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A Recipe for Listening Well

A Recipe for Listening Well

With mankind’s need to understand and be understood, everyone... must focus on the opportunity to raise the bar of listening. ~ Ralph G. Nichols

I (Amy) own two dogs, Lou and Brewster. Lou is an old gal. She’s loyal and she’s slow and she does this thing where, when you ask her if she wants to go outside, she falls to the ground and plays dead. Yes, like an opossum—but a seventy-pound opossum that literally cannot be moved. She also possesses that old-lady wisdom and she knows good and well we can’t move her, so she wins at this game ninety-nine times out of one hundred. But Lou is our favorite.

I know, you’re not supposed to have a favorite dog. You’re supposed to love all your pets equally, blah blah blah. Sure. And I’m not supposed to have a favorite kid either. Get outta here.*

* I’m kidding. Oh my gosh, please take that as the joke that it is.

Anyway, we really like Lou. Brewster gets fed and gets plenty of attention, but he... how do I word this gently? He excites easily and is annoying as all get-out. He jumps and whines and interrupts and literally doesn’t care what you have going on — he demands that you listen to him right then and there.

If you’ve ever listened to me on a podcast and heard a whine and then me thumping around all frazzled, yeah. Brewster gives no cares. If he wants to stand on your stomach while you move from side to side trying to look around him so you can watch the last episode in that murder documentary, he’ll do it. It’s a lot. Plus, maybe he pees a little too. You just never know with Brewster. Poor guy can’t help it. He excites easily (sigh).

But guys, I’m totally a Brewster. I don’t love this about myself, but it’s true. I lack Lou’s steady, aloof, take-me-or-leave-me demeanor. I beg to be liked.

And heard.


It’s something I’ve been working on for a long time and something I will probably need to continue mastering until the day I die: sitting back, giving other people the spotlight, and just listening.

Ah, the long-forgotten art of listening and listening well.

For so long I believed (and maybe you believed too) that the goal was to be liked. To impress. To have the funniest jokes and the most engaging opinions. To own the conversation. To sing every song center stage, never handing off the microphone. To make people leave the conversation and go, “Wow. I know so much about her. Isn’t she amazing? We simply must invite her along everywhere we go. She will keep us entertained.”

But the older I get, the more I realize the key was never to be liked. The key was never to dominate or tell stories that win people over to your side. As though conversations are a game of tug-of-war. Nah. That tactic will be the right key to open some houses, sure, but not every house and not for very long.

The way to open houses, the way to engage in constructive conversations and begin actual relationships, is to give space for everyone to learn about each other. For everyone to have a platform and a spot to say, “This is who I am. This is a little piece of my heart, my mind, and my soul.”

That requires connection.
And connection requires listening.
And listening requires shutting up.

And shutting up requires you to come to the realization that a conversation isn’t a game, and it’s not a way to manipulate, or to demand, or to be like ridiculously-extra-Brewster and think you’re the only one in the room with something to say because if someone doesn’t give you love or validation right then, you might die. (And not play dead like Lou. Actually die.)

You know what’s funny? When I sit back and let the other person take the lead, it takes a tremendous amount of pressure off me. This is good news for people like me who have social anxiety.

I don’t have to delight. Instead I can focus on being delighted by the person I’m with. And thank goodness. I have maybe two or three truly interesting stories and after that... nothing. I don’t know compelling facts. I don’t have alluring details to share. I don’t even read that much, to be honest, unless we are talking about Taylor Swift, and then I may or may not know the most.

It’s truly a beautiful thing to step back, take a seat, hand the mic over to the person in front of me, and learn about who they are. Learn anything about them. Their favorite football team. The best trip they’ve ever taken. Whether they call them breakfast burritos or breakfast tacos. Literally anything.

This is another human person that God has crafted and formed and molded. A person He loves. And little ol’ me has been given the opportunity to engage in conversation with them. How beautiful. How humbling. So when I really try to capture that moment, I typically find three things:

  1. They light up. People enjoy talking about themselves. It’s why so many of us are so eager to do it. It feels good. It’s like a little dopamine hit that releases something deep in us. In fact, a study found that talking about ourselves causes the part of our brains associated with rewards and satisfaction to light up, much like it does in regard to money and food.1 Like... I dunno . queso.
  2. I like myself better. I don’t wonder if I said the wrong thing. I don’t wonder if I was awkward or weird. I’m not nearly as hard on myself and I have no regrets, because it wasn’t a show. And since it wasn’t a performance, there’s no critic waiting to harshly put down my every move. There were two of us, and our names were both on that playbill. We did it together.
  3. I think other people like me better too. They leave the conversation feeling heard and understood. They leave feeling like someone took an interest in them, and that’s nice. We all like to be liked. And when you listen to others, voila! They feel liked, which in turn makes them want to be around you more.


All listening is not created equal. If we can get really good at giving all our attention when someone is sharing, we have learned a phenomenal skill and we’re giving an incredible gift. Have you ever shared with someone who is truly invested in what you’re saying? Gah, it’s precious. I always leave those conversations walking taller, feeling stronger and more grounded.

Being understood is one of the greatest keys to belonging, and we have the ability to give that away.

Excerpted with permission from Here for It by Amy Weatherly and Jess Johnston, copyright Amy Weatherly and Jess Johnston. 

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Your Turn

Are you naturally a good listener? Most of us have to learn to listen well. What have you learned from someone who listened well to you? How can you practice being a good listener today with those around you? Come share with us. We want to hear your tips! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full