Two psychiatrists meet at their 20th college reunion. One is vibrant, while the other looks withered and worried. “So what’s your secret?” the older looking psychiatrist asks. “Listening to other people’s problems every day, all day long, for years on end, has made an old man of me.” “So,” replies the younger looking one, “who listens?”
Sadly, many people today are not good listeners. They are too busy thinking of what they will say next or they are distracted by other things or they just don’t care. We live in world where we have e-mail, phones, cell-phones, faxes, text-messaging, etc and still we don’t listen well, we tune out.
So, how good a listener are you? Let’s do a quick evaluation of ourselves. Here are some questions for you to think about:
- Since you think about four times faster than a person usually talks, do you use this time to think about other things while you’re keeping track of the conversation?
- Do you avoid listening to things you feel will be too difficult to understand?
- Can you tell from a person’s appearance and delivery that there won’t be anything worthwhile said?
- When someone is talking to you do you appear to be paying attention when you’re not?
- Do certain words and phrases prejudice you so you cannot listen objectively?
- When listening are you distracted by outside sights and sounds?
If you answered yes to most of those questions then you probably have a listening problem. The reality is that many people are longing to find someone who will listen to them. David Augsburger said: “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.” If we want to be a caring community then we need be students of the art and science of listening.
Jesus knew that one of the best ways to minister to people was by listening. Jesus was the master listener. Jesus spent a great deal of time listening to people who were hurting. Take Mark 1:32-34 for example. These verses say: “That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases.”
A quick reading of this doesn’t allow for us to see what was really going on here. I do not believe that this was not just an assembly line where people lined up and Jesus healed them. I believe that Jesus took the time to listen to everyone’s needs before He healed them. By listening to each person’s specific problem Jesus showed that He was interested in more than just physical healing, but also emotional, social and spiritual restoration.
Here are 3 ways that Jesus practiced effective listening skills and how we can apply these skills to our lives as well:.
1. Jesus gave people His full attention.
Jesus listened to people with His eyes, ears and His whole mind. Jesus took time to show people how important they were to Him by giving them His undivided attention. Jesus listened to people’s emotions. Jesus listened in a way that helped Him identify a person’s need.
Two ways we can give people our full attention when we are listening to them:
a. Eye contact: When we are listening to someone we need to make eye-to-eye contact, instead of looking elsewhere. We need to pay attention to the other person. When we make eye contact we are saying, “I am here to listen”.
Jesus demonstrated this. In His encounter with the rich young man, or the rich young ruler, who could not part with his wealth to follow God, Jesus demonstrates to us this important yet overlooked technique of listening. Mark 10:21 records Jesus doing this. This verse says: “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” Eye contact tells the other person that we are interested in really hearing them. It shows that we are not distracted; that we are tuning in.
b. By not interrupting. I know that I can be an interrupter at times. This is something that I am working hard at stopping in my life. When we are listening to someone we need to make a conscious effort not to respond, even in our heads, till the other person has finished talking. James 1:19 says: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak.”
We need to be truly attentive, and hear completely, so that we can respond with our heart and not just our heads! People want to know we care. People want to be understood. Henri Nouwen said: “To care means first of all to be present to each other.” To be a good listener we need to give people our full attention.
2. Jesus was willing to listen to understand the person’s perspective (or step into their shoes).
Jesus honestly appreciated learning about people’s concerns, values, and spiritual condition. After resurrecting from the dead, Luke 24:17-20 tell us that Jesus approached two men walking along the road to Emmaus and asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. Cleopas asked the Lord, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” “What things?” Jesus asked.”
Jesus knew how to ask informative questions that allowed Him to find out what was really important to people. If we are to be good listeners we need to learn to ask what, why, when, where and how type questions that allow people to explain things from their own level of understanding.
Also, while we are listening to understand the other person’s perspective, we need to be looking for the non-verbal cues. We are wired to receive love by having someone “attuned” to us. Attunement is indispensable for true communion between one another. Attunement means not just listening to the words but even more importantly the non-verbals – eyes, facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, body posture, timing, intensity of response.
Our non-verbals reveal more of who we are than our words. When our body language and words differ, the body usually reflects our true state whereas our words reflect what we think we should “think” and “feel”. Proverbs 14:13 says “Laughter can conceal a heavy heart; when the laughter ends, the grief remains” Can we hear the grief beneath the laughter? I don’t think we can, unless we truly listen to understand the other person’s perspective.
3. Jesus didn’t judge His listeners.
Jesus was willing to put away negative feelings, grudges, hurts or misunderstandings to really hear what people were saying. A great example of this is Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well in John 4. The Samaritan woman at the well said to Jesus, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”
Jesus risked being accused of becoming ceremonially unclean if He used a drinking vessel handled by a Samaritan, since the Jews held that all Samaritans were unclean. Jesus was willing to overlook even this deeply embedded cultural value for the sake of reconciling one human being to His Father.
The cross shows God indeed loves the world! Jesus gave His life for the sins of the world. We need to see people as Jesus did. If people did not matter to God, Jesus would not have any reason to go the cross, but He did. Jesus showed us that grace: loves, serves, and forgives. Grace gives breathing room and it invites. Therefore, we need to make the love, acceptance and forgiveness Christ gave to us available to those we listen to. In order to listen well don’t judge the person you are listening too!
Listening is so critical to being a caring community yet it is probably one of the most neglected aspects of life. Perhaps some of us have a hard time listening because we feel uncomfortable. When we are feeling this way we kid around or we dole out Bible verses for advice. Proverbs 18:2 says, “Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions” When we are not quick to listen, we are really showing how foolish we are, aren’t we? Proverbs18:13 “What a shame, what folly, to give advice before listening to the facts!”
If we don’t know how respond, we need to accept it. Our presence, staying with people is what is critical. We don‘t have to know what to say for every circumstance. Advice is more than likely not what most people want anyhow. People want to know that they’re not alone. A common comment from many depressed people is: “I am all alone.” We need to let our presence be felt through our full attention, our willing to understanding and our acceptance. We need to let the love of God, which we have received personally to touch the ones that we are listening to.
CHALLENGE: Pay attention to your listening skills this week.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the worst and 10 being the best), how would you rate yourself as a listener?