Listening to One Another (Part of a Course on Biblical Friendship)
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church July 9, 2017
“Because such a big indicator of loving is listening, a great listener is a great lover.”
What does the Bible tell us about listening, about hearing?
A. We are to listen to what God says: “Hear O Israel” ( 6:4ff.)
But biblical listening implies putting into practice. In Hebrew, Greek, and in Latin, the words “listen” or “hear” could easily be translated as “obey” or “give heed to.”
Matthew 11:15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
B. We are to listen to others:
James 1:19 Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;
Proverbs 18:2 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.
Proverbs 18:13 If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.
Proverbs 19:20 Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.
Think about the art and skill of listening to other people.
Listening is more important than we think it is: for active and empathetic listening can make a deep impact on another person. Adam McHugh writes in The Listening Life: “It can be utterly exhilarating to listen to someone and to see their eyes light up as they discover something new about themselves and feel their emotions validated. It is one of my greatest joys.”
Think about a conversation with a good friend where your loving listening helped your friend to gain insights or to feel unburdened. What a joy!
What if we approached every relationship, every encounter with another person, with the intention of being a good listener, and drawing out that person?
Listening is one of the first things we can do, and it is one of the last things we can do:
As infants, we listen before we can speak. As we get older and we decline, our hearing usually stay with us beyond our speaking ability.
Rate yourself as a listener (to other people), on a 1 to 10 scale, with 10 being the best.
Okay….why did you rate yourself that way? What criteria did you use?
“Most of us think we are good listeners, but in reality, we may not be.”
First Step: Ask the Lord for a Listening Heart
How can you become a better listener? Perhaps the real question is: Do you want to become a better listener? Are you convinced it is part of loving others as yourself? That listening to others is important and Christ-honoring?
Think about listening to someone who is grieving, or troubled… or someone who is full of good news and is dying to tell someone else! How do you listen to that person? Do you allow them to share only a part of what they want/need to say, before you jump in with your story of your pain or your joy, or do you draw them out, by active listening and good follow-up questions? Is the conversation about them… or is it about you?
We can learn techniques for better listening, but what we really need is a listening heart. When the Lord asked King Solomon what he wanted, (1 Kings 3:9) he asked for an “understanding heart” but the Hebrew is literally “a listening heart.” Is that your prayer? “Lord, give me a listening heart!”
What are some barriers to developing a listening heart? They might include self-centeredness, impatience, an unwillingness or a fear of entering into the deep issues and emotions of others (because I don’t want to deal with my own issues and emotions! Example: If I have an anger problem or if I struggle with lust, and I’m not dealing with it in my own life, then I don’t want to listen to someone else talk about their struggles with those same issues…. So I keep the conversation light.)
Becoming a good, godly listener starts with some honest self-examination (see Adam McHugh, p. 137):
Why do I enter a conversation? Is it an opportunity to express my opinions, a chance for me to be heard? (Think of country singer Toby Keith’s song: “You know I like talking about you… but every now and then, I WANT TO TALK ABOUT ME!”)
Am I seeking attention and affirmation?
Do I want others to think that I am important, likeable, or entertaining?
Am I trying to show others that I am right?
Key question: In a conversation, am I truly seeking to enter in the other person’s world/ emotions/ heart, or am I remaining aloof and distant in my own world, perhaps even trying to force the person into my world? And….
How do I view the other person in the conversation?
Is he or she a sounding board for my thoughts?
Am I the expert and the other person the one who needs to learn from me?
Is she a captive audience for my stories?
Bottom Line: what motivates you to enter a conversation? Does it stem from selfishness in our hearts? McHugh writes: “The opposite of a listening heart is not a talking heart but a selfish heart.” “In a small but real way, listening imitates the self-emptying act of Jesus, who voluntarily released his claims on ruling in order to serve and give his life.” (Phil. 2:1-11; Mark 10:43-45, “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant… for the Son of Man came… to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”)
“The listening heart strives to put away all control, all the ways we can manipulate a conversation for our gain.”
The listening heart honors the other person above self. The listening heart remembers that you are listening to a person with needs, hurts, joys and questions; one who brings baggage and background to this encounter… and the other person is quickly sensing whether you are someone who will care and listen, or whether you are more interested in yourself.
“Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something, and has lost something.” (H. Jackson Brown) Philo of Alexandria said “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”
In a conversation, are you listening for certain things, like a prosecuting attorney, trying to catch someone in a contradiction, or are you listening to the whole person?
Second Step: Recognize and put off bad listening habits:
See if you recognize yourself in any of these descriptions:
The “My Story Trumps Your Story”: “You think you had a bad week? Let me tell you what happened to me last week!” It’s a competition, not a conversation.
