104. The Listening Ear

            Christmas was just a few days ago when I wrote this. Some of us really heated up the credit card giving gifts. Others of us didn’t hand out many boxes or gift cards – this year the money just wasn’t there.

            Here’s a bit of good news: one of the world’s most valuable gifts doesn’t cost a cent. Poor people can bestow it just as easily as rich people. Yet, despite its low price tag, it can enrich others in ways that money never will.  The gift I’m talking about is the gift of listening.

            Now, of course, most of us listen quite a lot during a given day.  We listen to the clerk giving us the total amount of our purchase, or a teacher or boss telling us what to do. We chat with friends or get our ears soaked by entertainment.  These are all useful, but what I’m talking about today is listening of a certain kind.   I call it “deep hearing”. Most of you instinctively know what I mean, but let me describe it for you.

What is deep hearing like?

1.    Deep hearing occurs when I genuinely care about the other person

While this may not be openly said every time, in deep hearing, my actions and  demeanor communicate to the person speaking that they and their concerns matter to me. People sense this intuitively, but some of the following aspects of my listening make it more clear.

2.    Deep hearing occurs when I give the other my full attention

It’s been said of certain folks, that when you talk and they listen, the world around you both seems to disappear. They’re with you 100% -- shown by their eye contact, their body language, and their perceptive responses. Others give the opposite impression – that their mind is orbiting somewhere near Jupiter even though their mouth remains shut.

3.    Deep hearing occurs when I’m willing to allow the speaker generous pauses without jumping in

It’s easy to take silence as a sign that we ought to fill the empty air with a comment. And that can be appropriate. But good listeners are often slow to respond, knowing that extended silences can be very productive for the person speaking.  Our silence shows that we’re willing to wait, to allow them space to reflect a bit and finish what they want to say. In that gift of silence, they, in turn may come up with fresh insights which had not yet occurred to even them.

4.    Deep hearing occurs when I’m willing to suspend judgment

There is a place for sharing our insights and, perhaps, even disagreement. A few folks even value this feedback.  But it can be given prematurely.  Hear the person out first.  Make sure that they feel understood and accepted even if, in the end your opinion differs from theirs.

5.    Deep hearing occurs when I ask good questions

Well-chosen questions are the key to good listening.  They show that we’re paying attention.  They clarify.  They help the person think through in more depth what they’re saying and feeling.  Maybe they’ve never reflected on why such and such bothers them so much, or why this or that is an important value to them. Questions can also be a gentle way of making our own observations in a less threatening manner.  We may ask, for example, “How would you feel about what you did if you were in the other person’s shoes? Would you have acted differently?”

6.    Deep hearing occurs when I periodically reflect back what I’ve heard

This is a more specific form of questioning.  Instead of assuming that you understand them, sometimes it’s good to take a moment and reflect back what you’re picking up with a paraphrase: “Here’s what I’m hearing. You feel as though the other person is just using you?”  This kind of statement may feel awkward or artificial at first, but you’d be surprised at how it sometimes reveals that we’ve misunderstood what they’re driving at, gives them a chance to clarify a statement, or hopefully, affirms to them that we’re getting it.

7.    Deep hearing occurs when I remember what’s been said

I’m not suggesting that we can recall every detail of a conversation, but the ability to remember key points and bring them up again, if appropriate, in later conversations, sends a message.  It says, “I paid attention to what you said the last time and it mattered to me enough to remember the gist of it.”

8.    Deep hearing occurs when I’m sensitive about jumping in with advice

I’m not saying that you won’t often give counsel or feedback, but the temptation, especially for men, who are “fixers” is to give a quick listen and then jump into the fixing mode.  But people are not always asking for advice.  Sometimes they just want to be heard.  And even if they do want advice, they’ll receive it more openly after first receiving a thorough hearing.  By the way, advice is often given best by asking questions rather than making statements – “Have you ever considered doing such and such?” Or we can share our own experience – “This has been my experience in these situations. . .”

9.    Deep hearing occurs when I handle what I hear confidentially

If we want others to share anything of substance, they need to be confident that we’ll handle what they tell us with appropriate confidentiality; that it won’t be spread all around town.  This, of course, varies depending on what is shared.  Some information is more confidential than others; which may be common knowledge.

                          Let’s skip on to a second question.

Why is deep hearing such a precious gift to give others?

1.     Deep hearing is a practical way to communicate our care for others

We all desire to know that there are others who deeply care about us and our lives. It’s a basic human need.  Deep hearing sends out the signal that they matter.

2.    Deep hearing is a way of strengthening the bond we have with the speaker

Those we become closest to are those with whom we’re ably to freely talk.  Superficial talk usually results in superficial friendship

3.    Deep hearing can be a real encouragement to others

Even if they have a problem which we can’t help fix, just being able to share their need and be heard can be uplifting.

4.    Deep hearing often helps others to process their own thinking

Sometimes, hearing ourselves speak aloud about ourselves or our situation to  gives us fresh perspectives, which, in turn raise new questions and possibilities.

5.    Deep hearing can give heart to a dream

I’ve been speaking so far as if deep hearing is only about listening to problems.  But it can also have a more positive slant. Others love to talk about their hopes and dreams.  By listening respectfully, and perhaps giving feedback we may help them gain momentum in achieving that dream.

6.    Deep hearing reflects the heart of God

 God is the best listener in the universe. He encourages us to come to Him with everything and He always listens. When we learn to listen deeply, we reflect His love for His creation.  When we’re able to do that for others, not only are they blessed, but who listen are blessed as well. We’re blessed to be a blessing.