When you have conversations, are you really listening? I’m not talking about simply hearing what the other person is saying, but really listening.
A classic example of someone not truly listening, is when one person is talking, and the other person is “listening,” while scrolling through emails or social media on their phone.
I’m guessing most of us are guilty of this.
People want to be valued and loved, and part of this includes being listened to, heard, and understood.
Actively listening helps to remove relational barriers such as jumping to conclusions. It opens a window to let light in, removing obstacles, and helping us to more deeply understand one another.
In marketing, the most important thing a marketer can do is to listen to and understand his or her target customer. Likewise, a doctor must listen to his or her patients in order to understand what is ailing them.
As friends, we aren’t being supportive and loving if we don’t take time to listen.
The video about the nail is a humorous illustration of the importance of listening. When someone comes to you with a problem they are experiencing, you may be able to see what appears to be the obvious solution. But, oftentimes, it is better to listen than to try to fix their problems.
Actively listening to someone shows them you love them, and allows you to not only have sympathy (feeling for them), but also empathy (feeling with them).
How you listen is important.
When I was 12, I began teaching swim lessons with a Christian ministry.
The very first thing we learned in teacher training was not how to teach proper technique, but how to listen. The kids we taught were often terrified of swimming.
We needed to have tools to build trust and communication with our students, as well as with their parents who were observing from the side of the pool.
An acronym we learned to help us was “SOLAR TEA.”
I’ll break it down for you:
S – Sensitive seating
In the United States, standing or sitting at a 45 degree angle in relation to someone, and about arms length away, is most comfortable for open communication.
O – Open posture
Crossing your arms creates a physical barrier, as does angling your body away from someone.
Listening is about openness, and that should also be expressed with our physical actions. But, don’t be too open (think when guy sit with their legs spread wide – yeah. Don’t do that, because that can be awkward)
L – Leaning forward
Leaning in toward someone when you’re listening to them makes them feel appreciated, and shows them that you are interested in what they are saying.
A – Appropriate eye contact
Eye contact is crucial in communicating and developing understanding. Not making eye contact creates a barrier. Staring someone down will creep them out.
R – Relax
This means not fidgeting, and also not clamming up.
How can you make the other person feel comfortable and heard?
T – Touch
Touch is a very powerful way to connect with people. Some people love to give hugs, while others hate physical touch.
Depending on the context, physical touch may or may not be appropriate. In many European countries, people greet each other – men and women alike – by kissing on the cheek.
In other cultures a man and woman touching is very inappropriate, not to mention kissing on the cheek.
Appropriate touch is key. In the United States, usually touching someone on the shoulder, or back of the elbow is perfectly acceptable.
However, if you don’t know someone especially well, you may feel it would be appropriate to ask first before touching them, even on the shoulder. It can feel awkward to ask, but the goal is to make the person you’re interacting with feel comfortable and respected.
Don’t overthink it though!
E – Environment
This could also be context. What is normal in the environment you’re in?
A – Accommodating differences
This could apply to a wide variety of situations. If you are speaking to a child, you can squat down to be at eye level. If you are speaking to someone who is hard of hearing, you may need to speak up.
Ultimately, this acronym isn’t a formula. It’s just a little way to equip people with tangible ways they can foster an environment in which people feel known and valued.
On Thursday I’ll continue on this important topic of listening!
Listening for Heaven’s Sake resource by Equipping Ministries International – You can find the SOLAR TEA acronym in this book!