Active listening involves the listener feeding back to the speaker, paraphrasing what they have heard in order to ensure shared understanding between the two parties.
Why is this an important skill to develop for Office Bearers? Communication is such an important aspect of leadership, whether within the church or outside it. Good communication means that individuals feel included in decision making; they feel that their views have been heard and valued; they understand why a course of action has been adopted. Active listening as part of good communication means that the leader is able to check out their own understanding of what has been said - a double check on what you think you heard.
Active listening requires us to show that we are listening in a non-verbal way too. To reinforce the technique, we might nod our heads, smile, perhaps lean forward to show that we are listening. It is not only the words you speak which are important, but also the way in which you speak them, and your facial expressions and body language.
- Ask probing questions
And now for the technique. If an Elder colleague or member of the congregation comes to you with an idea for changing a process, the first stage in active listening is to ask probing questions that will help you to understand more fully the nature of the change. You might like to use Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Six Honest Serving Men’ which are What, Why, When, How, Where and Who - these words at the start of sentences will help you elicit much more information about the suggestion.
- Reflect and paraphrase what has been said
The second stage in active listening is to reflect and paraphrase what has been said. This will confirm that you understand what your colleague has suggested. ‘So, it seems to me that what you’re saying is …’ It also allows your colleague to clarify further in light of your attentiveness. Don’t forget to pay attention to non-verbal communication.
- Summarise the main points
Finally, the third part of the technique is to summarise the main points of your discussion, as you draw the conversation to an end. This provides your colleague with a final opportunity to correct your understanding.