Just Listen

The Art of Successful Relationships

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Getting along with others, whether at home, at work, at school, church, or in the neighborhood is one of the most important elements for successful living. Key to this is the ability to listen to what people are saying, and recognizing that they have something they want to share and wish to be heard. This is a skill that does not always come easily; it has to be developed. Being understood and taken seriously, no matter how trivial or how casual, is the secret to a good relationship. Shrugging off a remark, or treating it as being insignificant, sends a message that what the speaker is saying is not important. Success in any relationship is directly related to how we understand what others are saying and how we convey a sense of caring, even if we do not agree with everything they say.


There are basically four different personality types in conversation. There are the analytical people who are self-controlled and may be assertive, but also may have ideas that need to be considered. They like facts, and are good organizers and problem solvers. Then there are the drivers who want action—any action is better than no action—and are willing to go it alone. There are expressive people who are creative thinkers, people who can become emotional if they are not heard but who have ideas worth listening to. And finally there are the amiable people. These people value relationships, are supportive, and tend to compromise rather than offend.

So, what is the secret of getting along? How does one relate in a meaningful and constructive way? There is a skill known as story listening—allowing the person to express themselves without interjecting your own thoughts.


There are four basic types of stories: The “I know someone who…” story; the “Last year this time…” anniversary story; the “I've explained this problem before…” rehearsal story; and the “Well then I'll just…” reinvestment story. While you are listening to one of these stories, your counter story will probably surface. You may be eager to interject your thoughts or opinions. However, by interrupting with your counter story you're sending a message to the other person that you're not really listening to what they are sharing. If you say, “that reminds me of” and you go on with your story, you're sending a message that you are not really hearing what they are telling you.

Listening Well

In conversation, maintain eye contact and affirm that you are hearing. Even if you don't agree with everything, show that you're listening. Encourage the speaker to continue and grant them the privilege of being completely heard. Strange as it may seem, often it is not the first thing they say that is the problem. By listening carefully, a totally different problem may surface that was covered up by the first story. And then a third story may develop after that! 

Listening with a minimum of defensiveness, criticism or impatience is important in any relationship. It sends a message to the speaker that you want to hear and want to help or at least that you want to understand what they are saying. Much conflict and sadness can be avoided when there is a willingness to listen constructively. Successful relationships are key to happiness and productivity whether at home, at school, at work or at church. And as God's representatives here on earth, bringing harmony and understanding provides the opportunity to help, be of service to others, and share God's love in this sin-sick world.

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