Improve Your Listening Skills So Others Feel Heard

“Can you hear me now?” In one simple phrase, Verizon highlighted and brought humor to a common frustration that befell many cell phone users. We’ve all been there…talking away and eventually finding the line to be dead when we pause. This leaves us wondering how long we have been talking to ourselves and at what point to resume the conversation when we finally reconnect. Or perhaps you have been in the position of trying to obtain some urgent piece of information like directions and the line is so garbled you can’t understand where to go next. In one simple phrase, Verizon brought light to our desire to communicate and to be heard.


We all have a desire to be heard and this is an extremely meaningful way to come alongside families who have been impacted by special needs. In the three years that things were at their worst with our family, we only had one couple brave enough to invite us to sit down with them and share our journey and boy did we share our story. We sat there over coffee, they listened, cried with us and didn’t offer a solution or other quick fix. Now to be fair, we are fairly quiet and many people didn’t realize how bad it was. However, that night was so refreshing and in so many ways it was healing just to be heard. Did anything change in our situation? No. But, we felt cared for, our pain was validated and we felt loved.

Listening is like any skill. It takes practice. Here are some tips to improve your listening skills to help those you are coming alongside feel heard.

• Set aside time. If you know someone is struggling, don’t give them five minutes in passing to share their heart. It will likely take a while for them to really be real with you.
• Make eye contact. Set down the cell phone. Don’t take calls, check Facebook, reply to texts and don’t frequently check the time.
• Be present… Focus on what they are saying and not how you are going to respond. Periodically repeat back to them in your words what you heard them say.
• Acknowledge how they felt. “Wow, that must have been…” Don’t minimize the situation, over spiritualize, or offer some cliché response. For example, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” is NOT helpful (or Biblical).
• Love them. When you leave your time together, they should feel loved and not judged. They may be believing things that are not true. As you develop your relationship with them, there may be a time to address that with them but that time is usually not when they are first sharing their story with you.
• Finally, don’t avoid them afterwards or leave them wondering if they overshared.

So, “Can you hear me now?” What of the above tips can you implement to strengthen your listening skills? Is there a family impacted by special needs that would be encouraged by having you intentionally sit down with them to hear their story?

“I called on the Lord in my distress, and I cried to my God for help. From His temple He heard my voice, and my cry to Him reached His ears.” ~ Psalms 18:6 (HCSB)