Attentive Listening

by James Rudy Gray

Attentive Listening

Many of us live in a culture in which we are taught how to speak and even to be quiet, but we are not instructed on how to listen. We often hear counselors speak about emphatic listening, active listening, or several other types of listening. If we ever counsel people, what we say to them may not be heard if we have not taken the effort to listen.

Believers would certainly not hold Carl Rogers as example of Christian counseling. He was one of the founders of humanistic or self psychology and the originator of non-directive, client-centered psychotherapy. However, even Carl Rogers made some important observations about human beings and the dynamics of relationships.

One simple truth that I have gotten from him that has made a large difference in how I listen is this: "Every person has a story to tell." What they say may be a distortion of reality and truth, or it may be a very subjective view of something. However, how they tell their story is very insightful in discovering what they are feeling and how they may be interpreting things.

James 1:19 reminds us: "Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger." The purpose of listening to someone is not to agree but to understand. Most people will at least feel better if they know they have been understood. In personal relationships, as well as counseling, this practice of attentive listening helps to build health and bring strength to the relationship.

A little acrostic that a person can use to enhance his listening skills is:

S: Face the other person squarely.

O: Maintain an open posture.

L: Lean slightly forward.

E: Keep eye contact.

R: Relax

It has been stated in many publications and by several professionals that effective communication in a relationship must be circular instead of linear. We must ask questions, clarify meanings, and take note of what is not spoken. In fact, when we evaluate interpersonal communication we find that 7% is vocabulary, 38% involves the verbal (how we say something), but the remaining 55% are the

non-verbals or body language. Listening cannot be limited to just words and how we say them. We must also be able to pick up messages from the nonverbals.

Listening is hard work whether it is done in a counseling situation or in a relationship. We can help people better and instruct them more effectively in counseling situations when we listen comprehensively to the messages they are sending.

Sending a message is important but knowing how to receive a message is vital in counseling with people.