“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”
― G.K. Chesterton
“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”
― Ralph G. Nichols
Listening is not a natural skill of mine…it should be, but like many human beings I easily fall into the trap of wanting people to listen to me rather than the other way round. Haven’t we perfected the art of looking as if we are listening whilst busily thinking of the next thing we want to say? Didn’t James in the Bible letter, warn us about using our mouths to do too much talking? Listening is an art, a skill…and like any other art…requires training and practice. These days I find myself sitting in groups desperately telling myself to ‘shut up and listen’ rather than butt-in with my contribution.
I experienced a lovely illustration of this the other week when my friend S, who has Down’s Syndrome wanted to tell me about her new job. Her speech isn’t always clear and it is really tempting for me to try and finish her words and sentences for her. I confess I sometimes do. I believe that this time God was showing me the error of this and I felt an overwhelming ‘nudge’ to really listen to what S had to say.
So what does ‘Good listening’ look like?
- It is when we give our whole attention to the person speaking,
- It is when we don’t assume we know what they are going to say,
- It is when we are patient enough to let the person finish what they are saying,
- It is when we don’t butt-in with our news, opinion or comments about how we did something similar,
- It is when we might nod, smile and ask appropriate questions that help us understand and show that we have empathy for the persons feelings,
- It is when we acknowledge and affirm that we have heard and understood,
There may be more things to add to this list – but essentially – listening to one another allows us to develop good and strong relationships and makes people feel valued.
S was extremely patient with me. As she realised I was really listening, she slowed down, signed some of the words in Makaton for me and waited for me to repeat key words to show I had understood. She then laughed with joy when I finally ‘got it’ and gently made fun of my slowness to understand. Her patience and willingness to take the time and effort to communicate with me was humbling.
When working with children and adults with additional needs ‘Good Listening’ needs to be practiced and developed so we can hear their voices in our church. It takes time and patience and sometimes we have to learn a different way of listening than we usually employ. Sometimes this may be through using technology or picture symbols to give people a voice, or just spending time with people to learn how they speak to you without words.
I feel woefully under qualified – and I bet that many other people do too. However, God can use humble people. His power is made perfect in weakness, he assures us.
As I said in my last post, I am feeling challenged to examine how inclusive we really are. I am looking forward to getting together with our group to open up the ‘Good Listening’ debate. It might start off messy and we might hear things we don’t like or disagree with. We might find it takes us time to hear and understand. But as Jesus’ Church we must let him take us on that journey. As we study and learn from the Bible, we can see how he teaches us to be church together…an inclusive church.
This really applies to all of us as church, maybe there are other ways and other people to listen to so we can be more like the church Jesus intended.
And it might just start with some prayer and ‘Good Listening’…