Learn To Listen

       I had never thought much about the power of listening until I worked for a crisis line.  My job mostly consisted of deescalating people who were threatening to commit suicide.  One lesson that I learned quickly was to talk less and listen more.  Offering people in crisis a listening ear is a precious gift.  To be honest, offering anyone a listening ear is a valuable gift.  In the case of my crisis line work it could be the difference between life and death. 
       One of my favorite reoccurring memories growing up with my dad was his ability to listen.    He was a busy man.  Yet when I had a question or wanted to talk he would very intentionally set aside what he was working on and give me his full attention.  My dad once told me “There is a reason God gave us two ears and only one mouth.  Listen.”  What does it feel like when someone really listens? It has been said, “One of the greatest gifts you can give anyone is the gift of attention” (Leadership Gold, John Maxwell, 54).  I can't help but think that much of the division and animosity we are currently seeing around the country could be lessened if more of us would learn to listen well.  The Biblical writer James tells us, "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19).  Researcher Madelyn Burley-Allen says that "“We spend 70% of our waking hours in communication.”  Learning to listen well can dramatically improve our lives.    Author Kevin J. Murphy states, “Listening is the accurate perception of what is being communicated” (Effective Listening, 11). Yet many of us are not great listeners.  Author Madelyn Burley-Allen states, “On the average people are only about 25% effective as listeners.” (Listening:  The Forgotten Skill, 2)
      Are you a good listener?  How do we improve as listeners?  Consider these tips: 
1.  LISTEN WITH THE INTENT TO UNDERSTAND, NOT SIMPLY TO REPLY.   Years ago I read this concept in Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People and realized that I typically listened just enough to figure out my response.  Really stop and listen.  Make understanding the goal.  Ask clarifying questions. 
2. LISTEN WITH AN ATTITUDE OF HUMILITY.  View everyone as capable of teaching you something.  Business leader Ken Blanchard states, “Feedback is the Breakfast of Champions."  (Coaching For Breakthrough Success, Jack Canfield & Dr. Peter Chee, 99). Adopt the posture of a perpetual student.  The Bible teaches, "Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise (Proverbs 19:20).  Even your critics can teach you something.  Computer giant Bill Gates once said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning” (Just Listen, Mark Goulston, 142).  What if you could learn one lesson from every person you ever meet?  Wouldn't that change your life?   
3.  PRACTICE REPHRASING.   Repeat back to the person you are listening to the essence of what they told you in your own words.  This way you are checking that you heard them correctly.  It shows respect and gives them the chance to clarify if you misunderstood or they misspoke. 
4.  DON'T INTERRUPT.  Be patient. Yes, the person might take twice as long as you think it should to communicate their message to you but let them tell you what they wish in their way and in their time.          
5.  LOOK AT THE PERSON DIRECTLY.  I must admit that as a dad myself I have not always practiced the simple yet profound modeling I received from my father.  I remember our little son Henry once telling me "Daddy, listen with your eyes."  According to author Zig Ziglar, “You gather 87 percent of your total lifetime information by sight:  7 percent by hearing.”  So when you look at the person you gain a lot more (Top Performance, 110).  Listening is hearing on steroids.  
6.  TRY TO DISCERN THEIR FEELINGS:  The goal of listening is not just hearing what was said but helping the person feel heard.  Don’t just hear the words, name the emotion.  Do you hear anger, frustration, or confusion?  Label the emotion and they will tell you if you have heard them correctly.  Management guru Peter Drucker once said, “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” 
      Let me close with one of the most remarkable examples of a great listener.  You may have heard of Erick Weihenmayer the blind man who reached the peak of Mt. Everest back in 2001.  I have read that 90 percent of climbers never make it to the top and since 1922, over 300 mountaineers have died trying. Yet Erik made it!  He listened to a little bell tied to the back of the climber in front of him, so he would know where to go!  He listened to his teammate's instructions and warnings intently.  His very life depended on it.  When we set out to climb the mountain of life, listening intently and intelligently can make all the difference.

Pastor Derek Dickinson
Journey Christian Church