Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: How can you improve at listening to others? Here's Mary Kassian with a novel concept.

Mary Kassian: You put your cell phones away—put them in the drawer, turn them off. Put the newspaper down. Silence anything that's going to cause you to be distracted.

Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, January 29, 2015.

Nancy: Over the past week, Mary Kassian has been giving us some really helpful biblical teaching about our words. Today she'll continue with a lot of practical applications: How can you avoid distractions when you're trying to listen? How can you show the other person you understand what they're saying? How can you get to deep issues that may be causing a conflict?

Mary will answer those questions, continuing in this series, "Conversation Peace."

Mary: We've been spending a lot of time talking about speech and communication, and the thing I love about the Bible is that it is enormously practical! It teaches us how to go about our daily lives, and it makes a difference in our daily lives.

I want to take a look at one verse in the book of James that gives us so much information. There is so much good stuff packed in there, in that one little verse. If we can just take this one verse and apply it to our lives consistently, it will make an enormous difference in our efforts to communicate. 

It will make a difference particularly in those relationships where communication is a challenge—like relationships with a teen who's going through a little bit of a rebellious time, or who's having a real tough time connecting with Mom and Dad, or a roommate where the relationship is strained because there have been several things that have happened over a period of time.

Perhaps you're having difficulty with your spouse. Or if you're a single gal, perhaps it's someone that you're dating. There's just tension in the relationship, and you're wanting better understanding, and you're wanting better communication. I think you'd all agree that you can think of at least one relationship in which it would really benefit you to have better communication patterns.

This one verse in the book of James can help you if you apply it. James 1:19: "Know this, my beloved brothers:[and hear it is—here's the tidbit, the communication piece] let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger." Three things: quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. Listening plays such a big part in communication.

I think, often, our problems in communication are that we are quick to speak, and we're slow to listen. We do the exact opposite of what it says to do in this verse. We're very quick to offer our opinion; we're quick to make assumptions; we're quick to jump in there with our words—especially us women.

We're good at speaking. We like speaking. We like expressing ourselves. We like talking about ideas. We like kibitzing with the girlfriends. We like having that interaction . . . so we're quick to speak. We're not slow to speak; we're too quick to speak, and we're very slow to listen. We don't understand how to listen.

So, let's talk about what it means to listen. The Chinese character for the verb "to listen" contains four different symbols. It contains the symbols for "ear," "eyes," "heart," and "undivided attention." So those four things all go into that listening process.

Active listening involves giving our undivided attention. It involves hearing with our ears; it involves observing carefully with our eyes, and then it also involves understanding with our hearts. Listening is hard work!

There have actually been some research studies done on listening, and the researchers have found that if you're listening actively, you are working at listening in order to understand. If you're listening with your ears and your eyes and your heart and really seeking understanding, there are actually physical changes that happen to your body, changes that occur.

Your heart rate quickens, your respiration rate increases, and your body temperature goes up a little bit (not in terms of anger, but actually in terms of effort) your metabolism goes up. It's similar to all the changes that happen during physical exercise. Listening is work.

I think the reason we often don't listen is, it's easier not to, because it does take effort. It takes effort to stop the brain from turning, turning, turning in the direction it wants to go and to actually pause and put effort into understanding what the other person has to say.

The average person speaks between 100–150 words a minute. But here's an interesting statistic for you: Though we speak at 100–150 words a minute, we can actually think at about 600 words a minute. That's how fast our brain goes.

So the question for you is this, "What are you doing with all that extra word time?" The other person is speaking at 100 words a minute, and your brain is going at 600 words a minute. So your brain is going, going, going, going. And there are a lot of problems that this can cause.

First of all, it can cause a problem of us running ahead. Instead of listening, we're thinking ahead. We're thinking about what we're going to say next, or we're planning our rebuttal. I don't know if this has ever happened to you, but I know this happens to me sometimes in prayer meetings. 

You're sitting there and you're listening to someone praying, and you're planning what you're going to pray next, right? It's because you've got all that extra brain time going on. So, running ahead is a problem.

