My wise husband always says, "If you're not clinically deaf, hearing is involuntary. Listening on the other hand, is voluntary. Listening is an intentional choice someone makes to hear with their heart." He's right! If a person is not clinically deaf, then they can hear...everything! You can hear the laundry machine running, or children playing outside; you can hear coffee brewing or conversations from co-workers in the cubicles around you. You can hear all kinds of things without ever intentionally deciding that you're going to hear them—you just do. But listening to understand what someone else is trying to communicate is an entirely different story.
"Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore, put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls...If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame."~ James 1:19-21, Proverbs 18:13
Most people won't admit they are bad listeners, although most of us are. It doesn't matter if it's with family, friends, co-workers or even strangers, it seems that most of us have more misunderstandings with others than we have agreements. To prove this point, just go to the book store or search the internet and you'll find a myriad of books, pamphlets, skill sheets and other resources to help us learn to listen better and avoid costly and/or hurtful misunderstandings.
So why don't most of us listen; that is, hear with our hearts? It's because most of us are usually talking too much, whether out loud, or in our heads—and it happens even while someone else is talking. We tend to either monopolize the conversation (which then, really isn't a conversation, but rather a monologue), interrupt someone else's sharing, or we hear a key word someone says and it catapults us into our own opinion about the subject and we begin preparing in our heads what we want to say as soon as that person takes a breath.
To sum up our poor listening skills, we're all more interested in what we think about something rather than how the other party feels or thinks. Yes, it all boils down to the fact, that we're all a bit self-focused and self-centered and prefer to hear ourselves talk than listen, love and learn from others.
"Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent."
"When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent."
"A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion."
"Before destruction a man's heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor. If a man gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame."
~ Proverbs 17:28, 10:19, 18:2, 12-13
Do you see a theme here in God's word? Our Father's wise and loving words calls us to examine our hearts and ask ourselves some honest questions: If even a fool knows when to close his mouth, what am I when I don't? What am I if I don't listen well to others and am only interested in my own air time?
Considering this, let's resolve to be better listeners together, shall we?
Starting today, let us resolve to:
- Be at least as wise and discerning as a fool and will choose to intentionally listen more and speak less;
- Cultivate a habit of hearing others with our hearts rather than with my own preconceived ideas about a subject matter;
- Lovingly listen and pay close attention to what someone is actually saying, instead of assuming we know what they're talking about;
- When I communicate, I will say what I mean and mean what I say rather than say one thing and mean another, then expect others to figure it out;
- Humbly receive correction if I don't say what I mean and mean what I say.
Just think, no matter how many people are a part of a conversation, it only takes one "light"; one person to hear with their hearts and move the conversation towards honoring Christ, rather than honoring self.