There is something so absolutely wondamus about having a friend to whom you can just pour out your soul – complete with all the mess and craziness. Someone who doesn’t judge, but simply listens and loves. Someone who holds those privately shared moments close and doesn’t share them with others. It is equally as wondamus, when you are that friend to someone else.
It’s a rare thing these days to have a friend like that. It seems like people are always judging, gossiping, or being unloving towards one another. People are so connected to electronic devices, I’m not sure many ever really hear what others are saying. I don’t believe this is how God intended our world, or us, to be when he created the universe. It breaks my heart that there is so much discontent and evil in the world.
I know few people who truly listen. Most listen only with the intent to respond, listening only with their mind instead of their heart. So much is lost in a relationship when that is the dynamic. One, or perhaps both, of those persons end up feeling hurt and misunderstood. Please do not assume that I’m saying I have perfected the art of truly listening – I haven’t. I am as guilty as the next person for being so distracted or insensitive to just hear words and not emotions.
So how do we change our listening style? Should we go buy the latest self-help book or attend the most recent seminar on self-improvement? I’d venture that either of those choices would be a waste of time and money. I’m no expert, but I’m learning that when I free myself from distraction (television, to-do list, and yes – that pesky cell phone) I am more capable of truly hearing the person speaking with me. It’s even better when I can see the person I’m talking with. Listening is so much more than just hearing the words that tumble out of a person’s mouth. Truly listening involves interpreting facial expressions, body language, and the emotion in a person’s voice.
Words are just letters placed in groups. Emotions are shown with facial expressions and body movement or position. Conversations are a combination of words and emotions, and if you’re so distracted that you aren’t seeing the whole picture, you aren’t part of the conversation at all.
Consider your conversations with your husband, for example. If you’re like me, you’ve had a busy day, your mind is racing with all the things you still need to do, you’re in the middle of something and he wants to talk. Instead of truly paying attention to him, you half-listen, multitask, finish his sentences and generally make a mess of the conversation. You think he meant one thing, and he was trying to tell you something else. One or both of you gets upset and that negativity bleeds into the rest of the evening.
Many of us do this with everyone; what we’re saying when we do this is that our lives, our concerns, our priorities are more important than theirs. We’re essentially telling them we don’t really care about them … and that’s as insulting as simply ignoring them and walking away.
It can be a challenging behavior to change – I still struggle, but here’s what I’ve learned. First, if you need a moment, ask for it gently and respectfully. “Can you give me just a couple minutes to finish this so I can pay attention to you?” And then finish just that thing. Second, devote yourself entirely to this moment. Put down your phone, turn it over so you don’t see the activity on the screen, if necessary. Turn off the TV – turning down the volume isn’t enough because that screen is still flashing at you. Third, let the speaker finish every single sentence. Listen to the words without thinking of your response. Just listen and watch the speaker’s face, hands and body positions. Last, think about all those things before you answer. Think about not only what was said, but what was actually meant. Consider the person and their life, personality and speaking style – remember that it’s not about you, it’s about them. This is true even when you are being told that you’ve done something they don’t like, because it’s about how your actions made them feel – and if we love them, that’s important to understand.
Recently I had the most wonderful conversation with a friend. Better to call it an “eversation” I suppose, because we were sending video messages back and forth, but we could see and hear each other and at that moment, in that conversation, that was very important. Emotions and tears were shared that would have been lost in a text message or phone call. Our love for each other was shared and we were both comforted by the conversation. We truly listened to one another – and the blessing of that made the rest of the day perfect.
“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” Proverbs 18:13