I have always thought of myself as a good communicator until I asked people what they thought about my communication skills. I was surprised by the answer, as you may be too, if you asked a few close people the same question. Turns out that besides poor communication habits, I am also not a good listener!
When I evaluated myself against some of the research I did on listening well, I discovered the following:
- I complete people’s sentences and make assumptions about what they are going to say.
- I am a busy, type ‘A’ personality and my body does not slow down to actually focus on the person I am listening to. I tend to be busy with something else (my phone, chores, tidying-up, multi-tasking etc.)
- While they are talking, my mind is going through my own mental checklist of everything I still have to do today, or remember to do. (I have a long list everyday).
- I interrupt people, not necessarily to clarify what they are saying; it’s probably to address my agenda.
- While they are talking, my mind is still travelling through a thousand thoughts at once because my mind is never actually silent.
- I have a bad attitude towards giving my attention to people when I am busy.
- I make judgments and assumptions before they have finished speaking.
I also discovered that with some people my listening habits are worse than with others, e.g. close family. I tend to listen better to people who are not close to me. I am quite embarrassed to admit this to myself, but it has been a good eye opener for me and an area I have to work on. What would your confession list be? Listening is a skill I think everyone could work on.
I have also discovered that behind all of these bad listening habits, there is one common characteristic: a general lack of self-discipline!
Self-discipline according to the dictionary, is the ability to make yourself do the things which should be done. It is managing your personal conduct, with the goal of self-improvement or using your will power to manage your base desires, also referred to as self-control.
Gal 5:22-23 lists self-discipline as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives, implying that it can be actively grown as we submit to the Holy Spirit. My self-discipline may be fantastic in certain areas of my life, but when it comes to listening, self-discipline is lacking. The list above shows that I cannot discipline: my thoughts; my tongue; my impulses; my personal agenda; my attitudes; my focus. This inability to discipline myself is what makes me a poor listener and how can not listening be described as loving towards others.
Prov 21:23 Watch your words and hold your tongue;you’ll save yourself a lot of grief.
Scripture encourages us in James 3 to watch our tongue, but the need for self-discipline in the life of the believer, requires us to first watch our listening.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, (James 1:19)
So here are my three strategies:
- Give undivided attention: Focus only on the speaker and what they are saying, not on activities or thoughts in my head. Practice silencing the mind and stilling the body.
- Stay focused: Ask questions to clarify what you have heard and deliberately listen for the answer. “Is this what you are trying to tell me?” “Is this what you want me to do (or understand)?” “Is there anything else I need to know about this?”
- Don’t interrupt: While listening, keep your own mouth shut. But also, keep your own mental voice shut: no judging, no bad attitude, no criticism, no comparisons. Focus on what is being said, not what is going on in your head.
What other strategies do you have? Why not share with the rest of us by commenting below.
Father, I confess that I am a poor listener. This results in unloving behavior towards those who are speaking to me. I confess that I am not being disciplined in managing myself, my thoughts, my actions and my words. Please help me Holy Spirit to focus on managing myself more effectively while someone is speaking to me, so that by listening, I may love better.
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