I have recently become a student of listening. Why? Well, I have been told relationships grow exponentially when two people make an effort to compassionately listen to one another. I’ve discovered, the journey of learning must be accompanied by desire. Therefore, my desire to communicate better has prompted me to take interpersonal communication seriously. Why? Well, I desire to be a better husband and father. Plus, I am a Christian Minister to men of all varieties. I often think to myself, “How can I be a better husband, father, and minister if I do not learn to compassionately listen?
I wished I could say I was always the “listening” type; but I can’t. After some relational hardships I have discovered that I am a terrible listener. Fortunate for me, I believe awareness of one’s weakness is paramount to authentic lasting change. You can’t fix something you aren’t aware is broken. After making this discovery, I thought to myself, “If I am not a good listener, then what am I? What have I conversationally been most of my life?” The word best used to describe my interpersonal communication skill is “Bulldozer.” So, what is a conversational bulldozer? According to the Urban Dictionary; a conversational bulldozer is: “The act of completely dominating a conversation, whether amongst a crowd or an intimate conversation. The “Bulldozer” can be anyone, inebriated or not, so long as everyone else that has something to say can’t, simply because the said person just talks louder to drown them out.” I truly wished I could have blamed my bulldozing personality on being inebriated; it would have helped soften the blow. But, I can’t; so I didn’t. Needless to say a “bulldozer” is a poor listener. Does this discovery mean I isolate and quarantine myself from future conversations? I think not. I believe meaningful two-way face to face communication is integral to personal and spiritual growth. Since I desire to be a better listener, I have begun to exchange my bulldozer for a gondola. A gondola is: “a vehicle that hangs from a cable and is used for carrying passengers (such as skiers) especially up a mountain.” I would rather build up another soul by listening; than tear one down by bulldozing. Therefore, I endeavor to learn the art of listening.
If I truly want to listen, then why don’t I? As a poor listener am I alone? Sue Shellenbarger, a communications expert, believes: “Humans’ listening skills are poor on average. We retain less than half of what we hear, and evidence shows that these skills are getting worse.” Upon hearing these words, I ask myself, “How can I tell if I am a bad listener?” Ms. Shellenbarger says, “Signs can be if you’re arguing a lot at work, or talking more than you’re listening. Feeling left out of the loop or like your relationships are weak are other clues. We’re getting worse at it, researchers say, in part because we’re spending less time in face-to-face conversations.” Wow! That really hit me like a ton of bricks, it seems learning an unpleasant truth about myself requires courage. And courage allows me to confront my weakness head on. Like I alluded to earlier, listening is an art. And like most artistic endeavors it requires commitment and practice. So, how does one practice good listening? I believe practice happens by immersion; immersing one’s self in intentional face to face conversations. In other words, communicate on purpose. Try not to hide behind facebook, text, and email.
Now that I am willing to practice, how can I make sure I am truly listening? I am a huge fan of cheat-sheets, and Ms. Shellenbarger has graciously provided me with one. In her cheat-sheet Ms. Shellenbarger shares some tips for face to face conversations:
1) Write a list of what you want to say, questions to ask.
2) Do a “brain dump.”
3) Take notes and make eye contact.
4) Receive, appreciate, summarize and ask questions.”
What a great tool! Now when I enter a conversation I place value on the words of another. I think if we truly want to know someone we must find value in their words. A person whose words are valued, feel completely valued inside and out. I now leave you with wise advice from the Apostle James, “Remember this, my dear brothers and sisters: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and should not get angry easily.”(James 1:19) (GWT)