The Art of Listening

The Art of Listening        

You have likely heard someone make the distinction between hearing and listening.  The New York Times did an article about this difference and pointed out that unlike all of our other senses, hearing is something that never stops.  Unlike our sight, which shuts off while we sleep, we continue to hear.  And yet, the article points out that we are a society that is dangerously close to losing the art of listening as a result of digital distraction and the never ending supply of information.   So what’s the difference between people who hear and those people who truly listen? 


It’s not a super power.  It’s not something for which we can claim we don’t have the gift.  The difference between hearing and listening is simply paying attention.  The problem is that through habit, we train ourselves to tune out certain sounds from others.  And if you are like me, you might have to confess that when it comes to listening to my neighbors, both in what they say and what I see, I’m not as attentive as I know God wants me to be.  For many of us this habit of listening starts simply with being aware, of intentionally seeking out conversations and relationship with our neighbors, of being observant of both what they are saying and what they are communicating nonverbally. There is something truly powerful about giving the gift of our attention.  David Oxberg says it this way, “Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference.” 

Asking good questions

When we have opportunities for conversation with our neighbors, we often ask superficial questions. Instead we could think about open-ended questions that can lead to more meaningful conversations.  Some of my favorites are “What’s your story?”  “What kind of things do you do for fun?”  “What’s your spiritual background?” We have added some others below. Asking good questions can lead to knowing people better and figuring out how to love and serve them well.

Good listening is a habit we all can practice this week! And so here’s my challenge for each of us this week, to pray this prayer, “God, help me to attentively listen for the needs and interruptions of those around me.  And graciously invest by asking questions.” 

Sample questions for getting to know your neighbors

1.     How would you define success in life?  Why do you define it that way?

2.     What kinds of things do you do for fun?  When is the last time you did that?

3.     Tell me more about your story –what is your background?

4.     Tell me about your major in college.  Why did you choose to study that?

5.     Tell me about your family.  How do you stay connected with them?

6.     What is the most interesting spiritual experience you’ve ever had?

7.     Did you grow up in a particular religion? Are you still connected to that faith? (If the answer is no, ask) What changed for you?

8.     What has been your experience with the church/Christianity? 

What are your favorite questions for starting a conversation?