Increase Care in Sunday School by Becoming Better Listeners, Part 1

Thursday 19th March, 2009

I just received an e-mail newsletter (A Love Language Minute) from Dr. Gary Chapman. The title of the e-mail is How to Be a Good Listener. In the e-mail newsletter, Dr. Chapman focuses on ways to address quality time, one of the five love languages. Since that is one of my love languages, I read the newsletter with heightened interest.

Then I began thinking about how his eight points also apply in our conversations, interactions, and relationships in Sunday School. What if class members became better listeners? What if we listened better to each other? What if we listened better to guests, prospects, and even those who crossed our paths? What if were able to be more sensitive to needs expressed? What if learners listened better in class to the teacher and each other? What if the teacher also listened better to attenders before, during, and after class? Most importantly, what if we became better listeners with God? The possibilities boggle my mind.

With those questions in mind, let me share the first four of Dr. Chapman's eight steps "to become a sympathetic listener." His steps are shared in all capitals followed by my commentary:

  • MAINTAIN EYE CONTACT WHEN YOU ARE LISTENING TO SOMEONE. Good listening requires being really present with someone and focus. Practice giving the talker your complete attention. If you are not looking into the eyes or face of the person who is speaking, you are much more likely to become distracted. And the person will not feel you are listening. Your facial expressions become even more critical in the communicator's ability to discern whether you are understanding his/her message. I liked Dr. Chapman's statement, "Refrain from rolling your eyes in disgust, closing your eyes when they give you a low blog, looking over their head, or staring at their shoes when they are talking."
  • DON'T ENGAGE IN OTHER ACTIVITIES WHILE YOU ARE LISTENING TO ANOTHER INDIVIDUAL. This is important face-to-face and by phone. There is so much that is missed when we are busy doing something else while "trying" to listen. It is much easier to miss feelings and details when we allow our listening to become diluted by other activities. And a perception of care is communicated simply by the fact that we are giving our complete attention to the individual.
  • LISTEN FOR FEELINGS. This is yet another reason to maintain eye contact and avoid other activities. Feelings are often spoken between the words. This is part of the 93% of communication that is nonverbal. This requires listening for inflections and speed of delivery of words as well as body language and facial expression. This is often easier with more frequent interactions, but may require that we ask questions to clarify feelings. Questions attempting to discern feelings not only communicate that we are listening but that we care.
  • OBSERVE BODY LANGUAGE. Watch the talker's posture and facial expression. Changes can signal a change in emotion. Dr. Chapman states, "Clenched fists, trembling hands, furrowed brows, and eye movement may give glues as to what the person is feeling." But don't assume a message on the basis of words or body language. Check it out. As Dr. Chapman explains, "Sometimes body language speaks one message while words speak another." Ask questions to verify what is being communicated.
In Part 2, I will share Dr. Chapman's final four steps to coming a sympathetic listener. Imagine what might happen if your class became better listeners. In th e meantime, choose one of the first four steps for you (or your class as a whole) to give greater attention to this week. Set a goal to focus on and improve that step. When your listening improves, your care naturally is better. Listen. Care. Be revolutionary!

For more ideas about listening, check out these blog posts:

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