I have these rules for life. So far, we’ve covered six of them in this monthly Lambchow feature. Number seven goes like this – Listen more than you talk. In some ways, I think I’m wired to follow this rule and it is has served me well in every area of life. Some may count me as shy, especially those that knew me in High School and young adulthood. And there was some fear-based shyness there. But during that time, I also discovered that a lot can be learned by simply listening.
A few years ago, Betty and I joined a small group at our new church. They were unknown to us and we to them. I determined to apply this rule of listening more than I spoke. I think they thought I was shy too but my desire was to get to know each one’s wants, worries, and wounds by watching and listening. Today I count all of these folks as friends. Listening more than speaking built bridges of trust and understanding that have carried some pretty heavy loads.
I’d like to change the narrative on listening. So often it is viewed as passive and not influential. But the truth is the exact opposite. Listening is hyperactive. It takes focus and intentionality to listen. Listening requires us to shut down our internal dialog and tune into someone else’s thoughts and emotions. Listening requires engagement and connection, even asking clarifying questions. Listening influences people by earning their trust and learning how to laser guide our words when we do speak.
The Book of James put it this way, “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” (James 1:19–20, NLT) If there is a Dale’s Rule the world needs it is this one. We live in a time when everyone is speaking and few are listening. The loudest and angriest voices seem to win the day. We are bombarded with persuasive words and seek solace and security in like-mindedness. The only voices we tend to engage with are those we agree with. But that’s not listening, that is selective deafness. That is building walls instead of building bridges. It is far from the way of Jesus who listened and engaged with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.
We’ve lost some of the impact of that story from the Gospels. First-century readers would know the utter animosity between Samaritans and Jews. The harsh social norms that separated men and women. And here is Jesus speaking with a woman in public that is not his relation and worse yet, she’s a Samaritan. Jesus engaged and listened to her anyway. The brief encounter is filled with revealing statements from both Jesus and the woman. Sometimes in order to listen we need to initiate contact and open the door.
The hardest time to listen is when someone is attacking our thoughts, ideals, beliefs, or actions. But that is the time we need to listen the most. We must recognize that we may have a blind spot that needs to be revealed. A sin that we’ve never considered or reconciled. But listening in those tough and uncomfortable moments also reveals much about the speaker. Their words, word choices, and emotional clues often reveal their own wounds, worries, and wants. We can in those instances listen for understanding without agreeing or accepting someone’s conclusions.
This rule doesn’t mean that we never speak but enables us to speak effectively. Listening gives us the right to be heard by others. And if they don’t listen? If they don’t return the honor of being heard? Well, that’s on them not on us. But nothing is lost, the time is not wasted because we’ve learned something. We’ve begun to build that bridge of understanding and friendship even if all we’ve done is set a few posts in the ground.
Listen more than you talk.