In life, there are times when we need to just listen.
As a leader, I have stood in the front of a room with people who were upset, angry, or just needed someone to hear them. They began to speak, sharing information, feelings, and passion. It was evident in those situations that something went wrong, and what we intended didn’t happen the way we anticipated.
In those situations, most of us feel the urge to respond, defend, or “set the record straight.” But that does not work. It only fuels the belief that you are not listening. It is better if we just listen and give others respect by hearing what they have to say. “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13).
As a young boy, when my father scolded me for something (which seemed like a regular occurrence), I’d protest when he wouldn’t listen to what I had to say.
But he’d tell me that it wasn’t the time for me to speak. He wanted me to hear what he had to say. He wanted me to be quiet and listen to him. “A time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7).
When I look at the events of the past two weeks in our country—the protests, speeches, public statements, and more—I want to speak, but it isn’t time to speak yet. It’s a time to listen.
It’s time to better understand others’ experiences, which have not been the same as my experiences. I need to hear. We all need to hear. “Whoever has ears, let them hear” (Matthew 11:15).
Listening is not easy for most of us. At least it isn’t for me. I forget God gave me two ears and one mouth for a reason! Too often, I am guilty of only gleaning enough from what the other person has to say in order to respond with my thoughts, which isn’t the same as listening.
True listening is hearing what the other person has to say and absorbing it. True listening might include questions, to better understand the other person’s point of view or experience or feelings. Yet we often use questions to prove our point. “‛Consider carefully what you hear,’ he continued. ‘With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more.’” Mark 4:24
When we speak, it doesn’t always fix the problem. Speaking too quickly can actually make things worse because we might speak before fully understanding, causing others to say, “You didn’t really listen to me.” “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).
I also know the solutions to the problems we face today aren’t simple, and one person can’t fix them. We must solve problems together. Remember, the opening words to our US constitution begin “We the people.”
If we the people work together, with God’s help, we can fix things.