Cultivating Our Listening Skills

Cultivating Our Listening Skills

Cultivating Our Listening Skills

By Steve Backlund

There are many classes and books on learning how to speak well, but there are not many such things concerning listening well. Is this because learning to speak is much more important than learning to listen? I don’t believe so, and actually believe the opposite is true. 

“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). It has been said we have two ears and one mouth and that should tell us something!

In the Culture of Empowerment, my brother Phil (who co-authored the book with me) wrote a chapter on how to empower others through listening. I believe it is worth the whole book by itself. 

Great listeners:

  • Help people value and understand what they already know and have
  • Cause people to feel loved, seen, and known
  • Identify and help mature the gifts and passions in others
  • Allow themselves to be influenced by those they are listening to
  • Have healthier relationships than poor listeners. 

“I first seek to understand before I seek to be understood.” This Steven Covey quote has hugely impacted me through the years. This goal is foundational to healthy listening. 

Most of Us Overestimate How Well We Listen

Phil Backlund writes the following in our book. 

But you, dear reader, might say, I am a great listener! Maybe, maybe not. I routinely ask university classes I teach the question:  “How many of you are good listeners?”  Usually, about two-thirds of the class say yes, “I’m a pretty good listener.”  Then he asks, “Think of the people you know. What percentage of them would you say are good listeners?” The percentages average around 25%. Quite a difference! Is some delusional thinking going on here? The fact is, many people think they are good listeners when many of their friends would not rate them that way. Listening is probably the most personally over-estimated skill in communication!

Ouch. This convicts me in a good way. 

So what can we do to improve our listening skills? Here are some practical tips:

  1. Value listening – we won’t make room for what we do not think is important
  2. Demonstrate positive body language – this would include having good eye contact, nods, focused posture etc.
  3. Eliminate or decrease distractions like the tv, phone messages, etc. 
  4. Reflect back what you have heard – before sharing what you want to say, make sure understand what they are saying
  5. Use these verbal prompts – tell me more, what happened then, how did you feel about that, etc. 
  6. Get a plan to avoid day-dreaming while listening like rehearsing back in your mind what the speaker is saying, praying for the person while listening, etc. 
  7. Judge content, not delivery – if we become sidetracked by distracting habits or attitudes of the speaker, we will probably miss what we need to hear. 

Jesus said in numerous places in the Bible, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” This certainly applies to spiritual hearing, but it is a good word for us in our family relationships, in our leading of others, in being a peace-maker, and in pulling out the greatness in people. 

Who do you need to listen to in a stronger way? Take a moment to determine this and also to recommit your heart to good listening. 

Are listening skills more important than good speaking skills? Yes! And you know what? Good listeners become good speakers (whether in personal relationships or public speaking) because our speaking will have a foundation of valuing people, understanding people, and connecting with what is really happening in their lives. Let’s develop our listening abilities like never before. We won’t be sorry for doing so. 

For more on topics like this, listen to my podcast by clicking the link below.


Steve Backlund was a senior pastor for seventeen years before joining the team at Bethel Church in Redding, CA in 2008. Steve is a leader developer, joy activist, a revivalist teacher, and as Senior Associate Director, is a key part of the Global Legacy (a ministry of Bethel Church) leadership team. He travels extensively throughout the world encouraging churches and leaders and has authored a number of books.

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