The W.I.S.E.R Way to Listen

empowerment self-awareness Apr 11, 2024

Let's start with a quick story.

John said to his wife, "You're the engineer of a train. There are 22 people on board. At the first stop, 3 passengers get off, and 8 get on. At the next stop, 10 passengers get off, and 3 get on. What is the name of the engineer?" Scowling, John's wife says, "How should I know?" John looks at her and says, "See, you don't listen! I said at the beginning, "You're the engineer of a train."

3 Reasons Why You Struggle To Listen Well

This silly story illustrates a simple point. Many people don't listen. Even when are "listening" to those we are closest to, we have a hard time hearing what they have said. Let's get some facts out there, then move on to some practical ways to improve your listening skills:

  • We talk at a rate of 125 words per minute but can comprehend 400 words per minute. ~ LibreTexts
  • Less than 2 percent of people have had any formal education on how to listen. ~ Get In Front Communications
  • Images reside in your long-term memory, whereas words live in your short-term memory. ~ Get In Front Communications

If you can listen and understand up to 400 words per minute, we still have over 65% of our ability to listen available. This makes it challenging to pay attention at times. If you've ever found yourself eavesdropping on a friend's conversation, you've engaged that extra 65 percent. The other reality many people face is not having formal training. If you think about it, there aren't too many experts in any field who have no formal training. Listening is no exception.

The third fact is imagery and comprehension. Words can make an impression and may even elicit an emotional response, but when you pair them with related imagery, long-term memory is activated. If you want to listen well or keep people's attention, try using as many senses as you can.

3 Verses to Help You Be a Better Listener

The Bible serves as one of the best sources for wise instruction in life. Some people say B.I.B.L.E. stands for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. On the subject of listening, there are no less than 73 related verses. Here are 3 verses that help point us to be better listeners.

In James 1:19-20 we learn to wait before we speak. My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.So much of the time we speak too quickly and under false assumptions. Let's start by being quick to listen, not quick to speak.

In Luke 2:46 we read, Then, after three days they found Him [Jesus] in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.At a very young age, Jesus was adept at engaging by listening and asking questions. Jesus teaches us here to listen intently and to ask great questions. He sat among the experts in their field and learned a great deal from them. In the context, you later discover Jesus, as a young boy, had great insight to offer as well. Sometimes even the teacher needs to listen.

Proverbs 3:1-2 My child, remember my teachings and instructions and obey them completely. They will help you live a long and prosperous life. The writer of this proverb is showing us the value of reviewing and remembering the things we are told.

In these verses, we learn to wait and be quick to listen not to speak. Second, to listen and ask questions. Lastly, to review and remember the things we are told and taught. I've taken these concepts and a few others and turned them into an acronym to help you be a better listener. To be a WISER listener.

To Listen Well, WAIT Your turn

When we take the time to sit back, listen and observe, we can do these next four things. If we don't wait our turn or are constantly biding our time to respond, we can't and won't be able to truly listen. Waiting your turn allows you to listen intently and respond slowly. A general rule of thumb is to get comfortable with up to 8 seconds of silence before you speak.

Generally, the person you're conversing with will indicate within 2-3 seconds of silence they are ready for you to share your thoughts. This is typically in the form of a nod, gesture, or a question to you.

WAIT is also an acronym to help you if you talk too much when you communicate with others. It's the question, "Why am I talking?" One tool to use: assume the person talking doesn't want to hear what you have to say. This can be hard as silence will often follow when someone finishes speaking. But, if someone really wants your input, they will ask for it.

Recognize, though, that waiting to talk is different than asking questions or clarifying meaning by summarizing what was said.

To Listen Wisely, Use Your Imagination

A good story transports you to a different place. Your mind is engaged beyond the words and you begin to "see and feel" the story. You begin to experience the context of the story in a deeper way, seeing, touching, hearing, tasting, and smelling the story being told.

We can do this when we listen to others, even if the story is simple. A friend begins to tell you about a breakup they are going through. Imagine yourself in the room they had the tough conversation. Imagine the attitudes and words. Insert yourself into the emotions of the context. Put yourself in his/her shoes.

To Listen Well, Summarize What You've Heard

When we put ourselves in the speaker's shoes and have the scenario in our imagination, we can summarize what we have heard.  Summarizing is arguably the best first response to what someone has said. It clarifies and shows you caught the main points, and most importantly, it shows you care. And if you got it wrong, there is a chance to have it corrected BEFORE you speak.

The summary doesn't have to be perfect or hit on every point. It needs to highlight what matters in the context of the conversation and situation. When we do this, we have truly begun to engage the speaker and the situation. The key to summaries is making sure you share when it makes sense. Wait until the speaker is done with what they have to say.

Secondly, the S also stands for shutting up, slowing down, and being silent. This is not simply closing your mouth and not talking but stopping yourself from having to interject before the speaker is done sharing. It's also slowing your mind down and staying in the present moment.

Many people project out what they believe the person is trying to say and begin developing a response to this predicted communication. In these moments, the listener is not present and loses what is truly being shared. The trick is to keep your focus on the words, ask questions, and stay engaged. Which is our next word in the WISER way-to-listen approach.

Engage the Speaker

There are many ways to engage someone who is speaking. Many don't require words. You can nod or shake your head, frown, smile, laugh, or take notes. Eye contact is the best form of engagement. When we engage without words, it allows the person speaking to feel comfortable continuing. It provides intermittent feedback to make sure you're on the same page.

With that said, listening to someone does not exclude the asking of questions. Sometimes asking questions is the most effective way to engage the speaker and listen to their story. When each of these first four steps is used properly, the final step ensures you have truly listened and can retain what you were told.

Review the Conversation

Research has shown taking notes and reflecting on conversations or content 10 minutes later, a day later, a week later, and periodically afterward will help you recall the information. This will help lock the information into your long-term memory. If we aren't reviewing the information we hear or aren't able to recall the information, are we really listening?

The secondary benefit of taking this action is you'll be more able to recall the information in the next conversation. When you see the friend, family member, or stranger again, the recall will be greatly appreciated. You can create a review habit by simply at the end of the day journaling some of the highlights and insights from the interactions you had that day.


Listening requires work, but the work will pay off in amazing ways. From deeper relationships to better business negotiations, listening intently and responding slowly is worth the work it takes.

  • Wait for permission to speak and be okay with silence.
  • Imagine their story, use all your senses.
  • Summarize what has been said, when appropriate.
  • Engage by asking questions, taking notes, making noises, and keeping eye contact.
  • Review what you heard later that day so you can recall what you heard.

Who is the best listener in your life? How do you know he/she is a good listener?

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