Relationships are one of the most significant elements of our life. We have been created for relationship with God and other people. When we find and develop healthy relationships, they are a great blessing to our lives. On the other hand, when we are unable to do this, there can be a tremendous amount of loneliness and sadness in our lives.
James gives us some great advice to help improve the quality of all of our relationships. He highlights three essential keys to improving relationships: being a good listener, thinking before speaking and controlling your anger. Today we will spend some time just looking at becoming a good listener.
James 1:19-20. My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for human anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.
Communication is the ‘life blood’ of relationships. It is the basis for building relationships and really knowing another person. It is the basis for achieving unity between people and it is the basis for solving problems and conflicts, and restoring unity. The bottom line is that good communication usually leads to a good and successful relationship. Bad or poor communication often leads to a failure in relationship. In fact, most relationship breakdowns are caused by a breakdown in communication breakdown usually because of conflict or misunderstanding.
When we think about communication we often immediately think about talking or letting other people know what we think and feel. This is an important part of every relationship but James places an important priority or emphasis here. He says we should be “Quick to listen and slow to speak.” The reason he says this is that this is the opposite of how we usually relate. More often than not, we are “Quick to speak and slow to listen.” With the help of the Holy Spirit, we have to reverse this natural tendency if we desire to build quality relationships.
Becoming a Good Listener Communication is one of the most important skills in life. We've spent years learning how to read, write and speak but we often fail in effective. Do not confuse listening with hearing. You can hear something but not be listening: “In one ear and out the other.” To listen, you must be thinking. Listening is an active, not passive activity. It requires concentration, full attention, interest, feedback, further questions and focus.
Why is Listening Important?
- It Communicates Love and Value. We can love through listening. Listening is being others-centred and helping them to communicate something about themselves. The gift of being a good listener … is perhaps the most healing gift anyone can possess; for it allows the other to be, enfolds them in a safe place, does not judge or advise them, and communicates support at a level deeper than words.
It Helps You to Understand Other People. It is so easy to misunderstand people or not see the treasures in their heart and life. Through listening we open a door to enter their world – to know their heart, their dreams and well as their fears.
It Earns You the Right to be Heard. Each one of us wants to be heard and to be understood. We desire to be loved and appreciated. Yet it is in hearing and understanding others, in loving and accepting others that we open the doorway for this kind of exchange. Life is about sowing and reaping, giving and receiving. As we take the time to listen to and understand others we often gain a friend who also wants to know what is in our heart. A friend gains a friend.
Poor Listening Habits
Let’s talk about three of the major bad habits we all tend to develop that prevent us from being good listeners. We do many of these things without even being aware of them.
Inattentiveness. Inattentiveness is not paying attention to what a person is saying. We can do this because of a lack of interest, being preoccupied with other thoughts, not concentrating or because of distractions.
Interrupting. Instead of listening when someone else is speaking, we can easily be working out what we are going to say next or we may finish other people’s sentences for them, assume what they're going to say or change the subject frequently. Learning to wait and listen is an important discipline. It takes a lot of restraint. If we don’t conquer our tendency to interrupt we will discourage other people from expressing themselves at all.
Advice Giving. Some times we can listen with the intent of telling people what we think about what they’re saying or with the aim of fixing their problems. Unfortunately, this usually doesn’t help conversations and if anything causes people to close down rather than continuing to open up. The initial aim of listening is to understand and accept another person’s feelings, not to judge whether they are right or wrong. Quickly giving advice can easily diminish the importance of what the other person feels. Acknowledging feelings in this way is a powerful way to learn to listen and to build emotional closeness.
Good Listening Habits
Becoming a good listener is so important. If you read the book of Proverbs one of the most common exhortations is “Listen …!” This is how we gain wisdom – by opening our ears to learn from others. How do we become a better listener?
- Be Attentive. Attentiveness is ‘showing a person worth by giving sincere attention to their words.’ Show that you love and value people. Make eye contact with the person talking and don’t allow yourself to be distracted. Give them your full attention. Show interest and listen carefully.
Seek to Understand. Place all of your energy in seeking to truly understand the other person’s thoughts and feelings. What do they mean by the words they’re saying? Use your free mental time to observe, concentrate and evaluate the message. When you listen, you learn.
Ask Questions. Show people that you are really interested in what they think, what they feel, and what their opinions are by asking them questions. They will become comfortable about expressing their thoughts to you. A good listener is a good questioner.
Good listening requires effort, diligence, patience, sensitivity and care. If we will take James advice to heart and apply his instructions to our lives, all of our relationships will most likely improve. To improve our listening is to improve our relationships.