Listening Before Speaking

Written by: D’Anne Mullin

In my many years working with people, both in our ministry and in my career, the art of intrapersonal communication has always fascinated me.  My family too is a place of intense interest as I watch its members dance the dance of communication with one another; sometimes resembling a beautiful waltz and other times dancing a disjointed modern ballet.  On the whole, I am a people watcher and there is nothing I love more than to go to the mall, not to shop, but to watch human interaction take place in all its bluster and glory.

The one thing I have learned through all my observation, and from personal experience, is that most people speak to be heard, seldom listening to understand others.  I have been guilty of these countless times in my life; just ask my husband for I am sure he has many examples to share.

This, however, flies in the face of scripture and how God would want to us to communicate with one another.  James 1:19 states, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this:  Everyone should be quick to LISTEN, slow to SPEAK and slow to become ANGRY.”  Further, Proverbs 18:13 enlightens us that, “Those who answer before listening – that is their folly and their shame.”  These are strong words spoken to warn us against falling headlong into our own rhetoric and speaking unintelligibly before we know the facts.

And even when we begin to learn to listen to others before we speak, we are often listening only to formulate our response, never really giving the other person our full attention.  Many of us listen through a biased filter or with predetermined expectations or perceptions.  Other times we are listening more to ourselves talking and not to what the other person is saying.  And we have all been guilty of selective hearing.

But, effective listening, effective communication, requires us to control the conversation in our own minds when we are engaged with others!  Note that both scriptures above are filled with verbs, action words on the part of the reader.  QUICK – to listen.  SLOW – to speak. SLOW – to anger.  ANSWER -before listening.  All verbs!  We are challenged by God’s Word to control the ongoing dialogue between our ears.  Easier said than done, but essential when interacting with others.

By controlling the constant dribble in our minds, we can more effectively respect others by giving them our ear.  And that’s it.  Our ear.  Just our ear.  Further, when our minds are turned off and our ears are open, then the Holy Spirit can fully direct any words that do eventually make it out of our mouths.  How very powerful that is for the sake of those we interact with!

Daughters, I encourage you today to steer clear of the traps I have personally fallen into.

  • Jumping in mid-sentence to share my thoughts on a topic
  • Giving unsolicited advice
  • Intellectualizing or spiritualizing a topic at hand
  • Interrupting or making it about me

Rather, I encourage you, and myself along with you, to follow the principles below.

  • Pay attention without interrupting
  • Put yourself in the speaker’s shoes
  • Acknowledge the speaker’s feelings
  • Find out what is most important in the moment to the speaker
  • When pauses occur speak back what has been spoken to you, showing that you are listening

Learning to truly listen to others can be as difficult as learning a foreign language, but we must learn to do so in order to grow closer to others and to God.  It takes practice and intentional action on our part and becomes easier in time.  I will leave you with this final quote on the topic and let’s together become better listeners, fully engaged in the moment with our ears attuned to those around us.

“The first service that one owes to others in fellowship consists of listening to them.  Just as the love of God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of the love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer