Online conversations offer connection with not only people all over the world, but it also offers people the chance to share things they may not with others through anonymous conversation. This leads to authentic sharing and guests being raw with their struggles. These also have the obvious disadvantage of not seeing the other person or hearing tone. This means it is even more important to listen well and absorb the words they share before responding.
One of the risks for seasoned volunteers is that once they have talked to people on a broad range of topics, they may start “filling in the blanks” of someone’s story when they start a conversation down a familiar path. They may start thinking of biblical responses and formulating how to respond to this general situation. They may spend more time thinking of their response than listening to the seeker.
When this happens, we often miss the real story behind the emotion and conversation. We are more likely to skip over an important detail of their story while preparing our response. This results in only appreciating part of the conversation versus actually hearing what the other person is sharing.
The remedy to this challenge is to become a patient listener. That means paying close attention to every word shared. Asking the other person if you have heard them correctly and sharing their story back to them in your own words to ensure that you fully understand them before you respond or offer any guidance. Regardless of the issue, those who have their story accurately repeated back to them often share the following feelings following the conversation:
- I was heard and respected
- I believe the other person cared for me and connected with me
- I do not feel judged
- I am likely to follow through with the recommendations/resources provided
Everyone coming to us has a story and most desperately want to share it. We also know that most people like to hear themselves and letting them lay out their story will often help you determine how to best manage the conversation and earn the right to share the Gospel.
There is a time to direct and control the conversation towards Jesus but do not be so anxious to get there that you forget to listen to the person you meet online. Listening well is loving them well and reflecting the grace Jesus offers each of us.