One of the greatest skills a pastor or leader can develop is to learn to listen well. We pay others a high compliment when we listen. We affirm others’ God-given value when we listen. We develop our own heart when we listen. The father of the field of listening, Ralph Nichols, captures the essence of listening in these words. The most basic of all human needs is the need to be understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them. Listening occurs at several levels. I describe four fundamental levels here.
As you read the four levels below, ask yourself at which level you usually listen.
Level 1-Listening TO…Internal Listening. At this level when we listen to others we mostly listen to our inner dialogue, thoughts, feelings, and what we plan to say once the other person has finished speaking. We focus on ourselves, our conclusions, our thoughts about the person/subject of conversation, and what the subject means to me. Unfortunately most listening happens at this level where it tends to be all about us.
Level 2-Listening FOR…Focused Listening. At this level we begin to authentically listen as we focus on what the other person is saying. We lock onto their dialogue and suppress our temptation to correct, give our opinion, give advice, or offer another perspective as soon as they finish. We become truly present and give the other person the gift of being understood.
Level 3-Listening WITH… Intuitive Listening. At this level we pay attention to what is not being said through these cues: inflection, pauses, changes in tone and energy, the eyes, and body language. We listen with our gut and allow intuition to speak to our soul.
Level 4-Listening to the Holy Spirit. This is the deepest level where we intersect what the person is saying/not saying with an openness to what the Spirit of God is saying to us. This level requires great discipline and focus, yet provides pastors and ministry leaders a way to become conduits of God’s grace to others.
After reading those levels, at which level do you usually listen? What tips have you discovered that help you listen at levels 2-4?