Talking is fairly easy, even if one is shy or introverted. It’s ‘easy’ because we work to convey what is on our mind, what is our opinion about a topic. Listening, on the other hand, is just plain hard. It’s hard because listening is not about us, but about others and understanding what is on their mind.
Listening calls for double duty.
For one, we must shut off our ‘answer’ default mode, that is, we must stop thinking about our every response to another’s comments. The point of listening is to understand the process whereby the other arrived at his/her thoughts.
For another, we must focus on clarifying questions. In order to understand what another is ‘working to convey’ to you, questions (thoughtful questions) will allow you to sound out another’s thought process. The fruit of this kind of listening is that it helps the listener know better how to ‘intervene’ in the life of the other. It will allow the one speaking to actually assess the import and soundness of his/her thoughts.
Listening is a skill. It is a competency that many of us must work on.
I had the benefit of a personal example of skill-full listening the other day. Two close friends were over for a time of sharing and prayer together. At one point, I ‘vented’ about some the frustrations I was experiencing. I made some strong statements, some exaggerated statements.
Our friends did not immediately push back on me, trying to prove me wrong. They asked numerous questions; at times rephrasing what I said to be sure they had heard what I was saying. The questions were in no way contentious either. They were carefully worded, and their impact was felt much later. Yes, there were some responses on their part. However, their questions caused me to re-examine what I had been saying and the ‘steps’ I had been considering to take.
I think our close friends had the harder work that night. It was easy for me to talk. I know it was hard for them to listen. The result, however, was that their work of listening turned me back to the ‘everlasting way’ (Psalm 139:24).