A gifted Psychologist I was once acquainted with departed from his lofty profession and retreated into the business world due to his lamentation that few people entering into therapy want to make needed changes and move into healthier feelings and relationships. He further made the statement that the real individuals in life who would actually get emotionally healthy could do so with the help of a good friend, IF that friend was willing to listen.
Well, now….that really simplifies life doesn’t it? Instead of paying $150 per session for a Licensed Counselor, I can now find a captive audience in my seatmate on a midnight flight to Boston, right? It certainly is a possibility, but having a captive who is not able to get away is not the same as talking with someone who has your best interests in mind and wants to hear your story. Let’s explore the characteristics of a good listener and dissect the attributes of a “Preachifyer” so that we can identify the valued people that we will allow to “speak into our lives.”
So, what is a “Preachifyer” you ask? Preachifyers are individuals that do not adequately listen. They rarely ask questions for clarification. Often, they have already drawn lots of conclusions about you before you’ve even completed your first sentence and will tell you how you are doing life wrong or could be doing it better. Preachifyers aren’t malicious people and may very likely really care about you. They come from a different set of strengths, however. Often, they love to instruct or problem solve. Your challenging behaviors and relationships are opportunities for them to provide you with much needed knowledge that they feel could benefit you if you would only hear them out and apply it. The problem is that they don’t truly know your heart, what you’ve already tried before, and what conclusions you’ve already drawn because they haven’t take the time to hear you out. Instead, they’ve “preachified” before you even got to the main point of what you wanted to express.
I’ve had many of these experiences in my lifetime. You have too. It is always my desire to “relate” to people and I especially strive to draw people in who won’t or can’t make the effort to converse or relate to me. When I do this, I usually share something personal that they can connect to on a relatable level to their own experiences. Being transparent and sharing a vulnerability is often a wonderful technique for working to build relationships and making the other person feel adequately safe and akin to you. However, in a couple of instances, these vulnerable vignettes that I shared were met with scoldings and scriptural verse used to justify their take on what they thought I just said. The funny thing was that they never heard what I truly attempted to convey. None of the things that I shared even came close to sinning or displaying negative behavior. It was quite humorous. Had they actually heard what I was really saying, asked me questions for clarification, or tried to think outside their own experience, they would have heard the depth of what my heart was truly attempting to say.
Many of us are “External Processors.” We do our best thinking and become “unstuck” when we are outwardly sharing a problem or challenge with a good friend or valued listener. The “External Processor” is the converse of those who are “Internal Processors.” Internal Processors are individuals who work out their challenges and conflicts in the quiet recesses of their minds. For us External Processors, we usually come to a healthy way of dealing with a situation or solving it just by talking through all the layers out loud. Specific questions or helpful input posed by a good listener at strategic times also assists us in becoming “unstuck” and surging forward to a satisfying conclusion or answer. A good listener brings us to “catharsis” or emotional relief faster.
Who, then, should you look for when you need to be heard? There are a couple of different personality blends that are more conducive to listening, reflecting, and allowing you to speak your story. Look for individuals, first of all, who give you consistent eye contact. Nothing is more frustrating than sharing your guts with someone whose eyes are darting around the room, seemingly distracted with everything else that is happening around them. This type of response generally makes you feel as though what you have to say is not very important at all.
A good listener might be a little quieter or slower to speak. There is a gentleness and calmness that radiates from their core. When you speak with them, you will find that they do not interrupt you consistently to interject their story or make assumptions about what you are saying. Instead, they will ask a few well-placed questions here and there to clarify what you are really saying. They are attempting to take what you say and relate the information to their own world view. A good listener will often restate what you just said to make sure that they accurately understood the significance.
Good listeners work hard to fully concentrate on what you are saying and are not spending the time in which you are talking formulating what brilliant thing they are going to say next. In fact, many of them have an inward connection to the Holy Spirit and are deeply asking God for the wisdom and insight to hear what you’re saying and respond to each specific need that you are conveying.
Another attribute of a good listener is this key phrase: “Do you just want to be listened to or would you also like some feedback/advice?” This is a profound and powerful question. It is not always easy to decipher from the beginning of a conversation whether a person just needs to be listened to or whether they would also like some input. My husband has learned to be an excellent listener but I have learned that I need to tell him whether I need to be listened to or whether I am looking for a different perspective on my problem. The male population likes to “fix” things. My husband has learned to ask me what I need when we converse.
The last attribute of a good listener is the ability to hold confidences. The information that you have just shared should not be treated in an irreverent manner and shared, even lightly, with other friends and acquaintances. A valuable piece of your soul has just been put on display and that gift is to be treasured and protected. Often, if you share a close relationship to the person’s spouse, the listener will responsibly ask you whether it is okay for them to share it with their spouse or not. There are times you will not mind, and at other times, you will ask them to keep the information strictly between the two of you.
Remember: You have a story. You have depth and experience. If you were only given the time to fully explain your walk and what your needs really are, individuals could more accurately speak into your life. Look for the listeners and the question-askers. They are the ones who deeply care and will wisely speak into your life.
If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.
“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”