Small groups thrive in an environment of care and trust. Such an environment takes time to develop. It is tested in times of conflict and stress in the lives of group members. Postive responses during these moments include understanding, attention, and empathy.
In addition, an environment of care and trust is best nurtured where the leader models good listening and leads participants to practice the same. Michael Mack has a well written articled entitled 10 Ways to be a Better Listener. I want to share his ten practical tips for improving our listening habits in this two-part series. In Part 1, I will share his first five tips in all capitals followed by my commentary:
- BE QUIET. Often group leaders don't feel like they are leading unless they are talking. The best group leaders, however, are often facilitators of the encounter with God in His Word and of the group experience. That means listening with attention is essential, redirecting conversation when needed. Good icebreakers and questions are natural ways to launch the group into group time.
- TRY TO UNDERSTAND. I like what Mack said here, "The goal of listening is to understand what the person is really saying." Lead the group by looking at the person who is talking. Give attention with your eyes and body language. Ask questions when needed to clarify what was said. Repeat what was said when it would be helpful.
- ELIMINATE DISTRACTIONS. I remember visiting a home in which the mother was being distracted by two preschoolers. I sat in the floor with the preschoolers and we looked at a book while the other two who were with me were able to make the visit with the mother with fewer distractions. Encourage the group to turn off their cell phones. Turn off the television. Close doors.
- EMPATHIZE. A good listener will respond with more than agreement, more than monotone, more than "Uh, huh." Mack said, "'That sounds exciting!' or 'That must have been a hard decision to make' are good examples of how to show empathy." Listen beyond the words for the feelings and emotions. Attempt to understand the dynamics at play. Help the person realize that you are accepting him/her and what he/she said by your responses.
- DON'T JUDGE. This is challenging but important. Listen without judgment even if you don't agree. As Mack put it, "Don't condone sin, of course, but recognize the difference between acceptance and approval." Accept the person and and their pain. Listen. Respond but don't push them away.
In Part 2, we will look at Mack's final five tips for improving our listening habits. In the meantime, how do you measure up? Which of the five listed above would you consider to be your strengths? Which one(s) needs a little more work? What can you do for this week's group time to work on this area? Listen to God. Listen to your group. Lead your group to listen to God and each other. Be revolutionary!