The first duty of love is to listen. Paul Tillich
In school we have speech classes, why not listening classes? How much of true communication is listening?
Most teaching on communication is about speaking correctly. In relationships, listening is often neglected. Many times a wife says to her husband (or vice versa) “You aren’t listening to me.” If we really want to communicate well with people around us, listening well is essential.
After many years of marriage, we finally learned to communicate but now we can’t hear each other! For some of us, making sure that we hear correctly is essential.
More damage can be done through the way we receive the words than what was actually said.
What factors go into the way we hear the words that are said?
First: Our understanding of what the words mean. Our interpretation might be as simple as not knowing the correct definition of the word. However, more often, the misunderstanding comes from the way the word is used. In one culture or family, a person may say “okay” and mean “I agree.” Someone else may say “okay” and mean “I heard you.”
Second: We often interpret what we hear based on the tone of voice of the other person. The way I interpret the tone of voice is often based on what it would mean if I said the same thing in that tone of voice, rather than what it means if the other person uses that tone of voice. One person may be more emotionally expressive. He may raise his voice in a situation that his wife would say the words more quietly. Her interpretation of the outburst of emotion is more extreme than he actually intends for it to be.
Third: Another misinterpretation comes from the body language of the person speaking. If the person looks away, I may assume that he is disgusted with me. The reality may be that he feels guilty and can’t look at me in the eye.
Fourth: All of the previous factors are often tied to the this one. We may misunderstand what is said based on our beliefs about our own self worth.
Listen to the Word
God's Word gives us lots of direction in how to listen well. Listen to what He says:
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. James 1:19-20
He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him. Proverbs 18:13
A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind. Proverbs 18:2
Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance. Proverbs 1:5
The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice. Proverbs 12:15
Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise. Proverbs 19:20
He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise. Proverbs 15: 31
While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" Matthew 17:5
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22
Stay tuned for the next post for good patterns of listening and communicating.