Although some humans do not readily admit that we need one another, we humans most certainly do need other human beings. We need to interact with them, and feeling lonely and unloved is devastating in the long run. All of us have grown up with a large number of unique and specific experiences, abilities, interests, quantities of material we have learned, an I.Q. that we can do little about—and a host of other items that have made us who we are. Interacting with other people can be daunting because we have a mountain of information and material in our minds that we may be trying to convey in a short message, and we may not be adept at delivering some of that information. That mountain of information also may contain foolish thoughts and ideas, besides being poorly assembled and thought through.
The one or ones to whom we are trying to convey information may also have distractions, limitations with understanding, language differences, things like a hearing impairment and a number of other factors that interfere with receiving a clear message. So here we are—somewhat handicapped when we try to get a message to another and somewhat handicapped as listeners. Added to all of that is a problem we have with a short memory (that varies from person to person) and an array of impressions we made or accepted that our mind did not correctly interpret. We can hear without hearing (Matthew 13:13-16 Matthew 13:13-16 13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.
14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which said, By hearing you shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing you shall see, and shall not perceive:
15 For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.
American King James Version×). When we are preoccupied, words may come into our ear, but they never seem to reach the brain. In all honesty, we have to admit we have asked “What did you say?” far too many times because we were not paying attention. What can we do to improve that and how can we get others to listen to our message?
With a little thought and practice, we can develop our ability to get our message across. We may not solve the problem altogether, because communication involves the speaker and the hearer, and we can only act on ourselves. What steps can we take that will allow us to reach the best level possible in communicating? There are two parts to good communication—the one of making a clear and easy-to-understand statement and the other to be sure the receiver is listening. That is a two-way street, because just as we want to get our message or point across, so too the other wants to get their message across to us. In these two areas we can work on being clearer and more concise with our choice of words and, to a limited extent, we can try to be sure the other is actually listening. We can also learn to be good listeners ourselves. Are we able to get his/her attention? If not then the communication is not going to work.
Listening with patience, open-mindedness, controlled biases and an attitude of respect towards other people is a solid foundation that good communication is built upon. When we pay attention and listen, we are improving the major part of understanding the other person. The Bible tells us to be swift to listen and slow to speak—that is when we want to understand another person (James 1:19 James 1:19Why, my beloved brothers, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
American King James Version×). Being swift to listen not only ensures that the other’s message is getting across, it shows the speaker that we want to hear and understand and encourages him to be ready to hear our response. There are few things that end a good conversation more quickly than a person who answers before the other has fully expressed his thoughts.
As a trainee in the ministry, I once accompanied a pastor who had a bad habit of answering a question before it was fully asked. More than once, the exasperated person who was trying to explain his problem received an answer that showed the minister completely misunderstood his question. Being interrupted before we are able to say what we want is a sure way to end an exchange.
Active listening involves paying close attention to what the other person is saying, asking clarifying questions, and rephrasing what the person says to ensure understanding (“So, what you’re saying is . . . ”). Through active listening, we can understand the other person better and demonstrate a skill that he may want to develop. When we are aware that physical hindrances like poor language skills, poor hearing, distractions or other factors are present, we should realize that it will be difficult to get our message across to the other. That simply is wisdom, and we would know the time is not right. There is a right and a wrong time to try to send a message (Ecclesiastes 3:7 Ecclesiastes 3:7A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
American King James Version×). Choosing our words with care and with regard to the listener plays an enormous role in clearing the path for getting our message across.
Paul said to learn to speak with grace, seasoned with salt (which adds flavor) so that we may know how we ought to answer each other (Colossians 4:6 Colossians 4:6 Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer every man.
American King James Version×). Our Creator tells us to come and reason together with Him (Isaiah 1:18 Isaiah 1:18Come now, and let us reason together, said the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
American King James Version×), but clearly our minds do not have the ability to reason with God since He is so far above us mentally (Isaiah 55:3-9 Isaiah 55:3-9 3 Incline your ear, and come to me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. 4 Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people. 5 Behold, you shall call a nation that you know not, and nations that knew not you shall run to you because of the LORD your God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he has glorified you. 6 Seek you the LORD while he may be found, call you on him while he is near: 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, said the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
American King James Version×). He does not mean to tell us that we can teach Him things He does not know, but He encourages our communication, which in the end increases our own understanding.
“Through active listening, we can understand the other person better and demonstrate a skill that he may want to develop.”
It is interesting that, when a person is troubled and seeking help, psychologists will tell you that just listening is one of the best ways of helping that person. Being able to formulate our thoughts is the beginning of learning. We can call that prayer, and often when we get up from prayer we understand our own problems better. It involves each person expressing his thoughts. In formulating our words and thoughts, we often understand ourselves better.
There are some parts to getting our message across that are important to know:
(1) Body language, eye contact, gestures and tone of voice are part of the message. Pay attention to the nonverbal message the listener is sending as well as your own.
(2) Avoid rambling; stick to your subject. Clarity is important. Explain your message clearly in few words.
(3) Speaking in a friendly tone, a personal question or simply a smile does a lot to encourage a listener to really hear. Show yourself friendly (Proverbs 18:24 Proverbs 18:24A man that has friends must show himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.
American King James Version×).
(4) Show confidence by eye contact and a friendly but firm tone. Don’t make statements sound like questions. Avoid sounding aggressive or arrogant.
(5) Empathy is showing others respect and understanding of their point of view. Comments like “you have a good point there” or “I understand your point of view” show you are listening. And as you respect them, you will be more respected.
(6) Think and be ready to add to your opinion as you listen, but not before the person has completed his thought.
(7) People will be more open to hearing you when they know you respect their ideas. Avoid distractions like a cell phone and focus on the conversation.
(8) Pick the right place and time for communication. What you are trying to convey in a message depends a great deal on when, where and how you convey it. Circumstances are not always the same, but giving some thought to the “when” will add to success.
People reach wrong conclusions when they think they cannot communicate. We can all learn new skills, but it takes effort, thought and action. Think about these points—and put them into practice. Find a friendly ear who will help—practice does make perfect.