Listening Well

Canon Karen Olson

Listening Well

Beloved in Christ, 

Listening seems to be a lost art in today’s world. We’re so busy opining and telling and convincing people what to think and what to believe, we’ve lost sight in how to honor our friends and foes, our families by birth and by choice, and our colleagues, peers, and strangers in our paths. The best way we can truly honor someone else is by listening to them. And in that very act of listening, we leave space for the Holy Spirit to be part of the relationship. We leave space for transformation.

I commend the ten Listening Hearts Guidelines to you to exercise your listening skills. Try this at home tonight, or at work tomorrow, or at the Vestry meeting or the grocery store:

  1. Take time to become settled in God’s presence.
  2. Listen to others with your entire self (senses, feelings intuition, imagination and rational faculties).
  3. Do not interrupt.
  4. Pause between speakers to absorb what has been said.
  5. Do not formulate what you want to say while someone else is speaking.
  6. Speak for yourself only, expressing your own thoughts and feelings, referring to your own experiences. Avoid being hypothetical. Steer away from broad generalizations.
  7. Do not challenge what others say.
  8. Listen to the group as a whole—to those who have not spoken aloud as well as to those who have.
  9. Generally, leave space for anyone who may want to speak a first time before speaking a second time yourself.
  10. Hold your desires and opinions—even your convictions—lightly.

Can you imagine what meetings and encounters might look and feel like if we all covenanted together to listen this way? Can you imagine if the U.S. Congress or Senate did this? Or your Vestry or Bishop’s Committee meetings? Or your family reunion? Or . . . ?

This is actually fairly simple—but it’s not easy. So, I invite you to pick even just one of these guidelines each day and “try them on.” And at the end of that day in your prayers, reflect with God on what you learned. And then after you’ve tried them all, invite one other person to join you in trying one of the guidelines with you. And then wash, rinse, repeat. That’s a world I’d like to live in. Will you join me in trying?

See the Listening Hearts website for more information.


Karen Olson
Canon for Ministry