We need to listen to one another more. We need to listen better. On this Monday morning, there are calls from every corner for better listening. In the last 12 hours Forbes.com has posted one article touting listening to one another if we are to bridge the great divide among us, and the other hails listening as the key to the work of Saleforce’s new chief marketing officer. The Delaware State News posted a commentary, “In Post-Floyd America, it’s time to listen.” A quick search for “We need to listen to one another” produced 10 posts across the nation in just 12 hours.
The role of listening in communication is not new. It has been considered, taught, thought, rethought, modeled, and role played since creation. When God confronted Cain for murdering his brother, he demonstrated the power of listening, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:10 NASB) Listening is the first step in healing division. Listening is crucial when a married couple is talking but not communicating. Listening is essential for any business transaction to be satisfactory for all parties involved. Let’s consider some of the components of listening that WE think (our thoughts are not exhaustive) are fundamental.
First, we have to WANT to find a solution to our problem. If a husband and wife truly DESIRE healing for the pain between them, then healing is possible. If individuals really have a passion to heal the racial divide, then listening is possible. If a salesperson honestly aspires to meet the needs of the customer, listening is possible. If all we seek to is air our grievances or make a sale, then listening will not happen. Inherent in listening is all parties involved actively seeking a solution.
Listening requires us to respect the person speaking. Ideally, all parties both enter a discussion willing to serve the needs of the other. Realistically, all parties must honor each person as their equal (even in the case of grievance). We must hear what is really being said. This may go beyond the literal words, because we have all found it necessary to say, “That is not what I meant,” at some time. Asking questions is a part of honoring another person and seeking solutions. I once heard that discovering what is really being said is like removing the bridle, saddle, and blankets from a horse to find “the burr under the saddle.”
True listening prevents us from disqualifying another person’s words because of their experience. If someone approaches us as an aggrieved party, it is easy to begin a conversation believing the person simply does not understand our position. If we approach someone with a grievance we hope to air, it is equally easy to begin the conversation with the conviction that the other person does not care about our position. Honestly seeking a resolution to any problem requires us to honor everyone’s experience. If we resort to saying, “You cannot speak (or you are disqualified from speaking) because of your experience,” genuine resolution is seldom possible. It is true that a wife will not have exactly the same experience as her husband but preventing one from being able to speak due to their difference increases the pain and division.
The opposite side of this coin is, faithful listening may mean someone refrains from offering a defense for their role in the conflict. This does not mean the person not responding is inherently inferior or has no defense. However, God’s instruction is profitable, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Prov 15:1 NASB) Sometimes listening to, and identifying with, the pain in someone else’s life gives us an opportunity to disarm anger. Everyone may then think more clearly. Entering a discussion with the commitment not to interrupt with an answer – no matter how obvious – is always profitable.
Here is to listening clearly, listening decisively, and discovering solutions.