No one wants to be around someone who doesn’t listen to them. Right? It’s hard to connect and trust someone when you find out later they didn’t hear a word you said! That’s why it’s so important that you hear the words the students in your group have to say. Let them know you care enough to give them your full attention. This is called being an active listener.
Active listening is more than just listening to the words people say (the content). It also involves listening to the feelings and attitudes behind the words. It includes observing the facial features, tone of voice, and body language of the other person. In fact experts say that only 7% of communication is verbal, the other 93% is made up of non-verbal stuff (body language, etc.)!
For example, suppose a friend of yours runs up to you smiling and says excitedly, “You wanna hear some wild news?” You probably can’t wait to hear what they’re about to say! But suppose they walk up to you slowly saying the same thing in a low tone with a downcast face. You’d probably be wishing you could crawl in a hole.
So the key to being a good listener is to listen with your eyes and heart as well as your ears. But how is this done? Being a good or active listener is not as easy as it looks. Fortunately there are some ways you can improve your listening skills if you’re willing to put in a little effort.
Try these tips to become an active listener:
1. Give good eye contact.Focus all your attention on the person talking to you.
2. Try hard to not interrupt them.Resist the urge to jump in on their conversation. Let them finish their thought.
3. Give an occasional nod or a positive comment.You could say, “I see what you mean.” Or add a probing thought like “Go on,” “Tell me more,” or “What happened next?”
4. Give feedback to the person to help clarify their feelings, behaviors and thinking.This might seem awkward at first, but it really helps in communication. Experts call it “mirroring.”
You try to repeat back what you think the person said in a conversational style. For example, your friend says to you “This school stinks.” The content is: School is a bummer. But the feelings are: “I’ve had a rotten day.” You could mirror what they said back to them by saying: “Sounds like you had a bad day today. What happened?” In this case you responded to the feeling expressed rather than to the content.
Remember the first time you ever tried a new skill? You probably had to mess up and try again many times before you got it right. Some of these new listening skills may seem difficult at first but by practicing them over and over you will gain confidence and the ability to use them. So jump in there and give it a try.
By improving your listening skills you will be more effective in ministering to students. As someone once said, “People don’t care what you know, until they know you care.” Once students know you understand them, they will be more than willing to hear what you have to say. This will give you more opportunities to have an impact on their lives.