Austrian pianist, Alfred Brendel, once noted that “The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’.” Listening is one of the most common areas of struggle in communication, and yet, it is also one of the essential habits of good communication!
A Poor Listener
“Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions.” Proverbs 18:2 (NLT)
What a great statement! I love Proverbs. They are full of wisdom and reveal to us how we can detect a fool. This verse showcases the fool—who has no desire to understand, and, instead, loves to talk.
And so, a poor listener is one who is not listening to understand, nor is he engaged in the conversation. If he listens at all, it is certainly not because he “has an interest in understanding.” It is, instead, because it provides a chance to speak, to be center stage. A poor listener delights in calling attention to himself. He loves the sound of his own voice.
A poor listener is also quick to give advice or counsel.
“He who answers before listening- that is his folly and his shame.” Proverbs 18:13 (NIV) “A quick retort can ruin everything. Don’t be too fast to answer.” Proverbs 13:3 9 (NLT)
A poor listener will not hear what others say. He is frequently argumentative. The Apostle Peter has been described by some as the disciple with the foot-shaped mouth. Peter was impetuous and hasty in speech, and often he spoke without thinking. So many times, while he walked with Jesus, he said foolish things that he soon regretted. The greatest of these was when he denied Jesus three times by the fire after the arrest. He lived with the shame and regret of his words until after Jesus rose from the dead and came to him as he was fishing.
Friends, how often have you lived with similar results of shame and regret after speaking in haste? How many times have you wished in hindsight that you had just held your tongue another minute or two? Peter was too swift to answer and replied out of fear for his own life.
A Good Listener
You might think that is completely reasonable considering the circumstances, however, an attentive listener demonstrates patience and an active listener demonstrates humility.
“…consider others better than yourself…” Philippians 2:3 (NIV)
It can be extremely humbling to wait courteously until the other person is finished speaking. You may find, however, that what you have to say can probably wait until the other person is finished. You may learn, in the meantime, that what you would have offered is covered, or you would have embarrassed yourself by speaking up sooner.
Please understand that active listening is not a passive activity!
There are so many distractions, that it is easy to zone out while someone is speaking. To remove that temptation, remove yourself from the enticing distraction! Turn off the TV; go into another room; don’t attempt to do another task that requires concentration if you have indicated a willingness to listen to someone. Good listening requires attention. If you really can’t concentrate, be honest! It is much more polite to let the speaker know that you are in the middle of something and just can’t listen attentively right now. Offer to call back or stop by in a designated amount of time, and then be true to your word.
“The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out.” Proverbs 18:15 (NIV)
A good listener must seek out and probe for accurate and adequate knowledge of what the other person is trying to communicate. Ask the following questions to clarify points that are unclear.
- What did you mean by that?
- What is your understanding of that word/phrase?
- What does this mean to you?
- What does the Bible say about that?
It is a devastating error to draw conclusions without all the facts! Many arguments could be avoided, and many relationships salvaged if the people involved would just gather facts before making conclusions! You must listen to what is being said to you with “clear ears.” Clear ears are not waiting to pounce on everything being said and reply in attack mode and do not twist and manipulate words! Listen carefully to the speaker’s choice of words and ask clarifying questions. This will indicate to the speaker that you really are listening and that you care about what he is saying. Once you have learned to listen, you have earned the right to speak!
Listening is an art. It is something that must be cultivated, practiced and learned. You want to learn how to “put off” poor listening habits and “put on” good ones…biblical ones. That comes next time!
This article originally posted on 4 September 2008, under the title, “Communication Involves Listening First. “https://bc4women.org/2008/09/communication-involves-listening-first/