Wandering off, being preoccupied, thinking about personal interests or daydreaming. Even as you're sitting here listening to me speaking, you can be planning your grocery list; thinking about what's going to happen when you get home; thinking about that nice dress you saw that you'd like to buy; thinking about your summer vacation. There's a lot of extra brain time, and in order to listen, you have to take the effort to rein that time in and focus it on the speaker.

How about "jumping in?" Have you ever had someone who's jumped in? You're speaking, and they can't even hardly wait for you to finish, and they jump in and finish your thought for you? Or have you ever done that to someone? It's not coming out fast enough, so you just jump in and finish it for them? That's another listening problem.

Or how about brushing away, when you mentally categorize the speaker's thoughts as unimportant or insignificant? It's like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I've heard it all before," and you just brush it off, and you don't really engage to listen to what the person really is saying. Or you block out and refuse to acknowledge the topic the person is talking about.

So you have that extra 450 words a minute. Are you guilty of any of those behaviors? I know I am. When I look at that list, I go "Yes, I am guilty of that a lot." I am guilty of not pouring my energy and my effort into that directive in James 1:19 that says, "Everyone should be quick to listen."

Listening should be your first priority—not giving your opinion, not coming to an agreement, not having the other person hear you out, but listening to the other person and listening to their heart.

I want to just cover some ineffective listening patterns. The patterns of our listening, the patterns that we go through when we listen, can become habits and can become patterns of behavior that really counteract our ability to listen. I'm going to give you some caricatures of some typical bad listeners. Listen to them carefully and see if you can see yourselves, or see if you can identify any of these faulty listening patterns.

The first caricature is "Assuming Alice." Assuming Alice assumes that she knows what you think and feel, especially with familiar subjects. She thinks she's heard it all before. So Alice could finish all your sentences for you. She doesn't hear when you offer new or different information.

She just assumes that she knows what you think. Is anyone in the room guilty of doing that? Are you ever guilty of assuming that you know what your kids are thinking and feeling? Do you assume you know what your husband's thinking?

I went through a funny thing with my husband. We'd been married for twenty-three years at the time. Now we've been married thirty-three years. But for all those years I'd been making him beef stew, and he'd been eating beef stew once a week or once every couple weeks.

I'd set the beef stew in front of him and said, "Here you go, beef stew. You love beef stew, don't you?" And he said, "No, actually I hate beef stew!" (laughter) He had been eating beef stew for twenty-three years and never said a word, or I hadn't heard, because I made an assumption about it. Just like Assuming Alice, I assumed I knew what he liked without even asking him.

That's a funny story. We often laugh about that and say, "Greater love hath no man than to eat his wife's beef stew for twenty-three years while hating it!" 

Alright, here's another listening pattern: "Defensive Dan." Defensive Dan is distrustful and touchy; he sees your remarks as personal attacks. Dan perceives that you are out to get him, so he's closed to hearing anything you have to say about his behavior. A lot of teenagers fall into this category.

They make an assumption that you're not on their side, that you're against them, and you're opposed to them. They're defensive right off the bat. The hackles are up; the defenses are up. Before you have even said anything; you haven't even begun to communicate, and there's already a listening barrier in place.

We do this to people. We often do this. We put up defensiveness, particularly if the person has hurt or injured or wounded us in the past. Then we're defensive and our defenses are up, and we're not even willing to engage in listening and to truly engage with that person and listen to what that person has to say.

Here's another one: "Ambushing Amanda." Ambushing Amanda appears to listen carefully, but only because she's collecting information with which to attack you. She hears your words, but her goal is to twist your words and to use those words later as ammunition to cross-examine you and to condemn you as guilty. It's an ambush.

She takes your words and she listens, and she takes the little piece that you said here and she uses it against you. Well, it's easy to say that everyone else is an Ambushing Amanda, but I think that often we are. We kind of half-heartedly listen, and then we take perhaps our husband's words or a portion of what he said and we use it to kind of get a dig in.

"Self-centered Sam" is another listening pattern that is a poor pattern. He manages to turn any conversation into an opportunity to showcase his own accomplishments and perspectives. All that matters to Sam is that you know what he thinks. He doesn't care what you think. He doesn't even want to know what you think. He's just interested that you know what he thinks.

