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Listen Carefully to Deeply Understand

Keys to healthy relationships — Part 2

Doug Britton, MFT

Page Summary
Summary: Listen carefully to deeply understand others. This is more than “active listening.” It is listening to hear the other person’s heart—his or her emotions as well as his or her words.

Part 2 of a 3-part series on “Keys to Healthy Relationships”

Part 1      Part 3


Listening, not talking, is the most important part of communicating. When you deeply understand what other people are saying, you build the foundation for an intelligent and meaningful conversation and an intimate relationship. When you listen superficially, you lay the groundwork for a shallow discussion, one likely to frustrate both of you. You leave that person feeling misunderstood and alone.

Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues. (Proverbs 10:19)

Be quick to listen, slow to speak. (James 1:19)

Related Bible study — Love others as-is 

Are you a good listener?

Do you think, “Other people don’t listen to me”? If so, let me challenge you with a question: Do others think you really listen? You may have been friends for years and yet not have truly heard the most basic things someone has been trying to tell you.

Just as you have a deep longing to be understood, to know that others care about what you say, so does that person. As you study this lesson, don’t focus on your desire to be heard. Rather, focus on being a better listener yourself.

Make it personal

1. Do you need to become a better listener? Explain your answer. (If you answered “yes,” in what ways have you been a poor listener?)

Seek to deeply understand other people

It is possible to listen to someone else and accurately quote all the words back, yet not understand his or her heart. Jesus talked about people who heard his words but did not hear his message (Matthew 13:15-16). In the same way, at times we are deaf to what other people are trying to tell us.

When you listen, make it a goal to deeply understand that person. Do your best to really understand what someone thinks and feels—to enter his or her world, to see through his or her eyes.

Approach this task seriously. See yourself as a researcher trying to grasp a hidden mystery. Show a genuine interest in what that person says. Be like Timothy, of whom Paul wrote:

I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests. (Philippians 2:20-21)

Make it personal

2. Has anyone ever listened to you in such a way that it seemed he or she deeply understood what you were saying? If so, what did that feel like? How can you listen to people in the same way?

Learn to understand other people’s “language.”

You and someone else may speak different “languages,” languages as different as Mandarin Chinese and French. For example, you may speak like a lawyer (the language of logic) and the other person may speak like a poet (the language of emotions).

Make it personal

3. Do you and someone else speak in “different languages”? If so, how would you describe that person’s language? How would you describe your language?

4. What changes could you make in the way you listen to better understand his or her language?

Realize you may misinterpret.

People are often wrong when they are absolutely certain they understand someone else’s message. Or they understand the message, but don’t see what’s underneath the words. By trusting their impressions instead of fully listening, they put up a massive roadblock to effective communication.

Don’t be satisfied with simplistic interpretations of that person’s moods or actions, no matter how sure you are that you are correct.

Make it personal

5. Describe a time you misinterpreted what someone said. Why do you think you misinterpreted?

6. What steps can you take to make it less likely you will misinterpret other people’s words?

Listen to emotions, not just words.

If you listen only to someone’s words, you may miss what he or she is really saying. Listen to the literal message, but also ask yourself, “Why is this person saying this? What are the underlying emotions?”

Make it personal

7. Have you ever noticed that someone’s words did not seem to match his or her emotions? If so, describe that situation

8. How can you become more aware of how people are really feeling?

Let go of past hurtful words

If someone says hurtful things, it’s easy to fixate on them, turning them over and over in your mind. You may distrust anything that person ever says again because you are sure the unkind words are what that person really thinks.

Although it may be understandable to feel this way, ask God to help you look at the situation through his eyes. Remind yourself that:

  • Words said in anger do not tell the whole story.
  • People change.
  • God calls you to forgive. Read Colossians 3:13.

Related Bible study — Don’t take things personally

Make it easy for others to talk

Sometimes we put up roadblocks that cut off conversations, not realizing what we have done. For example, if you have a silent friend, there is an excellent chance that you talk too much. If you fill the air with too many words, your friend may see no reason to talk or may not know how to get a word in edgewise. Remember Solomon’s warning:

Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues. (Proverbs 10:19)

The following ideas will help you encourage others to talk more freely. Check each one that you need to work on.

▢  Encourage people to express their feelings.

▢  Ask for feedback if someone is distant or upset.

▢  Monitor your intensity level. (Don’t get too loud or intense.)

▢  Ask open-ended questions (questions that can’t be answered by “yes” or “no”).

▢  Speak respectfully when you disagree.

▢  Respond to criticism without getting defensive.

▢  Watch your nonverbal communication (such as frowning or looking away).

▢  Ask clarifying questions.

▢  Paraphrase what other people say (by saying what they said in your own words).

▢  Give others time to think before they speak.

▢  Do not ask a question, then answer it yourself.

▢  Let someone finish talking before you speak.

▢  Avoid focusing on what you will say. Pay attention to the other person.

Make it personal

9. Choose two of the previous ideas that will help you make it easier for others to talk and help you listen more clearly. Explain why you chose them and how you think they will help.

10. How will you remind yourself to put these ideas into practice?

Ask if you are a good listener

You might be a poor listener without knowing it. For instance, you may not realize when you interrupt, or you may think you understand others when you really don’t.

Ask other people to tell you if there are ways you cut off communication. Also ask if there are things they have been trying to say that you don’t seem to have heard or understood. If someone gives you feedback about this, do not argue. This is an opportunity to listen without getting defensive or slipping into hurt feelings.

Make it personal

11. Who could you ask if you are a good listener? Make a plan to ask him or her. Be sure to listen carefully to his or her words. Don’t argue.

Related book — Talking with Respect and Love

Memory verse

Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues. (Proverbs 10:19)

Make it personal

1. Why is listening the most important part of communication?

2. What does it mean to deeply understand people?

3. Why is it important to deeply understand people?

4. Have you ever noticed you and someone you were talking with had “different languages”? How did this affect your conversation? Were you able to overcome it?

5. Describe one time you misinterpreted someone or someone misinterpreted you. Did this cause problems? Were you able to resolve these problems? If so, how?

6. What are some ways you can make it easy for people to talk?

7. What do you think you should do to become a better listener?

8. Ask someone you know if you are a good listener. Ask for examples of times you listened or didn’t listen. Write what this person tells you here.

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About Doug Britton, MFT

Doug Britton, Bible-based Marriage and Family Therapist, has helped hundreds of thousands of people as a therapist, clinical director of a treatment center, seminar speaker, radio cohost, and author of over twenty books that show how to apply God's truths in your daily life. (Visit www.dougbrittonbooks.com.)

Copyright © 2020 Doug Britton. Permission granted to print for personal use. (Scripture verses are from the New International Version, copyright © 1984.) See reprint policy.

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