“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). We should be, but we aren’t.
We’d rather be heard than listen. And why not? Why make the effort to be a listener?
Good reasons. First, if you believe the Bible, God commands us to be listeners. Yep. That’s one of God’s commands.
Now, you may say, well, it’s one of his commands, but is it really that important? Here’s something else the Bible says: “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless” (James 1:26). Ouch!
Second, we have limited knowledge and understanding. If we are going to grow in our knowledge and understanding, we have to listen. If we speak, we only have the resources inside us, but if we listen, we have all the resources of those around us.
Third, listening is the best way to be heard. Everyone wants to be heard and understood. Showing people that we care about their perspective is the best way to ensure that they will also want to hear us. Try it.
On the other side, if we all focus on being heard, then no one will ever be heard. Someone has to get the ball rolling by listening.
Finally, it’s efficient. If we seek to understand people clearly in the beginning, we won’t have to correct all the problems that arise from misunderstanding. Better to take the time to listen in the first place and avoid the problems of misunderstanding altogether.*
The question is, how do we overcome our strong desire to be heard and simply seek to listen to others?
Let me suggest two things that I have found helpful. The first is to write down your thoughts. Writing is similar to discussion. It helps us gain clarity. For me, writing in a journal has made me feel less of a need to talk things out with other people. This frees me up to listen.
This can be especially helpful when you have a strong disagreement with someone. I have heard that Abraham Lincoln recommended the following when you are in a conflict with someone: write a letter and tell them exactly how you feel . . . and then throw that letter in the fire.
The second thing is to share your thoughts with God. People are generally not that interested in your thoughts, but God, amazingly, is! He wants to hear from us more than we want to speak to Him. Why not try sharing your thoughts with God? Besides being a gracious and compassionate God who wants to hear from His children, He has more resources than anybody else to help with our struggles.
Let everyone be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. A wonderful aspiration. If we can do it, we will not only bless others, we will be much more likely to be heard.
*Note: This insight and the title of this article “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” is the 5th habit in Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.