You Can Be a Better Listener

By Joel Comiskey, check out, Groups that Thrive

Winter 2019

Imagine yourself going to a doctor’s office in great physical discomfort. Instead of helping you with your ailments, the doctor begins to complain about his own infirmities, sharing story after story from his own life. You nod your head, trying to act like you’re listening, while inwardly you’re crying out, “You’re suppose to focus on me. I’m paying for your attention!” This scenario is absurd because people expect doctors to focus on their individual problems.  Yet, often we’re filled with ourselves rather others. Two truths can help you do a better job of listening:


One of my worst coaching experiences happened when I was unable to focus on the leader. My family lost its family health plan, and I was struggling with feelings of anger with the person who forgot to renew it. The next day, I had a one-on-one appointment with one of my leaders. I wanted to focus on him, but I kept coming back to myself and my needs because I hadn’t untangled my thoughts, cares, and worries. The meeting was a disaster.

Before you can really listen to someone, you must prepare your heart. Since you face the same problems, difficulties, and fears your leaders face, you’ll need a special touch from God in order to focus on the leaders’ needs and not your own. “When you find yourself trapped in self-analysis—defending, judging, feeling annoyed… your job is to get yourself unhooked. You’ve got to push all of that internal confusion out of the way…” 

The only way you can fully separate yourself and focus on your leaders is through prayer and meditation. Only when you untangle yourself through the Spirit of God can you fully listen to the needs your leaders.

Empathy (compassion, understanding)

When someone unburdens his or her soul, it’s the time for you to bear that burden and to communicate sympathy, rather than memorized Bible verses. One of the best healing tools is just to listen. “Joan, I can relate to your fears and doubts brought on by your friend’s cancer. When my brother faced brain cancer, I felt those same fears. I wrestled for days,  wondering why God would allow it. But then God showed me . . .” The scales of past wounds will peel away and the new creature in Christ will appear as the cell group ministers through empathetic listening.

I just finished reading the book Hit Refresh by Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft. He’s turned Microsoft into a growing, vibrant company. Nadella attributes much of his success to having a special needs child who needs full-time care. He and his wife have learned empathy at home, which has translated into empathy with workers and customers. Nadella has learned how to listen with empathy and other companies are more willing to work with Microsoft rather than against them.

Preparation and empathy will really help you become a better listener at home, with your leaders, and your small group.