There are moments when we are in the heat of a discussion and tempers flare, that the art of listening slides to the rear of our minds. Emotions boil up, over and out, carrying acid thoughts and accusations.
When listening ends, we take to heart only what we EXPECT to hear, not what is actually being said, and in an effort to counteract those expectations, the temptation to attack verbally before we are wounded further overtakes us.
Years ago, while in the midst of yet another heated discussion with my husband, I suddenly “came to my sense” and HEARD what was actually being said. Much to my amazement, we were both fighting for the same point! What was being said was from two different perspectives, yet we had already both arrived at the same conclusion and were fighting for exactly the same thing. What a waste of time, energy and relationship!
As Sarah’s Tent began to grow and I spoke with more and more people from all walks of life via email, I learned how to really listen. Reading someone’s thoughts without the visual and emotional upheaval that comes from facial expressions and tones of voice, helped me to see patterns and belief systems in the words that I was reading.
Repeating phrases, blaming others, common running themes would reveal themselves as I started noticing not only my own reactions and mind chatter, but those of the person I was writing to. The gift of email communication allowed me to pause and think about what was really being said, or to ask clarifying questions.
As answers and solutions started to appear, I began to pray and ask God for greater wisdom in responding to people and the ability to ask better clarifying questions.
Far from having ‘arrived’ I am amazed at how few emotional upheavals I have these days when speaking to someone who is angry. Focusing on their words, and yes, even taking an occasional note, has not only served me well, but my attention to what they are saying, and clarifying what is being said, validates the person speaking and defuses the situation faster.
There are times, however, when, BECAUSE of my more focused listening and then asking clarifying questions, the person speaking became strongly agitated as their line of thinking came to light. At that point, a person has a choice of how to respond. 1. Laugh and clarify, admit the ineffectiveness of their line of reasoning, or 2. Get mad and point blame to deflect the frustration. (not effective)
Recently, I had a conversation with a person who became angrier and angrier at my questions and responses. Frustrated he said, “You’re weird! Who talks like that?” He had been expecting an argument that would justify his own verbal attack and didn’t receive what he had expected. To him, that was just WEIRD.
The entire time our conversation went, I was aware of NOTICING my own responses and calmness … something that in past years I would have never experienced. I also noticed that because of my own journey, I only felt love and compassion towards this individual and a sadness that because of his clinging to a defective belief system that blamed others for his discomfort, that I would not be seeing him again.
The greatest gift you can give to someone is to truly LISTEN to what they are saying. Take notes! (so what if they think you are weird) Ask clarifying questions and make sure that you are understanding what the individual is saying.
You’ll be amazed at what you learn and how much richer life can be when we honor and respect one another enough to just … LISTEN.
Shannon Parish is the Founder of Sarah’s Tent and President of Living Stones Center. She is an award winning cartoonist and graphic recorder who, after more than thirty years of ministry and as a Life Coach utilizes her artistic talent to teach and Illustrate You.