The Art of Listening

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1: 19).

My husband and I attended the Sept. 22 Falcons – Colts game in Indianapolis. My husband is a diehard Falcons fan and has been all his life. I, on the other hand, know very little about football; so as the game progressed, I had a lot of questions for Joe – and to his credit, he was very patient with me and answered each and every one.

Unfortunately, throughout the game, the Falcons accumulated their fair share of penalties, one of them being the call of “false start.” This call was made several times and I really didn’t understand how this kept happening. Players were in such close proximity to one another; why weren’t they listening to each other? Joe explained that it was not that simple. Many factors have roles – the loudness of the crowd, distractions on the field, the silent count; but it isn’t because players are inattentive and aren’t listening.

As I continued watching the game, my mind began to wander (just a little) and brought me to a time in my childhood and the game of “telephone.” I can’t remember what age I was when I experienced this activity at school, but Sister must have thought we were old enough to grasp the importance of listening and listening well.

As you recall if you have played it, the game was both fun and humorous! As I recall, it was very rare that the sentence shared at the beginning ended up being what was shared at the end. This result was the point of the entire activity. We saw first-hand how information could change drastically if one failed to listen attentively. As a class, we explored what it meant to be a good listener and its importance.

I think we have to admit that this lesson is not merely for children but is foundational for all of us, especially if we hope to understand others, to be understood and foster good healthy relationships in all areas of our lives. Stephen Covey tells us that, “The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.” How many of you in your own experience would say you find some truth to this in your own personal encounters? I must admit that when my daughter was a teenager, I was a great offender of this. I pray over the years that I have learned and improved my ability “to listen.”

I think Stephen Covey has hit on something that is not always easily realized – that hearing someone and truly listening to someone are two different things. It may be that we may hear and know the meaning of the words, but listening requires much more engagement on the part of the listener. When one is listening, attention is paid to the words chosen, the inflection of the voice, facial expression, stance and if possible, the focus of the eyes. When we are fully engaged in the act of listening, the individual knows it! It is in that act of listening that the person feels respected, valued and cared for even if there might not be agreement with what is being communicated. What a gift we give to one another when we truly listen!

What is the gift in the listening? It is your presence! Jesus modeled this gift presence. When he was with people he was all in, locked on and ever intent on being present to that person. We easily see this in the Gospels’ accounts of his many encounters. He was the ultimate good listener. In this age, when people feel so disconnected from one another, we all might do well to revisit lessons of listening from our youth and those from the Master of Communication!