Listening allows me to understand you better. Listening allows me to have a deeper relationship, because I understand you better, I get to know you better. Listening to your clients, your children, your friends assist you to be able to quicker understand their needs and to more accurately serve them. If you really care about people, you will want to understand their needs better.
There is a difference between listening and hearing. In the Bible, King James Version, the word Hearken is used, which means Listen and the word hear is used. I like to distinguish between the two – hearken = hear = ken. Hearken is something more than only hearing,
From the Oxford dictionary:
to give one’s attention to sound
to take notice of and act on what someone says; respond to advice or a request.
to make an effort to hear something, be alert and ready to hear something.
perceive with the ear the sound made.
It is easy to hear. You hear all sounds around you (unless you a hearing disability or you are putting your hands over your ears). Listening is to encode the sounds coming to you, to hear the sounds and allow your brain to put it into concepts, understanding in your brain.
Listening (or hearkening) is important. Apart from the facts I stated before, there are more proof of this in the Bible (all verses from the King James Version). If we don’t listen to God, He will stop listening to us – that is quite severe.
Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye people……
Gather yourselves together, and hear you sons of Jacob; listen to your father Israel.
Therefore it is come to pass, that as he cried, and they would not hear; so they cried, and I would not hear, saith the LORD of hosts.
I want to share with you a few Lessons I learnt around listening. Lessons on what to do and what NOT to do when I am trying to listen.
Lesson 1: Listening requires me to be present and not distracted
I can talk to my children and they can reply: “Yes, mamma”. But then they carry on doing what they were doing before I talked and it is clear that they heard me speaking, but that they did not listen to what I was saying. To hear is automatic, to listen is not. So many things can distract us. Let us understand the distractions better:
Distraction 1: Cell phones
Physical things can distract us – our cellphones showing us another message came through, a new post on facebook, Every time we look at that, our minds are not present to listen to what the person on the other side is trying to tell us. When you want to listen to someone, make sure your phone (and notifications) are on silent and you can’t see the screen. If we do not do this intentionally, we will get distracted by it.
Distraction 2: Our children
Our children can be another physical distraction. Make sure they are taken care of by someone else and allow yourself to have at least one good conversation a day where you are not distracted by them. A conversation where someone else can listen to you and where you can listen to someone. You will be amazed by the quality of conversation and friendship that can form from making this a good habit.
Distraction 3: Our feelings
When I am irritated, angry or very excited, I find that my capacity to listen is greatly reduced. I find it very difficult to concentrate on the other person and my mind wanders to my emotions constantly. Rather tell the other person – “I am so mad right now, I cannot listen to you properly”. Ask the person to assist you or give you a few minutes to gather your thoughts. Sometimes just talking about your feelings allow yourself to become calmer and more attentive to the other person. If the situation does not warrant me to share, I will use a few minutes in prayer to calm down.
Distraction 4: Our thoughts
Very similar to the feelings distraction, thoughts can also distract you. When I am planning something new and my mind is occupied to strategize, plan, prioritize, I find it very difficult to concentrate on someone else. I find it beneficial to quickly jot down the direction my thoughts went into on a piece of paper or in a book, which free up my brain (now I don’t have to remember it) and I am able to give the other person my full attention.
Lesson 2: Listening is to listen, not to talk
This might sound obvious, but how many of us fall into this trap! I know I do. Sometimes I listen just to hear when the person has finished so that I can say what is in my head. That means I have been thinking about my own thoughts and how to verbalize them and I did not really concentrate on what the other person spent time and energy to communicate to me. You all know the famous saying that you have two ears and one mouth, use it in that ratio, but we don’t. When I am very excited about something, I can just babble on. There is a time and place for you to share your thoughts, but be mindful. I struggle with this, but try to practice it. You all are welcome to test me in this and remind me of it :). In coaching I try to keep quiet and wait for that one moment where my comment or what I have to share will have the greatest impact, rather than having an opinion on each and every sentence my client is saying. I also try to ensure the other party is not distracted, that they are in listening mode, otherwise my words are wasted, it falls on deaf ears.
Lesson 3: Listening requires us to be OK with silence.
If I feel uncomfortable with silence, I might feel the need to fill the silence with words. Silence allows me to think about what has been said and to formulate an adequate response. Otherwise I think while you speak, which means I cannot listen attentively and I start to shoot from the hip. Silence is golden. Sometimes only three seconds of silence is all that is needed. A few seconds of silence allows me to ensure what I want to say is worthwhile, is relevant, is having an impact.
Lesson 4: Listening is to read between the lines, not to make your own deductions.
Listen to what is not being said, but be careful that you don’t make your own assumptions form what was said. Listen for what is said between the lines, but don’t fill up the spaces with your own thoughts and ideas. Listen and ask. Ask the question of what you don’t hear to paint the picture, don’t paint your valuable Vermeer thoughts on someone else’s Van Gogh painting.
Lesson 5: Listening is active, not passive
Listening might seem like a very passive thing to do. When my children sit still and look me in the eyes, I conclude that they are listening to me. But are they? No! Being passive is not necessarily and act of listening. Listening requires us to be actively interested in the other person and what they are saying. It takes effort to ignore distractions, it takes effort not to think about what I want to say next, it takes effort to pay attention and try to understand.
Lesson 6: Listening is to go deeper
Real, active listening is to listen to a deeper level of understanding, to listen to the person’s intent, to their heart. It is to understand deeper than the spoken word. It is to listen with your spiritual ear. If we don’t practice that on each other, how will we be able to hear God’s whispers.
Le’t use this festive season to get to know each other better – to listen without judgement, to listen actively and above all, let us listen to what God wants to whisper into our souls.