Hospitality Hints is a monthly feature on our blog with some helpful tips for being hospitable in everyday life. Our hints may involve inviting people over, but not always! Most of the time, they will be about having a posture of hospitality—welcoming others into our lives.
Frasier is a sitcom from the early ’90s I enjoyed watching (this is more a confession than an endorsement). It was a show about two brothers and their relationships with each other and their dad. Both brothers were snooty psychiatrists, quick to give advice all the while ignoring their own personal issues—that’s what made it funny. With a background in counseling, I found the psychobanter to be quite entertaining. Frasier was a radio talk show psychiatrist and would begin each call with these two words, “I’m listening…”
In a culture that is increasingly driven by technology and screens, it is becoming more and more difficult every day to make personal connections. In light of that, the words, “I’m listening” are especially tender and, sadly, quite rare. It seems as if we need to learn anew how to really listen to one another.
As we head into a season of holidays, perhaps you will find yourself around a table or two with friends and relatives you haven’t seen for a long time. If so, here are 5 simple ways to hit the refresh button on your listening skills:
1. Turn off all technology. The TV, the phones, the iPads—anything with a screen! It’s hard to be fully present in any conversation with those kinds of distractions. The best gift you can give someone is your full attention.
2. Maintain eye contact. It sounds simple and obvious, but, really, how many times has someone asked you a question and just as you were answering, they looked away at something or someone else? Listening involves looking. Listen not only to their words but their body language as well. Are they tense, relaxed, exhausted, fearful, anxious? These are all clues and cues to help you with number 3 …
3. Ask questions. Invite them to go deeper into their story by asking clarifying questions. Not sure where to begin? Instead of starting a question with “How’s (your job)?” try, “Tell me more about (your job) …”
4. Practice “active listening.” Regardless of what you hear, suspend judgment and refrain from making critical opinion statements. Resist the urge to turn the conversation to yourself—even if you have a relatable anecdote. Be generous of spirit in the way you listen. Be vulnerable and willing to understand the story behind the words of the other. Listening without judgment does not mean you have to be in agreement with their statements; it simply means you are willing to let them be heard and respect their humanity.
5. Just listen. Don’t solve or fix. Listen to what they are saying, and let that be enough. If your follow up response includes, “You need to …” stop yourself. Instead, respond to what you are hearing and the emotion behind it. Sometimes only two words are needed as a follow-up: “I’m sorry.”
The encouragement from Scripture is this, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19, NIV) That’s how I want to be known! Will you join me in praying this verse through before every family gathering or time with friends this season?
I read a quote once (author unknown), “To listen well is to love well.” Let’s love one another well by leading off with two simple words: “I’m listening …”