Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said: “Perhaps even more important than speaking is listening. … If we listen with love, we won’t need to wonder what to say. It will be given to us—by the Spirit.”1
Listening is a skill we can learn. Listening shows our love for others, helps build strong relationships, and invites the Spirit to bless us with the gift of discernment to help us understand others’ needs.2 Here are five ways we can improve how we listen.
Many people need time to gather their thoughts before speaking. Give them time to think both before and after they say something (see James 1:19). Just because they are finished speaking doesn’t mean they have said everything they need to. Don’t be afraid of silence (see Job 2:11–3:1 and Alma 18:14–16).
We think faster than others speak. Resist the temptation to jump to conclusions or to think ahead to what you’ll say when they’re through (see Proverbs 18:13). Instead, listen with the intent to understand. Your response will be better because it will be informed by greater understanding.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions that clarify something you didn’t understand (see Mark 9:32). Clarifying reduces misunderstanding and shows your interest in what is being said.
Paraphrase what you heard and how you understand the other to feel. This helps them know if they have been understood and gives them an opportunity to clarify.
You might not agree with everything said, but agree with what you can without misrepresenting your own feelings. Being agreeable can help defuse anxiety and defensiveness (see Matthew 5:25).
President Russell M. Nelson taught that we should “learn to listen, and listen to learn from one another.”3 As you listen with the intent of learning about others, you will be in a better position to understand their needs and hear promptings about how you can care for those around you as the Savior would.
A story from Elder Holland illustrates the power of listening:
“My friend Troy Russell pulled his pickup truck slowly out of his garage. … He felt his back tire roll over a bump. … He got out only to find his precious nine-year-old son, Austen, lying face down on the pavement. … Austen was gone.
“Unable to sleep, unable to find peace, Troy was inconsolable. … But into that agonizing breach came … John Manning. …
“I frankly don’t know on what schedule John and his junior companion made visits to the Russell home. … What I do know is that last spring Brother Manning reached down and picked Troy Russell up off the tragedy of that driveway just as if he were picking up little Austen himself. Like the … brother in the gospel he was supposed to be, John simply took over the priesthood care and keeping of Troy Russell. He started by saying, ‘Troy, Austen wants you back on your feet—including on the basketball court—so I will be here every morning at 5:15 a.m. Be ready. …’
“‘I didn’t want to go,’ Troy told me later, ‘because I had always taken Austen with me. … But John insisted, so I went. From that first day back, we talked—or rather I talked and John listened. … At first it was difficult, but over time I realized I had found my strength in the form of [John Manning], who loved me and listened to me until the sun finally rose again on my life.’”4