Here's another one: "Solution Sally." Solution Sally knows how to fix everything. Before she even hears you out, she knows what you ought to do. That's a listening pattern that can become a real barrier to open and honest communication. Sometimes your friends just need you to listen and just need you to hear their pain or to hear their frustration or to hear them process things. Sometimes your girlfriend doesn't need you to come up with a solution.

And I think sometimes this is an issue in male/female communication because husbands like to be fixers. They like to come in and, if they hear a problem, they like to be the one to "ride in on the white horse" and fix it. But sometimes a wife doesn't need or want someone to fix it-she doesn't need a solution-she just wants empathy and wants to be heard out and wants to be listened to and wants to feel that her heart has been listened to.

Here's another one: "Denying Darla." Denying Darla denies the significance of situations and your right to your feelings. "Oh, you shouldn't feel that way," is her motto. "Don't make such a big deal out of it," so instead of listening and unpacking the deep things of someone's heart, Darla would say, "Well, it's not a big deal; don't worry about it; you shouldn't feel that way; that's just not important." She really just denies what's going on.

Here's the final one: "Clueless Cliff." Clueless Cliff just doesn't get it. He isn't able to look beyond words and behavior to perceive deeper meanings. Even though his wife may be holding back tears and throwing things, Cliff believes her when she tells him everything is okay.

So we see those ineffective listening patterns often in other people, but if truth be told, they're probably also in us. We often exhibit those things, and we fail to listen. We fail to put James 1:19 into practice and to be quick to listen. I have an acronym on listening. I'm going to give you a little listening tip to go along with each letter of that word, and these things will help you, if you're able to put these into practice, to be quick to listen.

The first one that goes with the letter "L" is:

L—Limit your lip. If you want to listen more, you have to talk less. By limiting your lip, you give the other person the opportunity to express his or her thoughts. There was a philosopher that once said, "We've been given two ears and but a single mouth in order that we may hear more and talk less."

If you truly want to understand someone, you're going to have to avoid the temptation to monopolize the conversation and just yap, yap, yap, yap, yap. Close your mouth. Give the other person an opportunity to begin to share their heart.

I—Identify key issues. In most conversations the speaker is going to have a central idea or a central concern that he or she is trying to communicate. So instead of using your extra 450 words per minute of brain time to be thinking about other things, consider, "What is this other person really trying to say?" and use your extra brain time to think about that.

Observe their verbal and vocal and visual parts of their message. Try to identify the key issue. Ask yourself the questions,

  • How does this person feel about this? 
  • What does this really mean to him or her? 
  • How can I be a benefit to him or to her in this conversation?

You want to identify the issues.

  • Is this coming because there's some fear or some insecurity? 
  • Is the person feeling wounded by something that you said? 
  • Is there a repetitive pattern of behavior, perhaps, that needs to be broken? 

Try and identify that. Use your energy to really try and draw out the deep waters of that person's heart.

S—Silence distractions. Distractions can be external, such as ringing cell phones or doorbells, or newspaper, radio, TV, the phone. It is very difficult to listen when someone is texting on their cell phone. So put your cell phones away; silence anything that's going to cause you to be distracted. You want to be looking at the person, and you want to be engaging with the person and truly listening to that person and not being distracted by other things.

There are internal and external distractions. The external distraction may be your cell phone ringing, but the internal distraction might be you thinking, I have to phone so-and-so, or I have to text them back, and you can be distracted by all of your to-do list that's on the inside. Both internal and external distractions can hinder your ability to listen.

T—Table conclusions. Most of us are guilty of making snap judgments and evaluating others before we've heard them out. This temptation is the greatest when the speaker's ideas differ from our own. So instead of exchanging ideas, we turn our conversation into verbal combat. We want to score points for our point of view, and we want to prove ourselves right.

Effective listeners table their conclusions until they're certain they understand the other person's point of view. So, instead of rushing in and being quick to speak, you want to be quick to listen, and you want to be slow to speak. You want to hold back on sharing your stuff until you're sure that you understand what the other person is thinking and feeling, until you are at the point of having clarity on what their perspective is.

