Monday, February 24, 2014

Being a Good Listener

"The Gift"
Taken from "The Resolution for Women" by Priscilla Shirer

On the heels of receiving my undergraduate degree, I began working as an independent contract speaker for the Zig Ziglar Corporation.  Those were good, formative years for me, filled with unique opportunities to sit under the tutelage of some amazing presenters.  I was the young one of the bunch, so I took great care when watching these much more seasoned communicators, studying what they did with their hands, how they made effective use of the stage, how they engaged an audience.

I especially recall listening to one of the eldest and most accomplished speakers on our team deliver a message I'd heard him share a million times before.  I could probably have told you every word he was going to say before he said it.  Yet at the end of his talk, something he mentioned affected me in a way it had never touched me before.  Right before taking his seat after an hour-long presentation, he lowered his voice, looked squarely into the eyes of his audience, and said, "I'm aware that the greatest gift you can ever give someone is the gift of your own time.  Thank you for giving me that gift today."

Time.  Listening.
A gift.

I've never forgotten that.  In fact, I keep this awareness at the forefront of my mind each time I stand on a platform in front of a listening audience.  When people give you their ear, they are offering you a sliver of their life they can never retrieve again---one of the few gifts that can never be returned or retracted.

But this dynamic is not only true of an audience listening to a speaker.  It's true of any person who lends her ear to another individual.  And we are in that position every day---the opportunity to envelop ourselves in someone else's conversation, to suppress the clamor of our own thoughts and schedule, to focus our full attention on other people, giving them an offering of the rarest kind.  The gift of ourselves.  The gift of our time.

The gift of listening.

Think of it.  When was the last time somebody really listened to you?  Not the last time you talked but the last time you felt you were really heard.  It's highly probable that these two occasions were not one and the same.  You may not even be able to easily recall a recent moment when you experienced that special sense of knowing that someone was all there, all yours, intent on hearing what you had to say.  But once you transport yourself back to that time, seeing the attentive eyes of that other person, you'll be looking into the face of someone you deeply appreciate, someone who truly knows how to make a person feel valued and accepted, loved and affirmed.


That's just what the gift of listening does.  What starts with one gift spins off into others---the gifts of self-worth, significance, personal satisfaction.  The kind of gifts we all want to be known for giving.

But oh, how uncommon they are.  How rarely we receive them, much less give them.  Most of the time we’re so focused on ourselves and preoccupied with our own feelings, every conversation becomes ultimately about us and how we’re being affected.  We’re parsing what the other person is saying, interpreting as we go, trying to fix whatever problem she's presenting, jumping in at every possible opening with our own attempts to turn the attention back to us, our experiences, and our opinions.  Even if we have good intentions, even when we try really hard to make ourselves listen, we have a hard time keeping it up for long.  And every time our focus lags, we translate to the other person a disinterest not only in what she's talking about but in herself as a person.

Truly, what we say by not listening says a lot.

Which is precisely why this simple yet profoundly difficult discipline is such a source of extreme blessing to others.  When someone is able to know, during whatever few moments we’re present with her, that we esteem and honor who she is---few things mean as much.

Don't the people in your life deserve this blessing?  Your husband?  Your children?  Your parents?  Your friends?  To feel strengthened and encouraged just by being around you?  Even without being able to give them money, or an ideal solution to their questions, or a job offer to ease their worry and desperation, you can still cause them to sense a gentle strength and empowerment in your presence.  Whether friends or family members or even strangers---people you could just as easily pass by in your hurry to get from place to place---looking them in the eye can be a blessing you share throughout the day.  Every day.

Jesus must have known the power of this blessing.  He made a habit of bestowing it on the most insignificant, unnoticed people of His day.  Jesus---the only true know-it-all ever to walk the earth, who legitimately had no good reason for listening to a single word from anyone---chose on many occasions to stop, to wait, to listen, to give attention to another before speaking Himself, even when the other person was misinformed or even spouting blasphemy.

He listened to the clever dodges and smokescreens of the woman at the well (John 4: 4-30).  He listened to Peter and the other disciples indignantly boasting that they would never deny or desert Him (Matthew 26: 31-35).  He listened to the call of an individual blind man, even over the mournful roar of human need on a crowded street near Jericho (Luke 18: 35-43).

We should hardly be surprised.  This is so consistent with His character.  Throughout the Scriptures we see God listening to His people.  Listening to the accusatory sentiments of a discouraged, impatient prophet (Habakkuk 1: 1-11).  Listening to the delineated questions of a man suffering unexplained misery (Job 3: 1-26).  Listening to the many excuses mapped out by Moses for why he was uniquely unqualified for locking horns with Pharaoh (Exodus 3:1-4:13).  Listening to the whining tirade of a bitter, unbecoming man of God (Jonah 4: 1-11).

Listening is one of the most significant ways He blesses us.  Therefore, quite predictably, it's one of the key ways we can bless others.

So choose to listen.  Resist the urge to criticize, insult, laugh, or make sarcastic remarks.  Battle the press of time and urgency and the hunger to get away.  Just lean in, quietly, emphatically, purposefully.

And listen.
It's your gift. Your blessing.
Give it to whomever you can.

  • What is the most difficult part of listening for you?
  • Recall the last time you genuinely felt heard.  Make a list of some one-word adjectives that describe how this encounter made you feel about what you were saying?  About yourself?
  • Who are the people in your life who would benefit the most if you took the time to listen to them?


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