The Rerouter: No matter what the subject, the conversation will always go back to this person and his/ her experiences. “That reminds me of the time when I…”
The Interrogator: The person comes on like a detective or a prosecuting attorney, with you on the witness stand, peppering you with a series of closed ended questions. “Wait, didn’t you say last week that you did go there…?”
The Fixer: “Here’s what you need to do to solve that problem.”
The Deflector: Suppose you gently and lovingly give a person some feedback, and it includes some constructive criticism. This “listener” deflects the criticism and then points out one of your flaws, so they don’t have to deal with their own issues.
The Boomerang Question: “How was your weekend? Because you’ll never believe what happened to me this weekend! Let me tell you…”
Adam McHugh (p. 143) asks us to imagine that when people are having a conversation, there is this big red arrow hovering over the people talking and listening, and the arrow points at whomever the attention in the conversation is focused on.
Now your goal in the conversation is love the other person, so you want to keep the arrow pointing at the other person as much as possible. You want to have the arrow pointed toward the interests, needs and heart of the other person. But remember that the normal gravitational pull of the arrow is inclined to point to you! Therefore you have to work on pushing the arrow in the other direction.
Here’s another way to think of it: Think about a recent conversation between four or five people, perhaps around a dinner table or in a living room. Remembering back on that conversation, what percentage of the time did each person talk?
Ask the Lord’s help: “Lord, help me to die to me self-centered heart and to put off my selfish listening habits.”
Third Step: Put into practice good listening habits:
- Use good open-ended questions
Examples of closed vs. open ended questions:
Closed: “Did you have a good weekend?” (yes or no answer anticipated)
Good Open: “How was your weekend?”
Better Open: “You said you would be with your neighbors over the weekend. How did that go? I was praying for you and that opportunity” That shows that you were listening before the weekend!
- Ask second and third follow up questions.
Most people are used to conversations that resemble a tennis match – the conversation goes back and forth; it’s your time to talk and I’ll listen… now it’s my time to talk and you listen…etc. But when we follow up what a person shares with another question or two, it gives that person a chance to go deeper, and the pace of the conversation changes for the better.
For example: “Can you tell me more about that?” “Why is that important to you?” “Why did that make you feel that way?” “Why does that bother you?”
- At times, answer a question with a question.
Someone may share their story with you, and then ask what you think they should do. But if you seek to offer advice at that point, you may be short-circuiting the process. Often the person is only giving you the top half of their issue, and so you may ask them “Why do you ask?” “What do you think?” “Is there more to the story?” Often there is an untold story that the person is holding back on, and will not tell, unless you lovingly invite them to open up. Don’t be satisfied with hearing a person’s outer/ surface story; see if they have a deeper story that they really need to tell you.
- Be an active, empathetic listener.
Contrast a passive vs. an active listener: the passive listener offers little facial expression or responsiveness. You get the impression that their mind is somewhere else. On the other hand, an active listener works hard, is visibly showing that he is involved in the conversation, and gives the correct impression that he is engaged and caring. [It’s like the difference between speaking to a cold and silent audience, with their arms folded across their chests and their gaze out the window, versus speaking to a warm, engaging audience, who gives you responsive feedback!]
- Be a slow, patient listener.
You might like fast food restaurants and express check-out lanes at the supermarket, but if you want to be listened to, you need someone who has the time and patience to draw you out. While there a few people who talk like the late Sen. Hubert Humphrey (300 words per minute, with gusts up to 450!), there are others who may pause for 10… 20… 30 seconds or more, between what they say to you. We need to listen on their terms, their time, and not on ours. McHugh: “Listening for understanding is slow. A good listener believes in taking the long route. That’s why most of us don’t do it.” (We want to move on to the next thing.)
- Take some notes.
Few of us can remember every important thing the other person shares, and most of us will forget what we wanted to ask 15 minutes ago about a key point they made. I often will ask permission to jot down a few notes as I am listening, so I can review what they have shared, both at appropriate times in the conversation, as well as for prayer and any future meetings.
- Listen and watch for nonverbal clues.
Consider the words: “You’re a big help.” How could you take those four words? As appreciation? Or as biting sarcasm? You only know by the tone of voice/ body language, right?
We need to give our full attention to the other person: look at them, listen to them, watch what they are doing with their hands, their lips, their eyes, etc.
- Build up their confidence in your trust and acceptance.
People want to know that if they are sharing deep stuff with you, they can be confident:
First that you will keep it in confidence (Unless you have their permission to do otherwise)
Second, that you will be affirming of them; not having a judgmental attitude… though that is different from the possible need to challenge and even to rebuke them in love, as your relationship grows.
Pray that the Lord will give you a listening heart, for His glory, and for the growth of both listener and hearer!