In Part 1, I mentioned that small groups thrive in an environment of care and trust. Such an environment takes time to develop. It is tested in times of conflict and stress in the lives of group members. Positive responses during these moments include understanding, attention, and empathy–each of which require listening.
An environment of care and trust is best nurtured where the leader models good listening and leads participants to practice the same. Last time I mentioned that Michael Mack, cofounder of Smallgoups.com, has a well written articled entitled 10 Ways to be a Better Listener. I want to share his ten practical tips for improving our listening habits in this two-part series. In Part 2, I will share his final five tips in all capitals followed by my commentary:
- AVOID ADVISING. What is needed is good listening. As Mack put it, most people don’t “want or need you to try to solve their problem.” It is common for group members to be able to choose a course of action when they have an opportunity to share their situation verbally. Listen attentively. Even if they ask for advice, be judicious in doing so.
- VERIFY AND CLARIFY. Ask good questions. Check on what you are hearing. Don’t jump to conclusions that you understand. Explore further the thinking as well as the words. Your actions will make you more focused on the group member sharing and will help him/her know you really care.
- LISTEN FOR WHAT IS NOT SAID. So much of communication is beyond the words used. Listen for the tone. Listen for the emotion. Listen for the speed of delivery. Listen for what is missing. What does the group member mean? Where is he/she coming from? Why is he/she saying what is being said? What is at the root of the conversation? Good listening can lead to dealing with deeper issues.
- WATCH BODY LANGUAGE. Communication experts tell us that 93% of communication is nonverbal. It is in tone, facial expression, and body language. Look the person in the face, but don’t miss the body language. Emotion can often be read in the group member’s stance, sitting position, arms crossed, and more. Watch their posture and gestures.
- AFFIRM. Let the group member know that you appreciate him/her sharing. Affirm the person. Affirm sharing about difficult things. As Mack said, when you as group leader do so, it “makes it easier for someone else to share.” Lead the group to affirm as they listen to each other.
How do you measure up? Which of the five listed above would you consider to be your strengths? Which one(s) needs a little more work? What can you do for this week’s group time to work on this area? Review the five listening tips from Part 1. How can you improve your listening and that of your group in the next month? Listen to God. Listen to your group. Lead your group to do the same. Be revolutionary!