“You have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Sit down and listen Matt!”
Sadly I’ve forgotten who exactly said this to me. I do know, however, that it was a teacher of mine in seventh grade. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m uber-talkative. Especially when I’m sleepy. And when was I not sleepy as a seventh grader!
But this aphorism from my teacher speaks volumes. While its reliance on anatomy and physiology is cutesy; the truth behind it is solid. Listening is important, even more important than talking.
Listening Is a Thing of the Past
Think about this — there are four primary types of communication: 1) writing, 2) reading, 3) speaking, and 4) listening. Formal education in the West centers almost completely on writing and reading, with a tiny bit of speaking thrown in, such as in a public speaking course here or there. But there is almost no training for an average student with regard to listening. Almost none.
Isn’t that crazy? One of the most important human skills is completely left off the educational menu! One of my favorite leadership thinkers, Michael Hyatt, says that listening is a lost art, and it appears he is right!
The Impact of Our Lack of Listening
What kind of impact has this oversight had on us, our culture, our leadership skills, and our capacity to be missional?
- Listening is THE major component of oral communication, thus if we aren’t doing it well then we aren’t communicating well. And if we aren’t communicating well then our friendships, families, jobs, neighborhoods, churches, etc. are all negatively impacted.
- Listening is a required skill of anyone who wants to learn about and from a new culture. Taking on the role of a listener helps us stay humble and explicitly reminds us that we are here to learn. Moreover, there’s no better way to learn about something then to listen to the people who experience it most keenly!
- Listening is essential in leadership. How can we hope to lead people well if we aren’t in position to hear their concerns, hopes, wishes, and desires? How can we be trusted to take the reins if we aren’t willing to bend our ears toward others?
- And lastly, our lack of listening is extremely detrimental to our missional efforts.
So, what are some ways that listening will help us as we seek more and more to be on mission with God, accomplishing his will where we work, live, and play?
- Contextualize: We will be able to contextualize the good news of Jesus better if we listen. One of the first steps that any good missionary should take is listening. We should intentionally become a learner of culture so that we can see how best we can communicate Jesus and his kingdom wherever we find ourselves.
- Empathize: Being in the regular habit of listening will also show others that we care, that we empathize. I love the word “empathize.” It means, at its core, to understand, feel, and respond appropriately to the feelings of others. It necessitates that we learn through listening. And by listening to others we actively demonstrate that we care.
- Humble-ize: Despite how hard it is, being humble is the only way truly to listen. And if we humbly listen well, then folks will trust us more. And as people trust us more, the good news of Jesus and his kingdom will become more and more attractive to them. And as Jesus and his kingdom become more attractive, communities will change for the good.
Therefore, friends, we need to become more effective listeners! What are some ways that you think you can become a better listener? Let me know in the comments below.