Are you listening? Tips from Pope Francis and St. Benedict to become better listeners

Are you listening to me? These are words I've uttered many times to my husband over the years. Like many couples, we must be cognizant of the communication, which is often the cause of marital breakdowns.

Listening is an indispensable first step in human communication, a dimension of love and a condition of genuine dialogue, Pope Francis said in his message for World Communications Day.

St. Benedict once said we should “listen carefully to the master’s instructions and attend to them with the ear of your heart.”

Today, Pope Francis is encouraging us to do the same — listen with the ear of the heart.

A few years ago, I was sitting in a client’s office as we met about an upcoming event. I was co-writing a major speech for him. I tend to get excited when ideas pop in my head, and I kept blurting them out while he spoke. Finally, he said, “Can you please just listen and let me finish?”

That was a reality check. I needed to listen more. I took that plea from him to heart, and since that moment, I have made a concerted effort to truly listen to those with whom I am communicating, both in my personal life and professional life. As a journalist and talk show host, I am trained to listen so as to engage in a conversation and learn information. As journalists, our goal should be to get to the heart of a story.

We need to listen before we speak. My daily prayer is, “Lord let me hear truth, see truth, know truth so that I may speak truth.”

I want to hear Truth with a capital T, which comes from Scripture first. We must listen to the voice of God first, then to each other.

In his message, Pope Francis continued to say, "I would now like to draw attention to... 'listen,' which is decisive in the grammar of communication and a condition for genuine dialogue. Communication does not take place if listening has not taken place, and there is no good journalism without the ability to listen."

Pope Francis delivered his message Jan. 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists.

As a former full-time journalist in secular media, the pope's statement resonated with me. In my opinion, we have lost balanced journalism on many levels. Many media outlets have agendas, forcing us to do our own research to find the truth in a story. Our eyes and ears must be open and aware of media bias today; if both sides of a story are not being told, then it’s not a balanced story.

“In order to provide solid, balanced, and complete information, it is necessary to listen for a long time," Pope Francis said. "Listening with the ear of the heart" is the theme of his message this year.

Let’s listen from the heart — the heart of God.

When I became a trained and certified life and leadership coach, I continued to enhance my listening skills. The most essential skill as a coach is to listen. If I don’t listen, I can’t get to the heart of an issue with my clients. If I don’t listen, I can’t get to the heart of a story in an interview as a talk show host.

I want to share three simple strategies to help us become better listeners:

  1. Don't interrupt. Let the person finish speaking before you respond. Even allow a bit of silence. It’s imperative to allow for that pause before you start talking. You are signaling to the other person that he has been heard.
  2. Be an attentive listener by using eye contact and body language. Show the person you are listening by looking at them, not at your phone or elsewhere.
  3. Ask questions. Don’t listen to respond. Listen to engage and find out more information. Your conversation partner might say something that inspires you to ask questions and to learn more.

As Pope Francis appropriately pointed out, “We no longer engage in dialogue, but competing monologues.” In Romans 10:17, St. Paul says, “Faith comes through hearing." Our faith is strengthened as we listen to the word of God, and by listening to His word, from the heart of God, we can better listen to one another.

To listen with the ear of our heart and foster connection, we must give people our full attention and make them feel like they’re the only person in the room. You can signal this focus with thoughtful eye contact, nodding in understanding, and showing your compassion with your facial expressions.

Vanessa Denha Garmo is a communications strategist, evangelist, Christian coach and host of the "Epiphany" radio program on Ave Maria Radio. She has a master’s degree in communications and is the founder of Epiphany Communications & Coaching.


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