Learning to Listen, Not Listening to Speak Next

What if active listening is really just the baseline level of acceptable listening rather than the ultimate destination point? What if, instead of us viewing active listening as something to achieve, we look at it as more of a basic expectation upon which we build and grow?

There are at least three levels of listening that can be layered on top of active listening.

1. Respecting

This might be closest to what’s typically referred to as active listening. We hear what’s being said, understand its intent, and respond accordingly. This is productive, respectful listening. This bears all the hallmarks of active listening. We’re engaged, there’s eye contact, we’re not interrupting, and so on.

2. Empathizing

Now don’t skip this one because you’ve heard this word tossed around all the time. It’s not nearly as simple as we make it out to be. “I know how you feel” isn’t empathy. “Walking a mile in someone’s shoes” isn’t empathy. It may often be more akin to the pretending we chatted about before. Resist the urge to speed past this. When my professor first explained what empathy actually is, it knocked me completely on my – how do the French say it? – derriere.

As he explained it, empathy involves “reflecting and experiencing other people’s feelings and states of being through a quality of presence that has the consequence of their seeing themselves with more clarity,” even without any words being spoken. Do you get how huge that is?

View the situation from the other’s point of view. What do they want, whether it’s been plainly stated or not? What are they feeling? Not what would I be feeling if I were them – what are they feeling?

We also strive to hear the intention behind the content with sincerity and respect. Empathizing enables us to respond by facilitating the other person’s intention (a response is not a defensive reaction). We do this by attempting to see the big picture and respond with the idea of maintaining a long-term relationship within which we can serve and care about the other.

3. Generative Listening

Generative listening is sophisticated listening; it is active, inventive listening that evokes the best qualities in others by creating the other’s brilliance. This is what Robert Greenleaf – essentially the father of the modern servant leadership movement – was referring to when he said that “people grow taller when you listen to them.

Generative listening is a creative act. You become a finely tuned receiver that picks up what currently is, and also what wants to be, communicated. Ideas and solutions that you hadn’t considered before may simply emerge, at least in part, because your stubbornness and ego are in check. By letting go of preconceptions and biases; you’re able to sit patiently in the “not knowing,” unthreatened by differences of opinion. This allows the act of listening to birth something truly original and worthwhile.

The notion of silence is another aspect of generative listening some refer to as generative silence. Some find silence awkward or oppressive, but a relaxed approach to dialogue will include the welcoming of some silence. It is often a devastating – but very important – question to ask ourselves: If I say what’s running through my head, will I really improve on the silence?

So, you see, when we begin to listen in these ways, our listening becomes so much more than simply “good communication.” It becomes a vehicle to serving the other. It evolves into a way we help others grow taller.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Monge

Matt Monge

Matt is a cancer survivor who’s dead set on making the world a better place by helping organizations be better places to work. He’s currently Chief Culture Officer at Mazuma Credit Union, and also does speaking and consulting work to help other organizations with culture, development, recruiting, and leadership. He has been recognized as one of Credit Union Times’ “Trailblazers 40 Below,” and has spoken at national conferences for CUNA and NAFCU in addition to other events. He has written articles for Training magazine, the Credit Union Times, the Credit Union Executives Society, is a contributor for CU Insight, and an editor for CU Water Cooler. He is also a Training magazine Top 125 Award winner. Matt is earning his Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership from Gonzaga University.

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In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
 
— Russ Wright
 
"While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
 
— Ken
 
Thank you for this article! I'm the pastor of a small church. My gifting is in teaching and we are known for aiding Christians in becoming Biblically literate. Visitor's often comment on God's presence being very real in our services. But we just don't seem to be growing. I have some soul-searching, etc. to do and this article provides some solid ground from which to proceed. Thank you again.
 
— Jonathan Schultheis
 

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