Useful listening skills for mentors
Jesus spent a lot of time listening to people. He didn’t just listen to the words that people said, He also observed the conditions of their hearts. What can we learn from Jesus? Here are some useful listening skills for mentors.
Matthew 15:18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart…
Active listening is a very important part of mentoring. Unlike teachers who talk most of the time and provide the answers, effective mentors help mentees find the answers for themselves. This is only made possible by listening well and processing what our mentees may be feeling, intending or thinking (consciously or sub-consciously), in addition to what they are saying.
Here are some useful reminders about how to listen well.
Honour the person we are listening to by placing his or her interest above our own. Don’t be tempted to let our mind wander or check our mobile phone.
Philippians 2:3-4 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
By focusing on what is being said, we are more likely to catch subtle nuances. For example, we may hear a mentee say something like; “Yes, I have forgiven X, but I just find what he/she says just stupid and annoying.” The first part of the statement doesn’t really match with the second part. It is important to address such comments and ask what Jesus’ death on the cross for the eternal all-encompassing forgiveness of sins says about God’s grace.
2. Show interest, actively engage
Nod or make some agreeable sounds from time to time to show that we are actively engaged in the conversation. Or gentle probe and ask questions to show that we are interested in understanding what someone is saying.
3. Listen with our eyes
A good listener doesn’t just listen to what is being said but also watches out for what else is being communicated in a person’s body language or attitude.
For example, we may observe a mentee hesitating before talking about a struggle that he or she may be experiencing. We may want to ask about what was holding him or her back from talking about it. We may find in addition to the need to address the area in which the mentee is struggling in, that they are also struggling with shame or helplessness. They will also need some encouragement or an accurate understanding God’s unconditional love, redemption and hope.
4. Listen to what’s not being said
It’s important not to take everything at face value. Sometimes people prefer to paint a certain picture of themselves and avoid talking about or dealing with certain areas in their lives. This can lead to superficial conversations or mentoring relationships.
For example, we may find our mentee describe a period of their lives as being unhappy, without giving any details. Pray for discernment about whether to ask for the details now or later. Getting to know our mentee well is essential to understanding how they may view God, people, relationships and all sorts of other subjects. And do make it a point to follow up on action points that were discussed previously.
5. Understand how the mentee communicates
Some people need to talk through their thought processes and think aloud. Others just get to the point quickly, while some others simply need time to gather their thoughts before talking. One may talk about their emotions while another may prefer to talk about their achievements and failures. By understanding how a person communicates, we will be able to listen better to what they mean.
6. Hold our tongue
Try not to cut anyone short, unless they are venting excessively, gossiping and saying unkind things about others. Sometimes, people just need to slowly talk through something, especially if it is a painful subject. Graciously allow our mentee the time they need to express themselves. If they are not getting to the point, gently ask them to clarify what they mean to say.
James 1:19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
7. Understand their feelings
People have genuine, or sometimes misplaced, reasons for their feelings. As we listen, do make it a point to empathise with their point of view – though not necessarily having to agree all the time. Actively listen with compassion, and we will help our mentee become more receptive to what we may have to say in response. We should keep calm and objective at all times, and not get sucked into negative emotions.
Proverbs 17: 27 The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.
8. Hold off on our own opinions or judgments
Only give direct advice or our own opinion as a last resort. It is far better to ask a mentee to seek the Holy Spirit for wisdom and guidance, so they will feel responsible for taking the next step and not rely on others. Everyone needs to learn to rely on God’s Holy Spirit.
Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
9. Summarise, paraphrase or recap
At the end of the time together, it may be useful to just run through what was discussed and the follow up needed. This will demonstrate that we had actively listened and connected with everything that was said during our time together.
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