Diary of a Street Pastors trainee: Listening skills

Have you heard this one before?

How many animals of each species did Moses take into the ark?

I guess it doesn’t work so well on a screen, but as a listening test this question catches a lot of people out. We think we’ve heard one thing, but what was actually said was something quite different (Moses didn’t take any animals into the ark; Noah did).

Understanding the importance of good or ‘active’ listening was what this week’s training was focused on. We began by thinking about our physical stance as we listen, question, tell a story, serve or care for someone. Good listening, we discovered, is not just a job for our ears, but for the language of our whole body.

Why is listening so powerful?

When was the last time you truly felt listened to? It doesn’t happen very often, does it? Listening with our full attention to someone shows that we are interested in them. It allows a person to speak without interruption. Often the most welcome listening is that which doesn’t even attempt to find a solution or resolution to what has been shared.

Why are (good) questions so powerful?

Questions are great for learning about someone. Good questions are an invitation to speak or explain. Asking questions, rather than providing answers, helps a person to come to their own conclusions so that they have more ‘ownership’ of the thinking/resolution process.

How can I show I’m ready to listen?

If you’ve been listened to in a meaningful way the chances are it was in a quiet corner somewhere, not outside a burger van with your mates hanging around at 2 a.m. Listening, for a street pastor, obviously doesn’t mean one-to-one counselling, but opening-up conversations and connecting with people is the challenge. How can I, as a new street pastor, be an effective listener on a busy street?

  1. I start with an attitude that demonstrates that I am approachable and attentive.
  2. I communicate verbally and non-verbally that I value and have concern for those that I meet.
  3. I am open-minded, not judgemental, about everyone.
  4. In conversation I can take time and care to show that I have understood what has been said.
  5. If someone wants to talk, I don’t have to rush away, I can be available right there and then.

I’m nearing the end of my training now – one more session before the 12 of us are commissioned on 16 May!

Ros Davies, a freelance writer and communications consultant, will be joining Exeter Street Pastors.