If you are not a charming conversationalist you might still be a big hit as a charming listener. You can win more friends with your ears than you mouth. Did you notice that you can earn an entire degree in communication, yet not take a single class on listening? Apparently “Listening 101” is not considered a part of communication at a university, yet 50% of any communication transaction involves the part where someone listens.
Have you ever taken the time to think about what qualities make one a good, or a poor listener? A nod of the head, eye contact, a word of encouragement (“Go on, I’m listening”) would certainly help. In Jesus’ parable of the soils (Matthew 13:1-23), the verb to hear is used 15 times, and such figurative terms for hearing as “see,” and “perceive” are used 16 times.
Does the Bible have anything to say about listening? Notice the words of Proverbs:
- The “simple” person “believes everything,” the Wise Man says, but the prudent “gives thought to his steps” (Proverbs 14:15). The simple are, apparently, gullible, incapable of analyzing what they hear.
- An evil person “listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue” (Proverbs 17:4) We are not surprised to learn that it is wrong to gossip, but it is perhaps a surprise that the listener bears a responsibility too. Does it seem strange to pair the words “listener” and “responsibility” together?
- We are told to listen before we react: “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13). When someone speaks, we often find ourselves formulating our answer before determining what he is saying.
- We are reminded to listen to both sides of a story before making a judgment: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17). I guess that’s why in a court of law we have a lawyer for the prosecution and a lawyer for the defense!
Please note that the listener bears the responsibility to get it right. We don’t have the right to suppose we understood the speaker, can read the speaker’s mind, can anticipate what he will say. If we respond to what he said, we need to get what he said accurately first.
When you hear something scandalous about someone, do not assume he loves the person about whom he speaks, or has his best interest at heart. Do not assume he cares about the facts, or the well-being of the one he is attacking. He did not do any research, he simply repeated what he heard first (or second, or third) hand.
Consider the acquaintance who is always slandering and belittling others in your presence; what is his topic of conversation when you are not present? Gossips do not have to be well-informed, just malevolent.
“Know this, my beloved brothers: Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).