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Listening 101

"Listening is easy. What I need to know is what to say." Those are the words of a frustrated student who was exasperated with such a big emphasis on listening in care ministry.

What my experience has taught me is contrary to the student's remark. Listening is not easy.

Can you remember the last time someone really listened to you? It's a deep and memorable experience. It doesn't happen often. Most of us are so conscious of ourselves — our ideas, our answers, our experiences — that we are anxious to tell about as quickly as they come to mind. Our focus is so intent on what we want to say next that we don't listen to what the other person is really saying right now.

Effective listening includes watching and paying close attention. Listening involves more than the ears! It involves the eyes and other senses. Did you see the quivering chin? Did you see the reddening rims of the eyes? That glint of a tear? When you do, you begin to know the depth of feeling behind the words spoken.

Good listening includes the listener talking a little - enough to indicate awareness of what the other is saying or sharing, or experiencing emotionally. Pure silence can be confusing, so being a bit verbal as you listen encourages the speaker to know that you are indeed hearing them.

Relaxation and modifying our need to give answers and solve problems is vital to listening. Later, when we have listened long enough, and have listened deeply, we may be able to suggest, challenge, confront or offer some suggestion or an idea that is appropriate. (Here is where I remind you of my usual caution — don't be too quick to speak. Make sure you have heard the person out BEFORE you start offering comments.)

Later . . . later . . . when we have listened long enough, and deeply taken note of what the speaker is experiencing emotionally, we may see how shallow and superficial our earlier solutions or answers would have been. At that point we may now dare to move on, having done much by doing little. Taming the tongue is not a small accomplishment. It's a lot easier to say something than to be quiet; it's a lot easier to say much, than to say little.

Christians tend toward being people with answers. The unkindest cuts of all may be rendered by Christians giving answers, solutions, remedies to other Christians before knowing what the real questions are.

Proverbs 18:13 — "If one gives answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame."

James 1:19 — "Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak."


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