If it was a living being, the relational skill of “listening” would be a candidate for the endangered species list. If “speaking” were a living being, its population would be on a rapid rise, but the species would be in very poor health.
The growing use of digital communication means that increasingly communication is read instead of heard on the receiving end and it is sent instead of spoken on the sending side. Instead of exaggerated ears, our illustration should have exaggerated texting thumbs and fatigued eyes.
As a result the messages are composed and interpreted in absentia, inviting misunderstanding and eliminating the important steps of feedback and clarification that can happen in healthy dialogue. However the speed and convenience of “one way” communication is increasingly the norm.
It seems the advice of James letter to the first century believers would be good advice for us as well…
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. James 1:19-20 (NIV)
I have to admit that as a fairly extroverted person, I seem predisposed almost in reverse of this advice. I have experienced the negative consequences of violating this “should”.
Why prioritize listening? Listening adds to our perspective by gaining someone else’s point of view or knowledge that I may not have. Listening, particularly in times of stress, can prevent us from speaking or acting without taking in the situation first. Listening tells the other person or persons that they are valued personally and that their contribution to the discussion is important. When we prioritize listening all these benefits are ours.
Being “slow” to speak is the companion skill that complements good listening. It gives time for processing what I hear. It gives me opportunity to clarify and incorporate the ideas of the other person before evaluating and rending judgement. It gives time for me to consider the impact of what I’m thinking on the other person, before saying it! It gives me time to be clear in choosing what I say. In fact sometimes it may give me the time to wisely take the time to do some thinking and investigating before speaking. What happens when I reverse the process and am “quick” to speak? It will be far less likely to produce positive exchange of ideas and much more likely to produce confusion and conflict.
Following James divinely inspired advice brings the rewards of obedience. Relationships are enhanced. Misunderstanding is reduced. Collaboration is more fruitful.
Life is better God’s way. Let’s aim to listen.
Looking forward to seeing you this Sunday!