Over the years, I’ve cherished the robust and sometimes rowdy conversations between family and friends during the holidays. Whether it’s about religion, politics, sports, or who won the card game, it’s lively and sometimes rather intense. Like many of your families, my family is full of strong opinions, and everyone is eager to share. Sometimes the conversations are fascinating because we learn so much about each other’s passions, and other times they become an ouch! The difference between a good conversation and an OUCH is whether or not we’re respectfully speaking AND generously listening.
Meaningful relationships are born through meaningful conversations. A good discussion creates connectedness. It allows us to feel known even if we have differing opinions. Every human yearns for connectedness. We need, want and long to belong. Many families and couples are present in proximity, and they’re having conversations, but the conversations are superficial, and once the pleasantries are exchanged, we move to the next person. A good discussion requires four things: time, vulnerability, respect and listening for understanding. Two people talking with no one listening is just more noise. Learning to listen is imperative to our relationships’ well-being and emotional health. Fortunately, we can train ourselves to be better listeners, but it is hard work.
What is listening?
Listening is active, not passive and, therefore, is sometimes tiring.
It is other-centered, not self-centered, and, therefore, sometimes sacrificial.
It is crucial, not peripheral, and therefore, indispensable.
It is difficult, not easy, and therefore, often neglected.
It is rare, not common, and, therefore, incredibly desirable.
Listening is not like a chess game – planning your next verbal move while the other person is talking. Listening is not a trial – judging what is said or how it is said. It is not a 100-yard dash – thinking how quickly you can end the discussion. Listening is like a sponge – absorbing as much as possible of what is being said and the feelings behind the words. It’s like a pair of binoculars, fixing attention on and bringing into clear focus what is being said.
Good conversations require generous listening, and that requires discipline, effort, intentionality and practice. Becoming a better listener is developing a pattern of focus in two areas: ATTENTION and CONFIDING. You must be fully present and emotionally available, with the freedom to confide your thoughts and feelings. It flows from a heart of humility, yields to the other and honors the other’s perspective. It seeks understanding and is patient and kind. It gives our conversations dignity.
Generous listening is an expression of love
Poor listening rejects; generous listening embraces. Poor listening diminishes the other person while generous listening invites them to exist and to matter. Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “Just as love to God begins with listening to his Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.”
What does the Bible say?
“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). It’s simple enough in principle but challenging to live. Most often, we are slow to hear, quick to speak and quick to anger.
“He who gives an answer before he hears. It is folly and shame to him” (Proverbs 18:13).
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interest but each of you to the interest of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5).
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud” (1 Corinthians 13:4).
This Christmas season, give the gift of connectedness, a meaningful conversation adorned with generous listening.
As Bonhoeffer writes, “We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”
Live the Life South Florida exists to strengthen marriages and families through healthy relationship education, beginning in middle school through senior adults. We are educators, coaches, and pastoral counselors. If you’re looking for a clinical counselor or therapist, we are blessed to have many in the South Florida community. We’d be honored to provide you a list of highly qualified and reputable individuals. Visit livethelifesoflo.org
Read more articles by Lisa May at goodnewsfl.org/author/lisa-may/