The most common complaint I hear from women is, “No one listens to me.”
I suspect, however, that men often feel this way, too.
We are no longer very good listeners.
Several years ago, after a church service, I saw a friend in the lobby.
“Hey, Sue,” she said with a smile. “How are you?”
“Well,” I answered. “I could be better” and I proceeded to tell her about a problem I was facing. After a minute, she started shifting from foot to foot while her eyes darted around the lobby. When she began emitting distracted “ohs” and “uh-huhs,” I concluded that I might as well be talking to the wall. I took the hint, wrapped it up, and said good-bye.
Unfortunately, this scenario has happened again and again whenever I don’t give one of the acceptable responses that people today expect:
- I’m good. (Which we say whether we are or not.)
- Livin’ the dream.
If we venture from the script, more often than not we lose our listener within minutes. And if we are fortunate enough to hold our audience captive, instead of responding to our situation, the listener often starts talking about himself.
Sure, we can blame our poor listening skills on cell phones, computers, too much to do, too little time, too many demands…and we’d probably be correct. Thanks to technology and our busy lifestyles, we are easily distracted, impatient, and have our minds focused on fifteen other things we need to do. Who has time to listen?
The result? People feel more alone, ignored, inferior, insignificant, and isolated than ever before. Henry David Thoreau would be astounded to witness all the people today who, “…lead lives of quiet desperation.”
I try to be a good listener, and I’m aided by the simple fact that I’ve always been more on the shy side. When I’m with people that I don’t know well, I prefer to let them do the talking. And because I’m quiet, I often find people jabbering away about themselves with periodic interjections of, “I don’t know why I’m telling you all this.” But I know why. People today are so hungry for a true listening ear that, once they find one, their problems, worries, fears, and stories tumble out.
In the last year and a half, however, my life has become far busier. And my listening skills have tanked. Big time. So I resolved to start out 2018 by getting back to being a listener instead of an interrupting, eye-darting, watch-peeking, foot-shifting wall.
I’d like to share three ways that I’ve learned to become a better listener—based upon the acronym EAR.
Today we’ll start with “E,”—Enquire.
Let’s say my friend Amy begins telling me about the bad day she had. While Amy is speaking, I may be tempted to start thinking about a terrible day that I experienced. If I don’t resist that temptation, I’ll become so impatient to tell her how much worse my bad day was than her bad day that I pay little attention to what she is saying. Then, as soon as she draws breath, I interrupt Amy with, “Well, I…” And off I go about myself.
I am a wall, and poor Amy is left feeling belittled, embarrassed, and unvalued.
Now, using the “E.” After Amy tells me about her bad day, I enquire—I ask or comment about at least three things she said, and none of those enquiries start with “I.” This is not the time to comment about myself, my experiences, or to one-up her. And because I know that I’ll be enquiring about what she is saying, I become an astute listener. When Amy responds to my enquiries, I then make more enquiries about her answers. Eventually, relating a similar experience of my own can be helpful, but I concentrate on Amy first.
By enquiring about what Amy tells me, I am letting her know that she is important and that I care about what she is saying.
We need to be better listeners. True, a poor listener leaves the speaker feeling humiliated and invisible. But even worse, poor listeners may cause people, even Christians, to become hesitant to pour out their hearts to God in prayer. They begin to believe that hearing their petitions is a bother and a chore for God; that he is too big to listen and that their small prayers are unimportant to him.
However, in his word, our big God promises to hear our prayers, no matter how small.
* 1 Peter 3:12—”For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.” (ESV)
* Psalm 66:19—“But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer.” (ESV)
* 1 John 5:14—“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” (ESV)
Our big God is always, always the best of listeners. And when we talk with God, he will assure us that he values, cherishes, and treasures what we have to say to him.
Next week, we’ll delve into the “A.” God bless, and good listening!