Monday, July 13, 2015

Do You Really Know How to Listen?

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”                                                                                   ~ Stephen R. Covey

“Friends are those rare people who ask how we are, and then wait to hear the answer.”                                                                                                   ~ Ed Cunningham

“You can’t truly listen to someone and do anything else at the same time.”
                                                                                                            ~ M. Scott Peck

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we would listen more and talk less.”
                                                                                                            ~ Diogenes

“There’s a big difference between listening and hearing.”
                                                                                                ~ G.K. Chesterton

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.
                                                                                                ~ Ralph G. Nichols

“Listening is an attitude of the heart, a genuine desire to be with another which both attracts and heals.”
                                                                                                            ~ J. Isham

            Listening. It’s one of the most difficult things for people to do. Just…listening. Not interjecting a point. Not countering. Not adding your opinion. Letting someone speak all of the way to the end of their thought without butting in, making a poorly timed comment, or shouting over the top of them. Or giving them an example of our own to add to their expressed point, which we sometimes do just to make ourselves look smart or in-the-know.
            Yet, listening—being slow to speak—is one of the most important things we can do, especially when we’re sitting with a grieving person, listening to them pour out her heart. We can start with a question—maybe about how they’re doing—and then take the time to really listen to them tell us how they’re doing. Sometimes all it takes is a simple, loving, concerned question to get them to open up, to let their pain pour out, to give them an opportunity to release the agony bound within.
            The person you’re listening to may run through a wide variety of emotions, like sadness, fear, anger, during the “conversation.” They may sit a while and not say anything. They may weep buckets of tears that make you feel uneasy. For some reason, when people cry the listener often feels as though they need to make all of those tears disappear, forgetting that tears cleanse and heal.
            What we need to remember is that we don’t need to have all of the answers. It’s okay if you don’t know what to say. Sometimes admitting that to your grieving friend is the best thing you can say. One of the best condolences I ever received after Victoria’s death was from my father-in-law. During a phone conversation, he said, “I’m so sorry. I really don’t know what to say.” His response was honest (he’d never experienced that kind of loss); and it was heartfelt. It takes a really big (and wise) person to admit they don’t have the answer, the formula for making everything better, for making your hurt miraculously disappear.
            But too often we want to utter something psychologically clever, to make ourselves sound like authorities. Too often Christians, in particular, are way too quick to let Bible verses roll of their tongues, to remind the receiver of their position in Christ, their eternal hope. In the process, they sound pious and end up severing the listening relationship. They shut down the griever and make them feel as though their emotions are frivolous and unwarranted.
            Listening validates a person and their feelings. And when they are suffering in grieving pain, they need to feel validated. They need to feel like life, especially theirs, still matters. They need to know they are not alone, especially when they feel the void of their loss so acutely.
            Read the Book of Job. Job’s friends were way ahead in their helpfulness when they sat in silence with him in the garbage heap. It’s when they opened their mouths and uttered foolish, pious words that they ruined it and made fools out of themselves. They made him feel worse. I doubt that he ever asked their advice again or even considered them friends after that lousy encounter. And it turns out that they were all way off in their know-it-all assessments of why he ended up in the heap in the first place.
            As a wise young friend of mine recently said, “You don’t need to have all the answers. Sometimes all a person needs in order to come to understand truth is for someone to listen as he uncovers it for himself.”
            Listening to uncover truth is much like listening to uncover grief. When the conversation ends, the receiver of your listening feels as though you have spoken volumes to them about your love and concern. Yes, you can “speak” volumes even when you sit in silence.

            Be that rare person your grieving friend needs. Make listening an attitude of your heart.
            Really listen with the intent to hear and not just respond. It may be the most helpful thing you will ever do for someone.

Until next week,

Thanks for joining me!