I had a different blog post written and ready to go today, but life turned upside down here this weekend and it will have to wait for a different day.
I live in Aurora, Colorado. If that doesn’t ring a bell you haven’t been watching the news. I’ve been here two years. I love Colorado and I have come to love Aurora. It is the biggest city I’ve ever lived in and incredibly diverse, which is one of the things I love. More than 50 languages are spoken here. Beyond that, it’s a city like any other.
Until Friday. At 12:30 Friday morning a person (who shall not be honored with a name) opened fire in a movie theater, killing 12 and injuring 71. And wounding the hearts and spirits of thousands more.
I am thankful not to have been there and thankful that neither my children nor the youth with whom I am privileged to work did not go either. But they had friends who went. And some of those friends were among the dead and the wounded.
This isn’t about the facts of what happened. Unless you live under a rock you probably know the facts. You know about the guns and the bullets and the bombs and the booby traps. I’d be perfectly happy never to hear about those things again.
Today was the first day I spent with my youth (I am a church youth leader). They talked about Friday and talked and talked. I think they would have talked all day. My heart hurt for them. I could not do anything to shelter them from the pain of a world turned upside down, but it is my job to help them turn it right side up. And the only way I know to do that is to listen.
Just listening can solve a multitude of problems. For teens, especially girls, one of the most common ways they process things is by talking about them. But talking isn’t going to help them unless there is someone there to listen. Thankfully, I’ve had a lot of practice at listening over the years (I’ve been working with youth & teens nearly all of my adult life).
Here are a few of things I have learned about how to be a better listener.
Allow the speaker to finish what they have to say before you respond. Cutting them off tells them that you are more interested in what you have to say than what they do.
Pay attention to both the verbal and non-verbal communication
Listen not only to the words, but also to the body language. Observing carefully while listening fully can tell you far more than words alone.
Suspend your judgment
If we listen without judging we often understand far more than we would otherwise.
Avoid external distractions—be present in the moment.
Listening is active. If you are busy thinking about what you’re going to say or what you’re going to fix for dinner or making a mental grocery list, you aren’t listening.
Don’t be in a rush to respond.
Silence is ok. In fact, it is an essential part of listening. When you wait until the other person is done speaking and then take a few moments to carefully compose your response you’ll find you end up with a much more thoughtful and productive conversation.
If you don’t understand the speaker’s position or what they’re saying, politely ask questions to get clarification. Paraphrasing their words is an excellent way to do this. Thoughtful questions can only be formed through thoughtful listening.
How are your listening skills? What are some of your best tips for being a better listener? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below.