Admit it, you could be a better listener! Studies confirm that most of us are poor and inefficient listeners.
Typical research points out that many of us spend 70 to 80 percent of our waking hours in some form of communication. Of that time, we spend about 9 percent writing, 16 percent reading, 20 to 30 percent speaking, and 45 to 55 percent listening. That fits the old, Irish Proverb that “God gave us two ears and one mouth, so we ought to listen twice as much as we speak.” But are we truly listening to the other person or are we processing our surrounding, thinking ahead for a solution, or even daydreaming.
If we are spending about half of our communication time listening, we are consuming a lot of information. But how much of this content are we retaining. Well, further studies show that we are ineffective listeners. One study reveals that after hearing a 10 minute, oral presentation, we immediately retain 50% of what we heard and within 48 hours the amount is cut in half. These results suggest then that we retain a quarter of what we hear; I would argue, through my personal experience, that reality is probably closer to 15%. My wife would argue, and rightly so, that she is a better listener, because women actually use both lobes of their brain in conversation and men only one!
We don’t need statistics and studies to tell us that listening is the most important role in communicating with other people. Don’t believe me, ask Alexa, because her artificial intelligence is learned from us and her programmers through listening. Alexa’s listening to learn process is much better than mine. She listens, processes what is consumed, stores the data, and then when asked, presents the most appropriate responses (usually). My process is to listen while simultaneously formulating my solution or response and interjecting this opinion whether asked or not. And then, well after the fact, try to recall the important ideas I heard from the other person.
According to the psychologist, Guy Winch, emotional validation, is a basic human need. But authentic emotional validation can be hard to find. It has to be learned and mastered. In Rick Warren’s ‘Daily Hope,’ he argues that kindness begins with active listening. By learning to become a better listener, the more sympathetic you will be. Sometimes, sitting beside someone who’s hurting (without saying a word), can go a long way to ease their pain. So how do we cultivate the skill of true listening that validates and empathizes with the people we are relating? How do we create a listening culture in our churches?
First, and foremost, we must embrace the value that everybody matters. I truly believe in something I heard Perry Noble say dozens of times: every number is a person, every person has a story, and every story matters to God. We have to make time in our busy lives to invest into the people around us, and in people that God will put in our path. For you goal-oriented, over-achievers, make a weekly objective to engage with X new people or learn X new things about people you know. Cast the vision in your congregation that people are a priority because everybody matters!
Second, teach your people how to be better listeners, don’t assume that we should already know. Imagine how much better the communication will flow in and around your church when your people are truly listening and understanding what they are hearing. Pastoral leaders, staff, lay leaders, volunteers, and absolutely everyone can benefit from becoming more effective listeners. Offer classes, book clubs, speak in classes and small groups, find ways to include in your sermon and many other ways to reinforce the importance of listening with purpose. I would be happy to help you find and design a listening curriculum for your church, at no cost for my time, just ask!
The third point is merely recognizing the benefits of building better listeners. When your staff is listening to each other, they will find ways to build synergy around the mission of the church and do it effectively without wasting time and resources. When your servant leaders are listening to the people they serve with, they can be the “pastor” to those people in addressing their needs. Imagine the couples in your church that are equipped to be better listeners, working on their own relationship issues before they reach a critical juncture. And when our people are listening to the folks around them at work or in the community that are in the midst of pain or loss, then they can start to connect these hurting people to Jesus.
If you are not convinced that a congregation of better listeners is important, then try it in your own life for a week. Intently listen to other people in meetings or personal interactions for the next 7 days and see how it impacts your relationships. I hope you aren’t too surprised, but I was…