I've never liked the spotlight. When I observe and interject at vital moments, I'm a lot more likely to process and respond in a meaningful way. Some of my favorite people are the complete opposite, but that doesn't mean they're worse listeners. When they find security in the certainty of their actions, they can use their spotlight to make other people feel seen. I've learned that listening is not something to do from the sidelines; it requires active participation. It's not about just hearing; it's about caring. We all ask the question, "how can I win people over?" for some reason or another. We usually think we'll gain approval by proving our qualities. But people aren't impressed by our accomplishments as much as we believe. Our love is what draws people.
Imagine you are at a party and meet a few people you'd like to spend time with in the future. How do you leave a good impression? No matter how socially "evolved" we are, we have moments where we aren't sure what to say. There are always a million things we could say, so it's pretty clear that our real obstacle is choosing something that will influence people to like us. The problem is, we usually jump into a conversation with our minds on what we want. To earn trust, it needs to be less about us and more about them.
Our instinct is to worry about how people perceive us because we know our flaws and wrap our focus around them. But we can't actively listen if we don't care about the thoughts and experiences of the other person. Even when we aren't sharing, we need to engage. Questions are how we connect. We each reside in our unique realities, and there's a lot we don't know outside of ourselves. We often develop attitudes of complacency because we think our understanding of the world is sufficient. But we haven't even seen the tip of the iceberg. We make an impact through genuine curiosity. With curiosity, we don't look for an answer that fits within our views. Everyone wants their opinions to matter, and we will quickly lose respect if we ignore voices that differ from our mindset. We only gain respect when we give it.
We all have selfish thoughts, and what we give our attention to is often defined by what we will receive in return. When we listen, even to people we respect, we subconsciously or consciously look to criticize. We call our judgments "tough love," but our self-righteousness only pushes people away. There is a time and a place for truth, and trust comes first. So how can we encourage ourselves to listen with empathy rather than with an agenda? For me, the answer comes from Jesus. In so many ways, my life looks nothing like His, and I want to change that. When I look to the Bible, I see that Jesus listened with an open heart. He didn't listen to prove that He had all the answers. He listened to show interest in the lives of all kinds of people. He listened to be present.
"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” - 1 Corinthians 13:1
If you aren't sure how to listen in a way that builds trust, first look to Jesus and then look within yourself.
- What makes you feel heard?
- Who are the people you trust, and how do they treat you?
The people I trust the most are the people who want to hear about my life and won't judge my mistakes. God loves the real you, and we should all love each other in the same way He does.
Written Content Coordinator at Sun Valley Community Church. An avid writer since the age of 5, who loves to explore new ideas and places. Inspired by Jesus, books, and travel.