By Kevin Riner
For some reason, people don’t tend to have a problem opening up with me. Being in a customer based business, I tend to run into a lot of people who want to tell me their life story. On other occasions, friends open up rather well and I typically don’t provoke them to. I’m not exactly sure how I became that person that anybody can talk to, but it seems I have. I didn’t set out to be that guy.
I sat down one day and tried to map out what I think opens doors for people to tell me personal stuff. Like I said, I don’t provoke them to. I don’t pry into their personal business. I particularly don’t try to pry because the more I know, the more I’m accountable to. So as folks opened up to me, I took note of my actions and thoughts. This is what I came up with:
Intently listen – Typically, most people don’t listen intently. They are just there. They allow the words to be a sound rather than important information. When listening, people either develop an argument or consider how they can direct the conversation toward their preferable topic. When you listen with intent you allow what the other person is saying to reverberate and create interest.
Be genuinely concerned – Listening intently is being genuinely concerned. Put the emphasis and importance on the other person. Love others before yourself as yourself. Care about what they say, how they feel. Put yourself in their shoes and feel what they’re feeling. Don’t write it off as they are being too sensitive or overbearing in their feelings.
Create a conducive physical and mental space – Don’t allow distractions. If you see a distraction, offer to move to a more quiet place. This shows that you care about what they have to say. Also, create a physical space. It’s important because if someone is in an area that they feel binding, it could easily become binding in their conscience. This will create tension that’s not necessary.
Wait for the person to open up – People open up more if they feel like you’re not being intrusive. Don’t pry. Allow them to take the conversation as far as they need. Don’t push the conversation further than the boundaries they’ve already set in their heart. This could prove to do more damage than good.
Do not interrupt with what you feel or think about the topic being discussed – Spring boarding off of the last one is don’t interrupt. I learned this the hard way when a friend got in my face and said he’d quit talking to me if I was gonna continue to interrupt and not let him finish. Allow the person to give you an opportunity to assert your thoughts. But don’t manipulate the conversation.
Follow and encourage the speaker with body language – I’m sure you’ve heard of people with kind eyes. I never thought I had them but most people tell me the most striking feature I have is my eyes. I also think this is another reason people open up with me. Of course I have to be intentional about having kind eyes because my typical look is a scowl, so when I’m around new folks or folks who start-up a conversation, I immediately change my countenance to a pleasant one. It helps.
Practice the empathetic sounding back technique (repeat and encourage) – Maybe you’ve been around those folks who say mm-hmm, yeah, and uh-huh when you’re talking. These can be signs of non-intentional listening. The best way to be a great listener is to repeat what you’ve heard and encourage. NEVER TEAR DOWN. The last thing a person who’s opening up to you needs is to be discouraged and torn down. Always encourage and buildup. Repeat what you’ve heard and be positive. If you can’t be positive, find something to be positive about. Do not criticize.
Don’t gossip later. Be trustworthy – Lastly, NEVER gossip. Be trustworthy. Someone has just opened up to you and told you things they probably haven’t told people who are close to them. Never go telling others what has been spoken to you. It’s no one’s business. REALLY. I’m typically surprised when folks open up to me because I feel it’s none of my business. If I feel like it’s none of my business, why in the world would I tell others I am absolutely sure that it’s none of their business. Be trustworthy and keep it to yourself. Gossiping is damaging to not only the person who spoke to you but to you as well. If you gossip, those you gossip to will learn you’re a gossiper and will never open up to you.
I have intentionally left out a lot of scripture backing up my thoughts. Some folks don’t believe in scripture and still can be a great listener. I think if you take these outlined ideas and follow them, you’ll have more people opening up to you and wanting to talk. And why would you want that you may ask. People need someone to talk to. They need it. You may be the only person they can find to open their hearts to and get out their thoughts. And thinking out loud can make us better people.
For more of Kevin Riner, check out his blog Yahweh’s Song at http://yahwehssong.com/.