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The lost art of listening

The term that has become embraced by so many regarding listening is “active listening.”  Active listening reminds us that listening is not a passive activity.  This is the deceptive thing about listening is that fact that we can hear without any effort at all.  Our ears are built to take in noise.  Active listening brings mental attention and effort toward understanding the person speaking.  This is far more than simply hearing them.   

When you think about active listening you should think first how you would want someone to listen to you.  Jesus teaches us in Matthew 7:12 “…do to others what you would have them do to you…” This is what is commonly called the Golden Rule.  As simple as active listening sounds it is very hard work.  There are times when I engage in active listening with my wife or a couple I’m coaching or a friend and I come away exhausted.  The reason is active listening is a process of active selflessness.  The reason we have so much trouble listening is because we are literally obsessed with our thoughts, opinions and agendas.  Active listening communicates to the speaker that you value them.  This is why active listening is a crucial communication tool for marriages.   

You may discover that your communication problems in your marriage have more to do with listening than talking.  When we experience difficulty in communication we usually address the problem in the most ineffective ways.  Think about the last time you were trying to communicate with someone who did not speak your language.  What did you do?  If you are like most Americans, you simply turned up the volume!  Talking more and louder does not necessarily improve communication.  Parents often face this dilemma with their kids.  Experts will say raising your voice and repeating yourself is not the solution to every communication problem.  When parents get on the same level as their children, speak in a normal or soft tone and touch them communication almost always improves. Likewise in marriage, talking more and louder is rarely the solution; the solution we should try first is active listening.  

When you think of good marriage communication try to remember to L-I-S-T-E-N.  
1. Limit distractions.  We live in a world that engages our senses at every turn.  Make an effort to limit those distractions and narrow your attention to your spouse.  Turn off the TV, sit up straight and try to ensure there is appropriate light (this helps with face to face communication).  Do what it takes to focus on your spouse so you can truly listen to them.  When it comes to good communication we don’t want our spouse to be one of many noises around us.  

2. Intentional posture.  It’s amazing to recognize how God has created us.  The primary mechanisms of communication exist on our faces.  Think about it.  The mouth, eyes and ears are all situated to receive communication best from another person in the face-to-face posture.  In marriage you should be intentional to posture yourself to create face-to-face communication whenever possible.   

3. Show understanding.  As your spouse is speaking give clues that you are following and understanding.  This is done by nodding, asking clarifying questions and murmuring the “uh-huhs” and “um-hmms” that show you are with them the whole way.  This responding should be done in conjunction with face-to-face body language or you may find yourself mindlessly murmuring to you spouse and you both know you weren’t listening!  

4. Take criticism well.  Sometimes the topic of conversation is a criticism of you.  If so, take it well.  Make it your practice to listen, without being defensive, to the criticism of your spouse.  Thank them for being honest and giving you feedback.  It may be painful but helpful words.  Be wise and take those words to heart.  Your spouse may be on to something and you may be facing a wonderful opportunity to grow.  If after honest evaluation you feel your spouse is misinformed or wrong about you, stage a conversation to share the inaccuracies but always with humility and grace.  

5. Eliminate self-promotion. The temptation in a conversation is to look for ways to express your own opinions, experiences or ideas.  The result is failure to listen while we devise our next statements or judgments of our spouse’s statements before fully hearing them out.  It is important to your spouse to be fully heard before adding your “2-cents” to their statements.   When we turn conversations into self-promotion we leave our spouse feeling unheard.  

6. Nurture respect.  Active listening should be a respectful process between you and your spouse.  Nurturing this respect means resisting the urge to offer uninvited solutions or answers to problems or questions.  Sometimes your role is simply to listen and not solve anything.  Allowing our spouse to struggle through a problem can actually make them feel very valued and respected.  If they need your help they can ask. The better your listen, the more willing they will be to ask when the time comes, because they feel respected by you.

I hope this makes sense and helps you in whatever relationship you have that needs to regain the lost art of listening!

Posted by Andy Savage at 10:50 AM
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