The Art of Listening– A refresher Primer for when we fail to listen.

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Listening is hard. You might want to argue with that statement. People do because they hear all the time people talking, but listening is more than hearing. They also would like to argue with this statement because listening is something most of us feel we are pretty good at. I know I did. I thought I had polished the necessary skills of listening as a Chaplain Resident and then as an experienced Chaplain. Indeed, I had been told as a Chaplain, I did a pretty good job of listening. Last fall, in a meeting I had someone correctly tell me to shut up and listen. This was the second time in my life, I had been embarassed and humiliated publically by my inability to listen. I resolved to learn how to listen much better.

AS a result I have read a fascinating book entitle “The Lost Art of Listening.”This book explains why we have problems listening by examining the psychology of listening, and then looking at what common mistakes we make when we do not listen very well. Our listening styles it points out are formed in early childhood through the relationships we have with parents.Parents who listen it is pointed out help their children feel worthwhile and to develop self esteem. The author Dr. Nichols points out that when an adult has trouble listening to others, as many of us do, it is usally a result of feelingso of a lack of worth, so we insert ourselves and opinions to prove our own worth. Children learn early on they have a hunger to be noticed by adults. When we encounter strongly opinionated people, many times they are so because, their parents simply did not notice them as children and so they struggle to balance the book as adults.

Dr. Nichols points out that many of us are guilty of hearing but not listening to others.The reason we hear without listen is that we can’t wait to respond next, so we are formulating what we will say next  so trully miss an opportunity to receive understanding from the person we are talking to. We are already failing at listening at this point because we are placing our own desires for recognition and needs to be heard ahead fo the other person. A person who truly is a good listener is able to suspend their own needs,memory, or judgement in order to listen to someone else. This is the first step only however in true listening. The next step is to place oneself in another person’s shoes so to speak, and to have empathy for what they are going through.

Empathy is a component of good listening. But many of us fail to practice it. We think we do according to dr. Nichols but we still insist upon understanding what is being said through our own filters which depending upon what they are will filter out sometimes crucial information and sometime filter in information which doesn’t need to be a part of the equation. I really say to someone I know what you are feeling or thinking because I have been through this before. Even if a person goes through the same event as another person, neither will have the same experience as a result of the event. But more than taking us away from being empathetic, saying this, doesn’t connect us with them, rather it drives a wedge, for it means we are understanding their experience through our own, which is not really listening either.

True listening doesn’t fit other’s experience within ours but the other way around. It fits us into others experiences so we can better be understanding. Often times this placing of the experience of others into a box we define based upon our own experiences, leads to us reacting rather than reasoned, carefully thought through, process. We merely react to whatever what we hear provokes in us. Reacting often is a bad because it almost always allows old tapes or remenants of past relationships  to resurface, meaning we filter what we are being told by all our other relationships of our past.

How many of us enjoy listening to someone who is talking all the time? I know this is a stupid question because the answer is usually 0. Conversely this means that Most people will not pay attention to what we have said until they feel we have listened to them first. Moreover, listening I learned is a matter of giving up control and becoming vulnerable. How many times in life have we forced conversations to avoid touchy subjects.

The major reason I am discuss listening in this blog, is my approach has changed considerably since I have stopped feeling inadequate. When I feel ok about myself, I have noticed I have not been racing to speak or respond to the statements of others. No, I have spent more time observing and trying to observe others. It is amazing how much more I am seeing with coworkers, partners,and others when I look to see how good they are truly with their listening.

I bet Jesus was a good listener. In fact in John the women at the well as much acknowledged as much. Here was someone who she had just met but could tell her everything about herself because he did such a good job of listening.A couple Sundays ago, we celebrated Transfiguration as a church. In one account of the story, the voice from heaven comes down and expresses that Jesus is God’s son or representative and then directs the Disciples to listen to him. This wasn’t btw merely an invite or even a demand for them to listen, no.It is a stressing of how important listening is. As Dr. Nichols goes on to say Listening is not so much hearing as it is coming to an understanding with others.

I am getting to the point of this entry into my blog. The problem with our church today is not that we hare not hearing each other speak, it is we aren’t listening to each other. The problem is with most of us is that we seldom truly practice good listening skills with God either. If we do not listen well with each other why would we be any different with God. The problem of course with not listening very well with God, is that we end up being really hard of hearing spiritually. Then we either complain God is not listening to us and is hard of hearing or that we start telling God what God should be hearing from us and doing for us, rather than allowing God to speak for us to direct our labors.

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