Mentors as Listeners

  • Don Payne
  • Feb 1, 2005

The Uncommon Individual Foundation defines mentoring as "a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction." How would you describe the power of those who listen? Some can trace their ability to make a complex decision back to a good listener who helped them talk their way through to clarity. Others have regained the sense that God takes them seriously as a good listener has embodied that trait. What effect has good listening had on you? Have you experienced healing, courage, confidence, faith, freedom? Listening may feel quite passive. Yet, it is among the powerful activities in which we can engage! 

Some years ago, noted author Philip Yancey reflected on his own journey in Christianity Today. He recalled commenting to a pastor with whom he had been meeting regularly that the pastor probably got tired of listening to his petty struggles. The pastor responded by asking how the world might have been a different place had a troubled, teenage Adolf Hitler had someone take his turmoil seriously enough to really listen to him.

What are some of the specific results of listening? Listening is an integral factor in the building and maintaining of trust. Without trust, mentoring relationships go nowhere. Listening is perhaps one of the most human and humane acts we can perform. When someone listens to us - really listens to us - we can go away feeling more alive, more alert to God, more responsive to life, more hopeful.  Norman H. Cohen (Mentoring Adult Learners) reminds us that listening is a means of gaining the information and understanding necessary for giving helpful input to a mentoree (when it's time to be the "brain to pick" or the "push in the right direction"). That information is obtained by listening both to what is said and to what is between the lines.

Listening well is as active a component of mentoring as any other! It is a skill that must (for many of us anyway) be thoughtfully, deliberately pursued and refined. The personal and Kingdom-wide effects of our listening skills make it worth all the patience and effort involved. 

If you would like some additional resources and insights on listening, consult the following website.