John said to his wife, “You’re the engineer of a train. There are 22 people on board. At the first stop, 3 passengers get off and 8 get on. At the next stop, 10 passengers get off and 3 get on. What is the name of the engineer?”
Scowling John’s wife says, “How should I know?” John looks at her and says, “See, you don’t listen! I said at the beginning, “You’re the engineer of a train.”
3 Reasons Why We Struggle When Listening to People
This silly story illustrates a simple point. Many people don’t listen. Even when are “listening” to those we are closest to we have a hard time listening. Let’s get some facts out there then on to some practical ways to improve your listening skills.
- We talk at a rate of 125 words per minute but can comprehend 400 words per minute.1
- Less than 2 percent of people have had any formal education on how to listen.2
- Images reside in your long-term memory, whereas words live in your short term memory.2
So if you can listen and comprehend up to 400 words per minute we still have over 65% of our ability to listen available. This makes it challenging to pay attention at times. If you’ve ever found yourself eavesdropping on a friend’s conversation you’ve engaged that extra 65 percent.
The other reality many people face is not having any formal training. If you think about it, there aren’t too many experts in any field that have no formal training. Listening is no exception.
The third fact this post will focus on is imagery and comprehension. Words can make an impression and may even illicit an emotional response, but when you pair this related imagery the long-term memory kicks in. Smells and touch can have the same effect. If you want to listen well or keep people’s attention try using as many senses as you can.
3 Verses to Help You Be A Better Listening
The Bible serves as one of the best sources for instruction in life. On the subject of listening, there are no less than 73 verses on listening. Here are 3 verses that help point us to be better listeners. Or as Webster says: give one’s attention to a sound.
In James 1:19-20 we learn to wait before we speak. My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
Chew on the words of these verses for a bit, “everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” So much of the time we speak too quickly and under false assumptions. Let’s start by being quick to listen, not quick to speak.
At a very young age, Jesus was adept at engaging by listening and asking questions. In Luke 2:46 we read, Then, after three days they found Him [Jesus] in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.
Jesus teaches us here to listen intently and to ask great questions. He sat among the experts in their field and learned a great deal from them. In the context, you later discover Jesus, as a young boy, had great insight to offer as well. Sometimes even the teacher needs to listen.
Proverbs 3:1-2 My child, remember my teachings and instructions and obey them completely. They will help you live a long and prosperous life. The writer of this proverb is showing us the value of reviewing and remembering the things we are told.
In these verses, we learn to wait and be quick to listen not to speak. Second, to listen and ask questions. Lastly, to review and remember the things we are told and taught. Let’s dive deeper into the concept of the WISER way to listen.
Wait Your Turn
When we take the time to sit back and listen and observe we can do these next four things. If we don’t wait our turn and are constantly biding our time to respond, we can’t and won’t be able to truly listen. Waiting your turn allows you to listen intently and respond slowly.
One of the best ways to wait is to assume the person talking doesn’t want to hear what you have to say. This can be hard because often silence will follow when someone finishes speaking. But if someone really wants your input, they will generally ask for it.
Recognize, though, waiting to talk is different than asking questions or clarifying their meaning by summarizing what was said. The next way to really listen to someone is to use your imagination.
Use Your Imagination
A good story transports you to a different place. Your mind is engaged beyond the words and you begin to “see and feel” the story. You begin to experience the context of the story in a deeper way, seeing, touching, hearing, tasting, and smelling the story being told.
We can do this when we listen to others. Even if the story is simple. A friend begins to tell you about a breakup they are going through, so you imagine yourself in the room they had the tough conversation. You begin to imagine the attitudes and words. You can insert yourself into the emotions of the context. Begin to put yourself in her shoes.
Summarize What You’ve Heard
When we put ourselves in their shoes and have the scenario in our imagination, we can summarize what we have heard to them. Summarizing is arguably the best first response to what someone has said. It clarifies and shows you caught the main points, and most importantly, it shows you care.
The summary doesn’t have to be perfect or hit on every point. It just needs to highlight what matters in the context of the conversation and situation. When we do this we have truly begun to engage the speaker and the situation. The key with summaries is making sure you share them when it makes sense. Waiting until the speaker is done with what they have to say.
Engage The Speaker
The last piece of the listening part of the WISER way to listen is engaging the person speaking. There are many ways to engage someone that is talking. And many of them don’t require words. You can nod your head, shake your head, frown, smile, laugh, take a note, and of course ask a question.
When we engage without words, it allows the person speaking to feel comfortable continuing. It provides intermittent feedback to make sure you’re on the same page. With that said, listening to someone does not exclude the asking of questions. Sometimes asking questions is the most effective way to engage the speaker and listen to their story.
When each of these first four steps is used properly, the final step ensures you have truly listened and can retain what you were told.
Review The Conversation
Research has shown that taking notes and reflecting on conversations or content 10 minutes later, a day later, a week later, and periodically afterward will help you recall the information. This will help lock in the information into your long-term memory. If we aren’t reviewing the information we hear or aren’t able to recall the information, are we really listening?
When you listen the WISER way, take the time to review and evaluate what was said. Listening requires work, but the work will pay off in amazing ways. From deeper relationships to better business negotiations, listening intently and responding slowly is worth the work it takes.
The WISER way to listen
Wait for permission to speak and be okay with silence. Imagine their story, use all your senses. Summarize what has been said, when appropriate. Engage by asking questions, take notes, make noises, eye contact. Review what you heard later that day so you can recall what you heard.
Who is the best listener in your life? How do you know he/she is a good listener?