Are You Listening?

I didn’t know I had to learn to listen. I didn’t know listening was a learned skill.

Let me tell you what changed all that.

As a young pastor in New Zealand, at my first church, I was approached by a man in the congregation who wanted to share what he had learned at a training program run by his company.

I chaffed at this request to share, since he wasn’t going to share a Biblical truth, but some secular material shared in a secular context. What’s more the topic was about ‘listening’ and surely anyone who needs to learn to listen must be not very smart.

However I gave in and allowed him to share at one of the Men’s Group meetings. He hadn’t been speaking for long, quietly and unimpressively, when what he had to say really got to me. In just a few minutes I became deeply convicted that I knew very little about listening, was a terrible listener and probably looked arrogant and uncaring many times.

For instance, he said that most people don’t listen when they talk with others, but simply look for opportunity to draw attention to themselves. As they hear the other person speaking they think of something they want to say, to show their knowledge, understanding or impressive experiences. At that very moment they stop listening and wait, somewhat impatiently at times, for the other person to draw breath or end their point, so they can jump in and say what they want to say.

The other person is likely in the same mode, so people’s points get interrupted, and they become more heightened in their tension to impress on the other what they want to say.

In those situations the talking isn’t a matter of communication and sharing, but of verbal ping-pong, almost a verbal battle.

A true listening actually wants to hear what the other person is saying, and their listening is a gift to the other person, honouring them and giving them room to express their inner thoughts and to be heard and understood.

A good listener doesn’t interrupt or cut someone off. They invite the speaker to say more and to express even more of their ideas. A good listener gives feedback to the speaker, in order to confirm they have understood and to show the speaker that their words are worthy of being confirmed.

I never did any of those things. I most often bombarded people with my own ideas and thoughts and became aggressively persistent with my ideas if others didn’t seem to be impressed with what I had to say.

Much of this probably came from my insecurities and my pride. It was the mode of talking that my school friends engaged in, and that my brothers and I used frequently. I was well schooled in not listening.

I was ungracious, arrogant, self-absorbed, highly opinionated, assertive, impressed with myself, wanting and needing to look smart and well informed, insecure, vulnerable, false and a bunch more unpleasant things.

So that lesson on listening was a wake-up call for me, alerting me to something that was so basic and such a foundational element of our lives, talking with others, which I didn’t have a clue about. It made the point that there are probably many other areas of my life where I am equally as ignorant.

Over the decades since then I have often caught myself back in my old mode of talking ‘at’ people instead of communicating ‘with’ people. I have painstakingly tried to learn not to interrupt, and not to be too hasty to show up others if I thought I knew better than them.

I also had to review the whole business of having an opinion, since it is really of no value except to inflate our opinion or ourself.

I have at times been a good example of listening, drawing out of others their thoughts and blessing them with my time and attention, and listening ear. I realise now that by giving attention I give honour, and that by listening effectively I bless others.

I did a podcast recording about my Listening journey and you might like to listen in as I talked about it with my podcast partner, Guy Mullon at Real Talk for Real Men, as part of the Real Men 24/7 project.

The link to the podcast is:

Meanwhile, let me ask you a very serious question. Are You Listening?

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