One of the verses from this week’s Proverbs 31 On-line Bible Study, Keep It Shut, was James 1:19, which says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” (NIV). I’ve heard it said that God knew what He was doing when He gave us two ears and one mouth – we need to learn to listen twice as much as we talk. Not sure God really had that in mind when He created Adam and Eve, but the principle still works. We need to learn to listen more than we speak. And we need to learn to listen well so we can really understand what is being said, not simply because we are waiting for a gap so we can jump in with our two-cents worth.
Last Sunday, during our iConnect Sunday School class, I caught myself trying to jump in so I could add my “wisdom” to the discussion that was going on, instead of actually listening to what was being said. So as I’ve studied the chapters in Karen Ehman’s book this week, one of the things on my mind has been learning how to become the kind of listener that I really want to be. What attitudes and ideas might help me in being a better listener?
The first key that comes to mind in becoming a better listener is realizing the world doesn’t revolve around me. Sure, I know this as a Christian, but if it doesn’t affect my mouth it is just head knowledge and not heart knowledge. If Jesus cares enough about the people around us, in this case about the people in my class, to die for them, don’t I at least care enough to listen to what they have to say? That’s not a big sacrifice. People are important to Jesus, and He wants them to be important to us.
A second key to being a good listener is to never assume you know what the other person is saying. This is most important with the people we know best, our immediate family. When my husband starts to say something, I need to be very cautious not to surmise I know what he’s going to say and either start thinking about something else instead of listening or interrupt him to give my opinion on the matter. This can especially be a problem with our children, who may not have matured to the point where they are good communicators. It’s so easy to react to something we think a child is saying, only to learn later that’s not what they were saying at all. Sometimes it’s wise, when they stop talking, to restate what you think they were saying in your own words, or to ask questions to clarify what they were saying, to make sure you really did understand what was being said. This will help us avoid overreacting or taking immediate action that we may later regret.
Finally, we need to understand that words aren’t the only form of communication. Watch for non-verbal forms of communication, such as facial expressions, eye contact (or lack of it), tone of voice, gestures, and posture. Try to be aware of their feelings about the subject at hand. All of these are important in really understanding what a person is saying.
In conclusion, good communication is the foundation of any successful relationship. Being a good listener is a part of this, and listening requires humility, patience, and love. Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” (NIV). Learn to listen to what the person is saying, then if appropriate draw out the speaker by asking careful but genuine questions, while being careful not to try to pry out details that the speaker isn’t ready to share. Recognize that being a good listener helps us too – it prepares us to speak well when it’s our turn.