E—Echo and inquire. Effective listeners don't just listen with their ears, they can also listen by asking questions, by echoing what the person is saying: "I hear you saying that you're feeling frustrated," and you can echo that back to the person. Or, "What I understand you're saying is this . . . am I correct?"

You can make your plane go down at the end of your sentence, keep your voice neutral and ask some good questions to find out. You echo their feelings back to them, reflect them back. It's like you're holding up a mirror, and you're saying, "Am I seeing this correctly? Am I interpreting you correctly? Is this what you're feeling? Is this what you're thinking? This is what you're thinking; please correct me if I'm wrong."

So, you echo and inquire. You want to check that. You don't conclude that you understand until the speaker clarifies, and until the speaker says, "Yes, you've got it. That's what I'm thinking."

Let me say something here. Just because you're able to listen and understand doesn't mean that you agree. You can begin to talk about that, but you want to be able to articulate what they believe.

You want to be able to tell them back so that they say, "Yes, you've heard me. You have listened to me." You can do that by inquiring—asking good, non-defensive questions.

N—Negate the defensiveness. Effective listening is non-defensive listening. Your goal is to understand the speaker's perspective. You want to understand why the person feels the way that they do, you want to understand what is in that person's heart.

So, there you have it. You want to listen; you want to put all of these things into practice. Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak. I love that verse, Proverbs 20:5: "The purpose in a man's heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out," and that's what you want to do when you listen.

You want to understand, and you want to draw out the purposes and the thoughts and the innermost thoughts and desires of the person's heart. That's the way that you achieve greater unity and greater intimacy. 

Nancy: My friend, Mary Kassian, has been giving us practical insight on the lost art of listening. And before we move on, let's make sure that we've listened—not only to Mary, but to the Lord. Has He been speaking to your heart through His Word over these last few minutes?

Remember, God's Word says, "Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to get angry." Are there any ways the Lord wants you to grow at living out this verse? Let's review the ways that we can do that. . .

Mary reminded us to:

  • Limit our talking. 
  • Identify the main issues. 
  • Silence distractions. 
  • Table conclusions. 
  • Echo and inquire.
  • Negate defensiveness. 

Maybe one of those particularly stands out to you, and you'd like to ask the Lord to help you grow in putting that into practice. Let's pray together and ask Him to do just that. 

Oh, Lord, it's hard to be quick to listen. It's easier to be quick to talk. I pray that You would help us learn to be good listeners. For some of us, most of us, myself many times, a starting place would be to limit our talking. So many times we just say too many words. We're just filling the space, and we're not sensitive to others around us and what their needs are and what they want to say. We're not thinking how to draw out their hearts.

Or we're so distracted. We need to put away those cell phones, to put away distractions. Sometimes it's just not drawing conclusions prematurely, but being willing to ask questions, to be learners, to be sensitive, to listen.

So, Lord, as we're praying right now, thank You that You're listening to us. I pray that You'd give us grace and the power of Your Holy Spirit to become listeners who bless others. And then, as we listen, we can speak words of grace into the lives of those around us. I pray all of this in Jesus' name, amen.

Let me share one helpful way that you can grow in your communication. Mary Kassian, who's been our guest teacher this week, has written a workbook called Conversation Peace. As you go through this workbook, you'll see what the Bible has to say about your communication, and you'll grow in your understanding of how to live out those truths in more practical ways.

We'd like to send you a copy of Mary's workbook, Conversation Peace. It's our gift to you when you support Revive Our Hearts with a donation of any size this month. Financial support from listeners like you is the way that we're able to keep bringing this program to you day after day.

When you give, you get at least two benefits. First, you'll get the helpful workbook from Mary. Then, second, you can know that you're helping women hear the truth of God's Word and experience greater freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ.

To make your donation and ask for the workbook, you can visit us at ReviveOurHearts.com, or you can ask for the workbook when you call with your gift. The number to call is 1–800–569–5959. Thank you so much for your support, your encouragement, and your prayers. That means more to us than I can possibly express.

Leslie: Thanks, Nancy. For the last couple of weeks, Mary Kassian has been giving us very helpful teaching on using our words wisely. Tomorrow she gets really practical. How do you speak graciously in tough situations? Mary will give helpful real-world advice tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV.

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