Most of us, if not all, are familiar with the notion that God gave us two ears and one mouth because He wanted us to spend twice as much time listening as we do talking. Embracing that idea is indeed a good place to start in our efforts to be more effective in our communication at home, at church, or in the workplace.
However, it is just that–a starting point.“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak. . .”(James 1:19, KJV)Listening is a much more complex and nuanced activity than we think and it doesn’t necessarily come naturally to us. From the time we enter the world we are conditioned to communicate for our own gain. As infants were fed, changed, or comforted because we signaled our need(s) by crying. Once we began to acquire language recognition skills, we used them primarily towards the same end.
As a result, we developed the attitude that speaking holds more value than listening and that the primary reason we should listen is to formulate what we should be saying in order to get what we want. Even our early schooling teaches us to listen for our own benefit–repeat what we were taught and receive a good grade. Consequently, we typically and habitually listen in order to respond. But listening to respond is not as beneficial as effective as listening to understand, particularly in our most important relationships.“Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.”(Proverbs 18:2, NIV)Think about how good it makes you feel to be listened to.
If you could get that same feeling from talking to a wall, then you wouldn’t seek to gain that feeling from the people in your life. But listening has to be demonstrated in order for you to get that feeling from someone. Theymustshowyou that they are listening and that suggests that listening should be active. We can get all the passive listening we want from the wall. In order to be an active listener, we must be intentional in how we go about doing so. We must be fully present. Our verbal and nonverbal responses must be thoughtful and empathetic. It means purposely moving away from our normal routines and patterns of dialogue.
This change will only come through practice and repetition, otherwise, our old habits will continue to take hold. Ask yourself these questions the next time you have a chance to listen to someone: Are you making eye contact with them? What is your body language conveying to them? Are you reading their body language? Does it or should it change your body language? Do you care about how their feelings are connected to what they are saying? If, are you demonstrating that? Have you checked in with them to make certain that you understand not only what they are saying, but why they are saying it?
There is so much more to be shared about effective listening, its benefits, and how to go about becoming a better listener. Countless volumes have been written about it and I’ll share more about listening in this publication over time. In the meantime, consider this–perhapsGod not only gave us two ears because he desired for us to listen twice as often as we speak but also because it requires twice as much effort and concentration.