The last two months we’ve explored communication and it being the thermometer of your marriage. We discussed the daily touch points of the Daily Temperature Reading (DTR) and items we should communicate. We’ve talked a lot about talking, but two people talking with no one listening is just noise.
The movies, advertisements, malls and decorations are replete with the Merry and Bright motif that every human yearns for: connectedness. We need, want and long for meaningful relationships. We long to belong. My favorite billboard for this Christmas season is an advertisement saying, “The best Present is your Presence.”
Whether it’s time together with a predawn cup of coffee, time around the table, football conversations in one room, shopping conversations in another or conversations by a crackling fire under a starry night sky, there is no Merry and Bright without connectedness. The gift is being together and emotionally known in a safe space. Many families and couples are present in proximity, and they’re having conversations, but they aren’t connected. They hear one another but no one is listening. The difference between hearing and the skill of listening is attention.
Listening is a skill that we’re in danger of losing in a world of digital distraction and information overload. Yet it’s imperative to the well-being of our relationships and our world. 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, greatly 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. Generous listening requires discipline, effort, intentionality and practice. Becoming a better listener is developing a pattern of focus in three areas.There are three elements to good listening: ATTENTION, CONFIDING, and EMPATHY. You need to be fully present, not distracted by the cares of the day or “checked out,” emotionally available, with the freedom to confide your thoughts and feelings, and empathetic, which is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Let’s talk about confiding. Confiding is all about BEING KNOWN, to have a deep sense of belonging, bonding and connection. True communication does not occur until you understand the feelings underneath the spoken words. People generally feel understood and connected when communication focuses on their emotions and feelings and not just on their thoughts and words. Effective communication comes down to listening and speaking with your HEART instead of listening and speaking with your HEAD.
Good listening is an expression of love
Poor listening rejects; good listening embraces. Poor listening diminishes the other person while good 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).
Generous listening flows from a heart of humility, it yields to the other and honors the other’s perspective. It seeks understanding. Generous listening is patient and kind. It gives our conversations dignity.
I asked several friends and family members what their favorite memory of the holidays was, and without fail, they all had a story followed by the memory of someone that gave them their time with a meaningful conversation. The gift of generous listening is always remembered; people remember how your words made them feel.
This Christmas season give the gift of a Merry and Bright memory; 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.”
Lisa May is the Executive Director of South Florida for Live the Life South. Live the Life exists to strengthen marriages and families through healthy relationship education beginning in middle school through senior adults. For information visit LivetheLife.org.