuity in her story, I may encourage her to spend time in silence in God’s presence, meditating on a Bible verse such as Psalm 46:10:
“Be still and know that I am God.”
If I discern from God that a woman needs to talk about a family member who has died while she has been incarcerated, I may say, “Tell me about your mother. What kind of person was she?”
2. Listen to the woman. Listening means I do not interrupt her, I do not finish her sentence, I do not provide the word she is searching for, I do not say, “I have had the same experience, let me tell you about it!” Instead I maintain appropriate eye contact and listen – to the language she uses, her tone of voice, her facial expressions, her tears, her silences. I listen in order to understand her story and reflect it back accurately.
3. Listen to yourself. Every womans’s story takes its toll on me. When I reach home on Friday afternoon, I am exhausted! One woman’s story touched on a struggle to find acceptance by her father. Suddenly her story became my story. I was aware of familiar painful emotions rising within me. I acknowledged them inwardly and after the listening session, I took them to God. A trusted friend also provided input as I shared the impact that the listening session had on me.
I feel honored to be available to these women during a very vulnerable and heart-rending time in their lives and to witness the healing power of three-dimensional-listening – a priceless gift that we can extend to our daily relationships.