Amy Carroll » Listen » How to Listen If You Don’t Want People to Talk

How to Listen If You Don’t Want People to Talk

Several weeks ago,  I was working on a project, and I craved some feedback. My husband Barry is always a willing victim participant, so I ran my questions by him. And then I pretended to listen.

“I need your marketing brain. Which of these sentence do you think works better?” I queried. “Are there any words you have trouble with? If there are, what would you substitute?”

Barry generously put his task aside and began to share his ideas with me. Sadly, he didn’t rubber stamp my original idea. He came up with other thoughts instead, and they didn’t suit me. Not at all.

So one-by-one, as he offered the suggestions I had asked for, I shot them down, revealing that I wasn’t really listening at all. I was critiquing.

“I don’t think women will identify with that.”

“Hmmm… that word’s overused.”

“That won’t work.”

Suddenly, Barry grew silent, and I looked up into his handsome face. At the beginning of this little exercise, he had a look of thoughtfulness and anticipation. Now he looked discouraged and totally over it.

I quickly apologized, asked for his forgiveness, and told him that I’d shut up and truly listen if he’d keep suggesting. Another lesson about listening learned.

Let me quickly say that I’m not talking about Scriptural truth, although even that should often be held until the right time. I’m referring to our own dearly loved opinions and preferences. In my situation with Barry, there wasn’t one right way to write my sentence. There were multiple ways to do it that will engage others, but I had a tightly gripped thought on what one way would work. (Ahem. Can anyone say “perfectionist in process?”)

Have you ever found yourself in that circumstance? Losing out on something you could have gained by listening because you didn’t hold back your critique? That’s the way to listen if we don’t want people to talk, but here are four lessons about how to listen if we do:

Ask questions without preconceptions. 

I’ve been working on asking great questions instead of monologuing my own thoughts, and it’s been a revelation! Asking a question is a fabulous way to learn something new or to gain a new perspective. People are actually surprised when you ask them questions, inviting them to talk about themselves or their ideas.

When I ask a question that requires feedback, I’m learning to put my preconceptions aside. My preconceptions strengthen the thought that there is only one way and weakens my ability to receive from someone else. If I really want to connect and learn, my “one right way” of thinking has to go.

Create space for something new.

By shooting down Barry’s ideas one by one, I both discouraged him (and annoyed him I’m sure!), and I blocked the flow of his creativity. I know that my best ideas often come at the end of 10 bad ones, but I hadn’t given him the same benefit of the doubt.

Once I’ve asked the question, I have to work really, really hard to not talk. Silence is the needed space where someone else can plant a new thought or idea.

Let me speak to extroverts for a minute. Silence is immensely uncomfortable for us. I get it, but it’s necessary if we’re to receive the benefits of listening. Years ago, I became friends with an amazing woman who’s an introvert. I realized that my need to fill the spaces kept me from connecting with her. When I finally allowed some silence into our conversations, I reaped a huge reward! Every word she spoke was worth waiting for, but her personality required some space to speak. She wasn’t going to shove her way into my stream. 🙂

Focus your thoughts.

As I’ve said, I may have seemed like a good listener for a long time, but I wasn’t. Even when I wasn’t talking, I wasn’t really listening. I was only processing what you were saying to the extent that I could think of the next thing I wanted to say!

The other piece of listening that I’m having to work on with effort and intention is focusing my thoughts on what’s being said. Being present. Being truly attentive.

Be grateful.

It’s truly a gift when others are willing to share their time with us, and it’s a rare reward when people share their thoughts with vulnerability. Even when I don’t agree (much more on that to come), I can be grateful for what that person has given to me.

When Barry shared his ideas with me weeks ago, he gave me some of himself and his extraordinary gifts. I’m incredibly thankful that God showed me the effect my interruptions were having so that he was willing to continue.

How about you? Have you found yourself displaying the bad habits I did? How have you learned to listen better?


I’d love to meet you face to face!

This spring I’m looking forward to traveling to lots of places to speak, and I’d love to see you there. Here are the locations and links more information about open events:

February 21                Columbia, MO               Columbia Christian Women                              [email protected]

February 22-23         Tuscaloosa, Al               Church at Tuscaloosa

March 1-2                    Pawleys Island, SC       Kings Cross Church   

March 23                      Amsterdam, NY            Perth Bible Church                                        

April 5-6                        Lake Geneva, WI          Northbridge Church  

I’d love to speak at your event too! Click here to learn more.

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