“The ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener”. This small quote from Dietrich Bonheoffer gives its readers a tantalizing taste of the profound and powerful action that is listening. By identifying listening as a ministry and representing its source as the divine itself, we are able to look past the naïve confusion with hearing and see the far greater connotations of listening as a deeply spiritual and interpersonal act. Seen in this way, listening then is an act that must require deep commitment and presence, as well as openness and patience. It will be the purpose of this essay then, to come to a better understanding of the act of listening, particularly listening within a ministerial context of crisis, aiming to draw out the core themes behind what makes a good listener, and how these skills are seen as beneficial. In order to achieve this, this essay will draw upon material from three interviews of friends and family in which questions of good listening and listening in times of crisis were asked, comparing and contrasting these with current literature on the subject.
What makes a good listener?
For this section of the interviews, I asked the interviewees to outline some of their thoughts as to what made a good listener in general circumstances. In particular, I asked for indicators they have identified that indicate to them whether the listener is really listening, or simply hearing.
Sue I believe a good listener is someone who is attentive to what I am saying, who can see and hear more than just the words. Someone who is… ‘with me’ enough to identify what is happening inside. I can tell whether the person is really present with me through their facial expression and eyes. There is just a… connection.
David I think the core skill of a good listener is to be active in what is happening. This means the person is present and taking in, processing the words and their meaning, perhaps seeing clarity where I cannot.
Casey I think that a true listener is someone who is attentive to what is being said as much as is not being said. That, for me, is the core difference to hearing, that the person is actually dealing with, as in thinking through, what is being said. I often notice people’s eyes when I speak to them, and if they’re darting around a lot I know I’m not being listened to.
The most interesting aspect of all the answers I received to my questions of ‘what makes a good listener’ is the common theme of presence or attentiveness. This is also picked up by Bolton and encompassed by him within the concept of attending. This is considered a collection of non-verbal communicators (NVC) that indicate to the other that you are giving them your attention and so seriously considering what is happening. This notion of attending and its importance for good listening is further reinforced by Sue and Casey’s mention of eye contact and facial expressions, which are two of the...