Updated: Nov 17, 2022
Leadership is hard work. I'm so careful now to look at a leader and flippantly think, "why are they doing things like that? If it was me, I would ..." I'm honestly amazed at the burdens some leaders carry! It's incredible. One thing I found incredibly challenging as a Youth Pastor was sitting down with people and listening in such a way that they walked away feeling heard. After a lot of trial and error and wisdom from people around me, I'd love to share four tips that I think are crucial in helping your people feel heard.
1. People don't feel heard when you understand. They feel heard when they understand, that you understand. So, articulate back to them what they've said to you in your own words. The result? They'll either correct you because you've misunderstood (which happens to me more often than I expect!) or they'll confirm that's what they meant ... and feel heard in the process. Win, win!
2. When you're listening to someone and they stop speaking, don't jump straight in. In fact, try waiting ten seconds. 1 ... 2 ... 3 ... I know ten seconds is an eternity! That's the point. And it probably will get a bit awkward and uncomfortable. But, when someone stops speaking they're not normally finished. They're usually collecting their thoughts. And, ironically, it's in those moments of silence where the most significant revelations usually occur.
I wonder how many significant revelations I've interrupted in the past because I only waited three seconds before assuming they had finished their thoughts? Wait ten seconds and sometimes the person you're listening to won't even let you get a word in. And, no matter how wonderful your advice is, I think you should see that as a benefit. Why? Because we're human and we have the most significant revelations when we process them ourselves, not when we get told something by a really wise mentor or friend :)
3. Make time to listen to people. I know you're time poor! I'm not telling you to work an extra ten hours every week. In fact, my advice would probably be the opposite. Write a stop doing list, get rid of the things that aren't essential and do less ... but better. But hey, that's another blog for another time! Instead, I'm just talking about those moments where you know someone needs your time.
You know that leadership team member who just seems ... off? Or that key volunteer who hasn't shown up for a couple of weeks and then you hear that piece of information that makes you nod your head and say, "ahh, that makes sense." Or, that member of your wider team who you walk past and say hello to in a busy week and then immediately wonder, "wow, she seems really confused today. I wonder what's going on?" Stop! Not all the time, but in those moments where you just know someone needs your time. And give them half an hour or an hour over a coffee to just sit and listen to them. You'll be amazed at how much it means to them. And, not only is it the right thing to do, but you're also investing in that person and in that relationship as a leader for the long-term.
4. Ask first. You know that vision you see for her life? That idea you have for him? You know that thing you asked her to do that you've thought about and you're itching to tell her exactly how to do it? Hmm. Ask first. Instead of sitting her down and saying everything on your mind, start by asking, "what do you see for your life?" Or, "what ideas do you have for this ministry?" Or even, "how do you think you're going to approach this task?"
Asking first is so valuable because it will do one of three things. It will confirm what you were already going to say. It will challenge what you were going to say and give you context to say what you want to say in an even more helpful way. Or, it will challenge what you were going to say so much that you press pause and decide to sit on it and think about it some more. Once again, whatever happens, it's a win, win.
So, there you go. I hope that helps you to be a great listener who truly leans in when you're catching up with people. And I hope it helps your people walk away from meetings with you with a smile on their face saying, "wow, she really understands me."