Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Can You Hear Me Now?

“Now therefore, listen to me, my children;
Pay attention to the words of my mouth.”

(Proverbs 7:24)

Experts tell us that when we’re communicating with someone else, communication has to go through at least six different levels or layers. There is what you mean to say, what you actually say, what the other person hears, what the other person thinks he hears, what the other person says about what you said, and what you think the other person said about what you said. All of that! It’s no wonder we are confused when we talk to each other!

Recently, I came across actual label instructions on some consumer goods that show how ridiculous our communication can be. For instance, on a Sears hair dryer, it read: “Do not use while sleeping.” (I didn’t know that was a problem!)
And that’s the only time I have to work on my hair? On a bar of Dial soap, it read:
“Directions: Use like regular soap.”
On some Swanson frozen dinners, it reads:
“Serving suggestion: defrost.” (But it’s only a suggestion!)
On the packaging for an iron, it said:
“Do not iron clothes while on body.”
Yeah, but it saves all kinds of time!
On Nytol sleep aid, it reads:
“Warning: May cause drowsiness.” (And I’m taking this because...???) On a bag of peanuts, it reads:
“Warning: contains nuts.”
Now, there’s a news flash! But maybe the classic was on a child’s Superman costume:
“Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly.”
No kidding!

Haven’t you found it’s so easy to think you’re saying something when you’re not being understood? If I’m going to demonstrate truthfulness in a relationship, I have to speak with caution and with clarity. Often this requires simply saying less and actually listening for a change.

Henri Nouwen tells how when Abba Arsenius, a wealthy Roman senator who abandoned his social prominence to become a monk, prayed, “Lord, lead me into the way of salvation,” he heard a voice saying, “Be silent.”[i]

“When we practice silence” writes John Ortberg, “we begin to learn amazing things.” He continues,

We can live without getting the last word. We can live without trying to make sure we control how other people are thinking about us. We can live without winning every argument, without powering up over every decision, without always drawing attention to ourselves.

One last observation here: Use wisdom in using silence.

If you’re a husband arriving home from work, and your wife wants to connect soul-to-soul and asks how your day went, you might not want to say, “When words are many, sin is not absent” (Proverbs 10:19).

If the wife is wise, she may reply with Proverbs 15:11: “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Which means, “Start talking or I’m going to go buy jewelry.”

When we stop talking, we also have the opportunity to engage in the most important intimacy-building skill in the world: listening.

The New Testament writer James says, in one of the most often violated commands in all of Scripture, that every one should be

“quick to listen, slow to speak.”
(James 1:19)

Listening, writes Daniel Goleman, is the single most important relational skill a person can develop. “Asking astute questions, being open-minded and understanding, not interrupting, seeking suggestions”[ii] are all ways of communicating to other human beings that they matter.

People are starving for attention. The results of a study of teenage prostitutes in San Francisco are recounted in the book Am I Making Myself Clear?[iii] When they asked what they lacked at home that caused them to run away, the girl’s answers came down almost universally to three words: “Someone to listen.”

Consider the famous story about British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and his great political rival, William Gladstone. Legend has it that a lady was taken to dinner one evening by Gladstone and the next by Disraeli. When asked her impression of the two men, she replied, "When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest woman in England."[iv]

An engaging aspect of Jesus’ life is that although he was the greatest teacher who ever lived, he spent an enormous amount of time simply listening to people. He especially listened to people whom no one else bothered with, such as Zacchaeus the tax collector and the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda.

Isn’t it ironic that we try to impress people by saying clever or funny things, yet nothing binds one human being to another more than the sense that they have been deeply, carefully listened to. It is no accident that we speak of paying attention to people; attention is the most valuable currency we have.[v]

“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force.
The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward.
When we are listened to, it creates us,
makes us unfold and expand.”


q Who is the best listener you know?

q What is it in them that makes them an effective listener?

q How do you feel when you are conversing with them?

q Why is it so hard to really listen to someone?

Action: This week be very conscious of your level of attentiveness and listening to others. Be very intentional about giving them your full attention of heart and ear.

“So when you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it.”
Jiddu Krishnamuriti

“You seldom listen to me, and when you do you don’t hear, and when you do hear you hear wrong, and even when you hear right you change it so fast that it’s never the same.”
Marjorie Kellogg

“To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation.”
Chinese Proverb

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”
Ernest Hemingway

Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again.”

Andre Gide

[i] Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry, New York: HarperCollins, 1991, 43.
[ii] Daniel Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books, 1995, 176.
[iii] Terry, Felber, Am I Making Myself Clear? Secrets of the World’s Greatest Communicators, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2002, 56.
[iv] Roxanne Roberts, “The Rich Resonance of Small Talk,” Washington Post, October 19, 2004; Page C09.
[v] John Ortberg, Everybody’s Normal, 112-113.

No comments: