This first sentence is supposed to hook you. I’m supposed to write something that makes you want to keep reading. Something that convinces you to engage, pay attention, listen up.
It’s a lot more difficult than it sounds.
Humans are not good at listening. We aren’t. We’re much better at talking. Social media has made that very obvious. But even when we’re quiet that doesn’t mean we are listening. We’ve got so much internal dialogue, from fear and insecurity to re-runs of whatever we binge watched last night, that really gaining an understanding of someone else is next to impossible.
Listening doesn’t come naturally to us, but we can intentionally learn to hear and understand.
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”James 1:19-20 ESV
Conflict is everywhere. Just in the United states we have an election year, ongoing debate over whether to face mask or not to face mask, and a new wave of protests against systemic racism and police brutality. But honestly, if it wasn’t any of that, we’d find a different excuse to not listen.
When we come face to face with a different opinion, way of life, personal experience, or are made aware of something we need to correct in ourselves – what makes us want to shout it down instead of understand?
That’s the short answer. We don’t listen because we are afraid. Afraid of hurt, guilt, shame, change, and, ultimately, losing value. When we let fear control our actions conflict escalates.
But, when we choose to listen well, fear dissipates and conflict is resolved!
Remember, we are free to listen until we understand because we can’t lose the value God has given us. We want to listen until we understand because God has given the same value to the people on the other side of whatever line has been drawn.
Which begs the question:
How? How do we gain a real understanding of another human?
I’m going to give you a short rundown for now, and next week I’ll unpack some of these principles. Then I’ll share some books and videos for more learning and practice.
Learning to listen takes practice, by the way. A lot of it.
It’s sooooooooooooooo worth the work though. Don’t you want to be known as a good listener? Don’t you want people to say, “Oh, (insert name) is one of those people who just makes you feel like you’re the only person in the world. They listen so well. They get me!”
Isn’t that the way you want someone to listen to you?
How to listen until you understand (way too simple version):
- Your goal: to understand, not to make yourself understood.
- Make eye contact.
- Stay off your phone. Unless this conversation is happening on the phone but the point is…
- Stay focused on the conversation. No multitasking.
- Get all 5 parts of the story:
- Sensory Data
- Fill in missing parts of the story by asking questions – who, what, how, when, and where.
- Don’t interrupt, if you accidentally interrupt to ask a question just apologize and ask them to continue.
- Avoid asking “why” questions because they cause people to feel criticized and trigger the need to defend themselves (escalates conflict).
- Check your understanding by rephrasing and repeating what they said when they have finished talking.
- You’ve reached understanding when the person your listening to says you understand them, not when you decide you understand them.
- You’re not ready to make a response until you understand the other person.
“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”Proverbs 18:13 ESV
“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”Proverbs 18:2 ESV
Start practicing today! Focus on a conversation, listen for all the parts of the story, ask questions, notice how different the interaction feels. Maybe share this post with a friend or loved one and take turns listening to each other. Change the world by making listening your new thing!