FAITH & REFLECTION
A Chinese proverb says, “To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is essential to all true conversation.” Yet, I’ve noticed that it is increasingly difficult to obtain people’s attention. Some have told me that this tendency is more pronounced among the young, however my own personal experience is that the trend is irrespective of age.
Robert McCloskey, cognizant of the dearth of attentive listening said, “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
James wrote that we should be “…swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19). Proverbs 8:33 advises, “Hear instruction and be wise, and do not disregard it.” Admittedly however, the verses are more easily quoted than they are observed. How can we be better listeners? Just a few thoughts…
The first steps are nonverbal ones. To begin with, we must learn how to be more attentive. My own random thoughts, as well as people passing by, or other distractions, easily prevent me from listening actively. Looking directly at the person and focusing on their words is helpful. It is difficult for most of us, but we should try not to formulate responses as the other person is speaking…there is nothing intrinsically evil about a thoughtful pause before answering.
Careful, conscious eye contact, good posture, the occasional quiet “I see” and a bit of body language (conservative not convulsive) like leaning forward or nodding in agreement indicates that you are listening and on track.
Verbally, the one speaking will know that we’ve been listening, if we reflect back, in some fashion, what they have been saying. This is not to parrot or use exactly the same words, but something like “It seems to me that you think/feel…is that correct?” One-upmanship where we say, “Yes! That’s just like when I…” is usually inappropriate, as would be an argumentative or combative response. Often, an immediate response, or judgment call is not necessary. At times we may simply say something like, “I will have to think on this for a while.”
I am not suggesting that I follow all of the previous pointers. I’m trying, but I suspect that I prefer talking to listening and it is relatively easy for me to be distracted…especially when the monologue becomes protracted.
The bottom line is that the world is filled with people who long to be heard by someone who truly cares and they will know that we truly care if we really listen.
“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another person has to say.”