Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Art of Listening

Everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak. (James 1:19)

One relational skill that I lack is the ability to listen to others. I think that this has to do with my analytic approach to most situations in life. When someone relates to me a problem that they are grappling with, my first instinct is to get them to "cut to the chase", just give me the facts so that I can figure out the solution for them. I feel like my mind is just hard-wired this way. However, I think, perhaps, the biggest reason why I don't listen well to others is that I like to hear myself talk. Selfishly I need to be the center of attention. I want others to appreciate how quick and smart I am. Because of this, I am a poor listener.

I can assure you that, even though I have a clear cognitive understanding that when folks talk to me about issues that are important to them, it is usually not because they want me to dispense advice. Although I know this, I cannot seem to keep my mouth shut and really listen. This trait of mine has negatively impacted several important relationships in my life. It's a lesson that I understand, but am at a loss to put into practice when I really need to.

God can accomplish incredible things through people who are able to listen respectfully and lovingly. Oftentimes, nary a word needs to be said to help and to heal, to honor others and to let them express themselves. I must come to focus on feelings, not facts. I need to begin with sympathy and empathy, love and respect, not solutions. I need to just shut up and let people talk out their feelings without interruption. Just listen and let them unload emotionally. Don't argue or become a blockade. With release comes healing. Feelings are not always logical or factual or sensible.

I need to value listening before speaking. When I am speaking, I am not listening to the other person or to the promptings of the Lord. I am not validating the other person. It is not about problem solving. Sometimes when I quickly toss out "obvious" solutions, I make the other person feel self-conscious, foolish, and stupid. Before I speak I need to let the other person finish. Then I need to fully process my thoughts before I open my mouth with words of encouragement, understanding, and validation. Sometimes a hug and a shoulder offered in love can be more important than anything I might utter.