Communication requires both a sender and a receiver of information. In the last session, you focused on your responsibilities as the sender. Now let’s look at the receiver’s responsibilities. Listening well is vital for authentic Christian community. It will determine how vulnerably people will communicate. It will affect how much you learn about others and about God’s work in them. Learning how to listen well to others’ stories is imperative.
Individual Aim: To learn how to become a better listener.
Group Aim: To discuss the necessity of good listening in order to achieve understanding and mutual encouragement.
Complete Life Story: Step D beginning on page 81.
Read Session 5: Listening.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)
In order to live by these verses, you must listen to others well. After all, how can you know the interests of others without listening carefully to them?
There are two broad categories of communication: verbal and nonverbal. Nonverbal forms include silence, sounds (like “hmmm,” “ahh!” and tapping a foot), body motions, facial expressions, posture, touch, and even smell. You may be far less conscious of your nonverbal forms of communication than of your words.
However, receivers of communication tend to trust the nonverbal forms more than verbal ones. In particular, people will trust your body language more than your words. For instance, if you say you’re at peace but your body language (facial expression, trembling hands) says you’re anxious, then people will distrust your words.
You may not realize how many nonverbal signal systems are at work when you communicate. The heart of your message is carried in these nonverbal signals, many of which you are using unconsciously. And as a listener, you are affected by these signals whether you know it or not. How many times have you left a conversation and said to yourself, I heard what he was saying, but I sure sensed something strange about it? You picked up on the nonverbal signals, but you just didn’t know what to do with them.
Keep nonverbal communication in mind as you prepare to listen to others’ “Life Story” presentations. Your aim shouldn’t be merely to take in the data the speaker is presenting. Your ultimate concern should be to love others when you listen. One part of loving the speaker is to take in his or her story’s significance and respond to it in a loving way.
Even as you silently listen, you are communicating nonverbally to the presenter. For example, if a friend begins telling you something personal and you stare off into the sky, you are saying, “I’m not interested.” To love him or her, you need to focus on receiving the information accurately and on sending nonverbal messages of commitment and trust.
Finally, a crucial part of responding in love is to keep others’ stories confidential. When group members share their life stories, it must be clear to all the members that the stories are confidential. This is especially critical in a church or ministry setting in which many people in the larger community know each other. If a group member repeats parts of another group member’s story, all the trust that may have been previously built collapses. Rebuilding that same level of trust will be extremely difficult, if not impossible.
Confidentiality is equally necessary when others share personal stories in the broader context of life. If you stop to think before you speak, you normally know whether a story you heard from one person should not be shared with others. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, Would I tell this story about her if she were here? A failure to maintain confidentiality in your interpersonal relationships is like a cancer in a local church body or ministry. Such behavior will also hinder your witness with the nonbelieving world that watches you.
Look at your “Life Story” worksheets and note the sections for life divisions, titles, experiences and relationships, what you learn about God and self, and themes. Not only do you need to be attentive to these things in your own life so you can present your story, but you also need to attentively listen to these aspects of others’ stories. Truly understanding a person presenting his or her life story is a great challenge. It’s essential to listen well with the intent of entering into the person’s life for mutual understanding and encouragement.
Complete Life Story: Steps E and F beginning on page 83.
Complete the Biblical Exercise: Ephesians 4 beginning on page 43.
Read Session 6: Encouragement, Counsel, and Forgiveness.