Are you a good listener?
I have recently read a new book “How to Listen” by Katie Columbus. From how to open up a conversation with someone who might be struggling to how to use gentle encouragement to help others share their stories, “How to Listen” demonstrates the power of listening without judgement and draws on the extensive experience of Samaritans in offering practical advice to apply to our own lives.
Samaritans is not a religious organisation, despite the name relating to the Good Samaritan, and being started by a Vicar, Rev Chad Varah. However, I believe the Samaritans listening model can be used in our Christian lives as we talk to our family (including our Church family), friends and the people we come into contact with in our local community.
The Samaritans listening model is:
- Use open questions: such as how, what, where, who and when.
- Summarise: a summary helps to show the individual that you have listened to and understood their circumstances and feelings.
- Reflect: Repeating back a word or phrase encourages the individual to carry on and expand.
- Clarify: Sometimes an individual may gloss over an important point. By exploring these areas further, you can help them clarify these points for themselves.
- Use short words of encouragement: The person may need help to go on with their story.
- React: We need to show that we have understood the situation by reacting to it.
Listening doesn’t just mean a few moments of polite attention before getting on to what we want to say. Active listening is more than just hearing somebody; it involves really concentrating on what the other person is saying and carefully considering the points they are making, without interrupting or offering your own opinion. Lending an ear with empathy, and without judgement or advice, can be the most effective way of helping the person you are talking to. Sometimes it’s enough in that moment to get everything off their chest; at other times the conversation can be a catalyst for them to realise that they need further help and support.
Don’t be afraid of silence – give the person you are listening to the space and time to collect their thoughts.
During the current Covid pandemic, points about body language and eye contact do not seem so relevant in relation to telephone calls, texts or e-mails, but these can be a way of letting somebody know that you care about them.
The following words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel have often been seen as the inspiration for our Pastoral Group: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me”. Maybe we could add “I needed somebody to talk to and you listened to me”.
When we get back to our Church buildings, perhaps we can all try to be better listeners when we talk to people after services or at other church events.