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10 Ways to Be a Better Listener

Listening is a crucial skill for small group leaders to master. Here are ten practical tips for improving our listening habits.

Be quiet.

This should be obvious, but it isoften the biggest obstruction to listening. The leader should be part of a discussion without monopolizing it.

Try to understand.

The goal of listening is to understand what the person is really saying.

Eliminate distractions.

People feel comfortable sharing when they are not interrupted. Turn the phone ringer off. Make sure you have childcare arranged. Don’t look at your watch or lesson plan when someone is speaking.


Interject short statements to show you understand and accept what the person is saying. “That sounds exciting!” or “That must have been a hard decision to make” are good examples of how to show empathy.

Don’t judge.

Especially when someone is already hurting, a judgmental attitude can do more harm than good. Don’t condone sin, of course, but recognize the difference between acceptance and approval.

Avoid advising.

Unless they ask for it, people usually do not want or need you to try to solve their problem. They just need someone to listen.

Verify and clarify.

If you don’t understand what someone is saying, ask. “Here’s what I hear you saying. Am I right?” is one good clarifier.

Listen for what is not said.

Try to hear the meaning behind the words. Watch body language and listen to tone of voice. Sometimes what a person is saying is lost behind a clutter of words.

Watch body language.

Sometimes a person’s posture or gestures can say more than words.


“Thanks for sharing that. I’m sure it isn’t easy to talk about right now.” This builds acceptance for talking about difficult things and makes it easier for someone else to share.

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Michael C. Mack founded SmallGroups.com in 1995 and served as a small-groups minister for more than 20 years in several churches. He is a writer, editor, trainer, and consultant in the areas of small groups, leadership, and discipleship. He is the author of more than 25 books and small group studies, including his latest, World's Greatest Small Group (pub. January, 2017). He regularly blogs on his ministry website at SmallGroupLeadership.com. His family is a small group that includes his wife Heidi, their four children, and their dog, Lainey. Mike is also an avid mountain biker.