Has it ever happened to you? You are having a conversation with a friend and you suddenly realize you have zoned out and missed some really important details of what was just said. You don’t want to admit you allowed your mind to wander or that your attention was more on what you wanted to say than what your friend was saying. So you try to piece the details together without giving away your disconnectedness. Ugh! By this point you are way too far down the road to backtrack. If this scenario hits close to home you are not alone but it should serve as a warning that something is wrong with your interpersonal skills. Specifically, you are not a good listener. A failure to listen well sends the message that the other person is not important to you. It may be the reason you don’t have deeper and more meaningful friendships. One way to move toward having more satisfying relationships is to remember the acrostic ASK.
A - Ask yourself the right questions first. In other words “take inventory.” Before you take a journey you must first know where you are starting. A failure to know this basic information will prevent you from moving in the right direction. You can begin to clue in on what type of friend you are by making a list of the five people you are closest to outside of your family and then ask these important questions about each:
- Do I know the details of their story?
- Where are they from?
- What do I know about their family of origin and about their current family?
- Do I know their hopes for the future? Do I know their secret fears?
- Would they call me for support during life’s lowest points? Would they call me during a time of great celebration? Would I genuinely share their emotions during these times?
You might be surprised that most of these questions focus on the life of your friend. That’s because friendships begin by listening not telling. And that brings us to the second suggestion.
S - Seek to learn. Mature conversationalists and good friends want to hear more than be heard, ask more than answer, and serve more than be served (See Jesus in Mark 10:45). You can become a listener and learner by asking good questions. Ask about family, children, job, hobbies, hopes and fears. Ask about things the other person knows that you don’t. People love to talk about themselves and what they know. You will leave these conversations having learned a lot about the other person and they will leave feeling good that you cared.
K - Know what you are looking for. This part should come intuitively but it often doesn’t. As you grow in the art of asking good questions others will increasingly desire your company. Asking and listening are great ways to grow a friendship but dominating conversation is a sign of insecurity and immaturity. If the person you are befriending fails to learn about you in return you will have a one sided relationship. They will enjoy being around you and you may enjoy listening to them for a time but eventually this type of relationship will wear on you. Look for relationships where the other person is as interested in you as you are them.
Identify someone you’d like to know better. Set up a time to get together. Seek to learn a couple of new and significant things about them. You might be surprised at how one conversation can take your relationship to a whole new level.
"My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry..." James 1:19