How to Perfect the Art of Listening

This is the third post in the series on Chip Removal for Christians. Read the previous post here

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Communication is a lost art.

In spite of the vast amount of books, classes and seminars on the subject, we are probably worse listeners now than we were 50 years ago. We are instantly connected these days through social media, email, and texting and yet much is lost in the cacophony of wires, pixels and tones. (Those wires and pixels are often distracting us from fellow humans as well!)

What do you think is one of the major causes of conflict in our relationships? I suggest that it is often poor listening and foolish talking.

How often do you find yourself in one of these scenarios:

  1. While someone is talking, your mind is rapidly piecing together a response to what they are saying (instead of really digesting what they are saying).
  2. Your friend is going through a difficult time She sits across from you, pouring her heart out. Instead of discerning the uniqueness of her situation, you jump in: “Yeah! I know exactly how you feel! Let me tell you what happened to me…” (This unwittingly causes them to feel that you view their troubles as paltry compared with your own).
  3. You try to talk to your friend over lunch and they are sort of listening, as they thumb over their meDevice. They say, “mmm-hmm” to your non-yes-or-no question while scrolling through their texts and typing replies.
  4. You are in conversation with someone and, while you are still mid-sentence, they turn around and begin talking with someone else.

Have you been there? Were you the listener or the speaker? How did it make you feel?

No wonder there is so much anger and offense in our congregations and the world at large: We are failing to truly listen and respect each other!

Several years ago, I worked as a customer service representative for a mid-size corporation. I served customers like Cingular (now part of AT&T), Costco, T-Mobile and others. I was in charge of coordinating with the clients and the printers to get the projects completed and delivered to our factory on time. I learned early on that relaying information over the phone with my printing company was a mistake. They would eliminate critical details from time to time and there was no proof that I had conveyed the information. To reduce the amount of mishaps, I would call to notify them about the job and then send an e-mail confirming our conversation and supplying the specs for the job.

My correspondence consisted of neatly composed checklists complete with clarifying comments at the end. I even tried to work up a PDF form that they would like, but it never stuck. The situation did improve over time. We slowly learned to communicate more effectively with each other, but inevitably, there would be that high-dollar project for that challenging client that we needed yesterday and some crucial detail would be overlooked. When I asked why the error occurred, the answer was often, “you didn’t tell me.” I would breathe deeply (to avoid blowing a gasket) and ask them check the original e-mail. Remember the “e” in email? It means evidence. Evidence that I did say that. They would slap their hand on their forehead and groan.

Yeah… Guess who got to call the customer with the bad news…

Getting the right information from person to person was vital, and in our fast-paced work environment, there were inevitable problems in getting things right the first time. I should have asked more questions regarding their needs instead of assuming I knew the best way to relay information; they should have paid closer attention to my carefully submitted details. We were both at fault. We should have worked on our communication (and respect) skills!

Consider this verse in James:

“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath…”

~ James 1.19, NKJV

Ask yourself: Am I swift to hear and slow to speak… or am I slow to hear and swift to speak?

I often find myself mistakenly thinking that what I have to communicate is so vital. It might be, but my attitude should be one of discretion and discernment. Is what I have to say necessary or is it damaging? Is it helpful or does it merely add to the noise?

I saw the image below on the internet over a year ago. I printed it and put it in my kids’ notebooks for school. The acronym is useful for anyone striving to be more controlled in what they say:

before you speak

You can download this file at scribd.com by clicking here.

We would have so much less “offense” in our congregations if we would slow down and take the time to hear and comprehend what our brother or sister is really communicating. True listening is an act of respect and love. Love extends a higher regard to the one loved and places their needs above my own.

The 4 steps to better listening:

  1. Look. Look directly at the face of the person speaking. As they are talking, consider their expressions and body language.
  2. Pause. Let a brief silence hang in the air when they are done speaking. And while that pause is hanging, go to step 3…
  3. “T.H.I.N.K.” Their need to be heard and understood is greater than your need to speak. Consider what you have to say before it escapes your lips.
  4. Speak. It may be wise to reiterate what they said in your own words and ask if that is what they meant, or, ask a clarifying question about something they said. This demonstrates that you were indeed listening and resolves any possible misapplication. Once that is done, then, say what you think needs to be said.

The whole point of this listening exercise is to demonstrate your love for your brothers and sisters in Christ. In our instant message world, we are in such a hurry to shout our words that we end up running people over with them.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Philippians 2.3-4, ESV

Take time to read the surrounding context of the above verse. Even Christ—the very Son of the Almighty God—humbled himself. He truly listened not just to what people were saying, but what they were thinking! He could have easily said, “What I have to say is far more important. Stop pestering me with your petty problems.” More often than not, He listened. As a boy of twelve, He sat in the temple asking and answering questions. As a teacher, He heard the pleadings of a Canaanite woman. He listened to the mournful cries of the suffering and dying. He read between the lines and touched people’s needs. He listened because He loved.

Quality listening demands humility. It requires love. It seeks to honor the other person.

What exercises help you to listen better?

Leave a comment below!

Our next post in this series on Chip Removal for Christians will deal with the Golden Rule.

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13 thoughts on “How to Perfect the Art of Listening

  1. Godsmanforever October 19, 2015 / 09:31

    Great post Elihu !! I find myself breaking many of your important points…and will work on them !!

    Blessings in Christ, bruce

    Liked by 1 person

    • Elihu October 19, 2015 / 09:43

      Thanks for your honesty, Bruce! I wrote this for myself too… I’m not the best at listening or careful word choice. I appreciate your comment! God be with you

      Like

  2. Christfollow3r October 19, 2015 / 12:08

    Reblogged this on Theological Reflections and commented:
    Very practical and helpful post!
    Intentional listening is crucial within every sphere of our lives! Often times simply taking the time to earnestly listen to others is the most effective way to let Christ’s love shine through us. Witnessing our faith to others needs to always be a two-way street, otherwise all that we would be be doing is bombarding people with our beliefs.
    I believe that we can always improve upon our listening skills, especially while living in the Digital Age like you mentioned.

    May God be glorified and Christ exalted as we allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through us to cultivate the skill of listening to others with intentionality!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Elihu October 19, 2015 / 13:30

      Thank you for sharing this post. I greatly appreciate it!

      It’s amazing how so many of our choices as Christians really boil down to glorifying Christ.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Christfollow3r October 19, 2015 / 13:35

        You’re welcome!
        I really enjoyed your post so it was my honor.
        I couldn’t agree more with the importance of glorifying Christ with our decisions as Christians. Like John 3:30 says, “He must become greater; I must become less”.
        God Bless and have a great day!

        Liked by 1 person

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