I need continuous improvement in listening to others. Don’t we all? This was underscored for me through two recent interactions. Last week, I was facilitating a group gathering and was repeatedly interrupted by a middle-aged person. She commented on each aspect of the meeting and interrupted me on several occasions as I led the gathering from the front of the room. It was no surprise, ultimately, because I have been in several conversations where this person finishes sentences and regularly attempts to reroute conversations where she wants to take them.
Likewise, I was coaching a grade school football combine this past weekend. We had a few short hours to teach or review many skills. As I taught 4 basic steps for placekicking, an energetic 4th-grade boy told me, “I know how to do it!” He interrupted me and insisted on being the first to kick. If you are recalling images from the 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, you have the right train of thought. Upon his first attempt to kick, Nick clearly demonstrated that he did not, in fact, know the 4 simple steps I taught. Consequently, his kick was poor, and he admitted that he should have listened.
Whether interacting with 48-year-olds or 10-year-olds, adults or children, we need to work on our listening skills. Listening demonstrates humility which conveys that we are willing to hear what others have to say. The apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church at Philippi. The letter contains a simple, yet profound challenge: “… in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Phil 2:3) A direct application of this charge is to listen. When we listen, we implicitly value others and their perspectives. In sharing ideas, we can affirm the gifts of others – when we allow them to express their thoughts. When interacting with those who differ from our opinions, we can affirm that individual by hearing what they have to say. We need not feel threatened or compelled to defend our position; in fact, listening will communicate a quiet confidence. We may learn something new, or we may help the speaker to better understand his position.
I once attended a workshop where I was taught the concept of listening in three directions: listen to the Holy Spirit, listen to the speaker, and listen to yourself. This requires concentration and a lot of practice. It reaffirms James 1:19 “(L)et every person be quick to hear, slow to speak…” If we are slow to speak, our listening should be enhanced.
This post may appear too elementary to many, but I am convinced that we all need refreshers. Do you catch yourself simply waiting for your turn to speak? Do you find yourself quickly speaking in order to communicate your perspective – to make sure you get your point across? Do you raise your voice over others to ensure that your voice is heard? Maybe you lose interest easily and struggle to pay attention when you engage in conversation. Your interpersonal interactions will be enhanced if you can put into practice the simple concept of listening