Tuesday September 27th 2016

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Christian small groups: Listening skills improvement

Depression, anxiety, and addiction are on the rise

It’s the dawn of a new age, but many churches are still sleeping. They haven’t caught up with the warp speed changes happening in the world. How could they, really? We all find ourselves on a new playing field, learning new rules of the game. The technological changes that are intended to connect us at the press of a button are unfortunately disconnecting us from meaningful relationships that help us weather the slings and arrows of life. (A like button on a Facebook post does not soothe a weary soul.)

No wonder then that depression, anxieties, and addictions, are on the rise. It is doubtful that churches could have foreseen the future and been prepared. However, now that the brave new world is here, there is something churches can do to help people build the type of relationships that are needed for healthy lives, families and communities. Churches can teach Christian Listening Skills™. Why will listening skills make for better relationships? It’s all about the brain.

Neuroscience and feeling safe

Dr. Mark Brady, a social neuroscience educator, claims that our brains (at all ages) are hardwired to process the interactions we have with others to determine if we are safe and respected. If we feel safe and respected, our brains develop and organize optimally. If we do not feel safe and respected, our brains do not fare so well.

Our brains are keenly aware of how well someone listens to us. If the listener does a poor job, we can feel disrespected, even unsafe, and it can have a negative impact. On the other hand, if someone listens to us skillfully, we feel heard, understood, and accepted, i.e. safe. Our brains are impacted positively.

Our degree of listening skills directly correlates to how well other people develop as human beings, which in turns correlates to our own development. At the core of good emotional and mental development is a strong sense that we are seen, heard understood, and accepted for who we are. Christian Listening Skills™ accomplishes that.

Most of us are not good listeners

We all like to think we are good listeners, but the truth is, most of us are not. There is a reason for this. Out of the four parts of the communication pie, reading, writing and speaking are taught in schools. Listening is not. Why? Perhaps it is due to the pervasive myth that equates our hearing ability with our listening ability. The ability to hear is not the ability to listen, as deaf people can attest to.

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Love, kindness, compassion, and patience

What exactly are Christian Listening Skills™ and why are they so important? Christian Listening Skills™ encompass the teachings of Jesus: they exhibit love, kindness, compassion and patience. The skills require us to be slow to anger and to be of service to others, instead of focused on ourselves. Christian Listening Skills™ encourage kenosis to be birthed so that we become God reliant as Jesus instructed. As Dr. Mark Brady noted, we need these loving and respectful components in our listening to others for their proper brain development. But it turns out, that listening is not just good for the speaker’s brain; it is good for the listener’s brain as well.

3 ways listening benefits the listener

Here are three ways listening benefits the listener:

1. Reciprocal, trust-filled relationships

Human beings absolutely need to be in honest, meaningful relationships with one another. We need to be able to feel safe enough to be able to tell someone who we really are. We only feel safe enough to do that when someone listens to us skillfully. Once they feel safe with us, they often extend that safety back to us, allowing us the opportunity to share who we truly are. Healthy relationships built upon Christian Listening Skills™ are often reciprocal, the intimacy and trust passed back and forth.

2. Brain changes

An interesting result from a study done on people who answered a helpline for people with a life threatening disease showed that the helpline listeners benefited the most from the conversations, contrary to what one would expect. Their brains had a lot of positive changes. Listening grows our brains (and hearts and souls)!

3. Leadership development

Christian Listening Skills™ help the listener develop leadership traits. The beloved late Catholic priest Henri Nouwen said,  “leadership, for a large part, means to be led.” We can only be led to the extent that we can listen.  Or put another way, we can only lead to the extent that we can listen.

Christian Listening Skills improve relationships, but they can also improve churches. At the core of the Christian faith is Christian fellowship. With church membership on the decline, teaching Christian Listening Skills™ could bolster the appeal and strength of churches. Churches could become the fount of strength, hope, and health that they are intended to be. Another benefit of Christian Listening Skills™ is that we learn how to improve our ability to discern the voice of God in our lives.

Common listening mistakes

With the dawn of the screen age and the need for Christian drug addiction recovery, more than ever, we all need to learn how to listen better. As our lives become more frenetic and less connected on a meaningful level, it is vital to our health to improve our listening skills and, therefore, our relationships. What are some of the common listening mistakes that Christian Listening Skills™ address?  Here is a sampling:

  • Interrupting
  • Giving unasked for advice
  • Making others wrong
  • Putting others on the defensive
  • Stealing the conversation
  • One-upping with our own story
  • Shaming others
  • Ignoring others
  • Multi tasking
  • Expressing anger or frustration
  • Finishing sentences for others
  • Pretending to listen
  • Overlooking emotional content

Christian 12 Step programs have blossomed in the past decades around the country. Churches now have the opportunity to change the face of human history by teaching Christian Listening Skills™ in small groups in order to foster better individual, family and community health, and at the same time, improve Christian leadership. At no other time in history have human beings needed churches to step up and step in to change the rising tide of a society that is losing its ability to meaningfully connect with one another and therefore spiralling down into depression, anxieties and addictions.

Photo credit: Rick&Brenda Beerhorst

Leave a Reply

One Response to “Christian small groups: Listening skills improvement
Cindy
8:48 pm June 12th, 2015

This is so good! I am printing my ” listening mistakes” to mediate and pray on! Thank you. I had adopted it with family but neglected it with sponsees.

About Dr. Jennifer Leigh, Psy.D.

Dr. Jennifer Leigh is a Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Coach and award-winning author. She works with people worldwide to prevent and to heal addictions.

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