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The Art of Listening

Several years ago, Ann and I attended a marriage enrichment seminar. Afterwards, I asked several couples to tell me which part of the seminar they found most helpful. Without exception they said, "the section on communication." Most marriage problems stem from poor communication. Carl Rogers once said, "The emotionally maladjusted person, the neurotic is in difficulty first because communication within himself has broken down and secondly because, as a result of this, his communication with others has been damaged."

Much of the miscommunication between married couples can be traced to a failure to listen. Today our objective is to become more sensitive to the challenge of listening.

DISCUSSION

I. Listening is an extremely difficult discipline.

A. Sometimes people have trouble listening to God. (Matthew 13:14; Acts 7:51; James 1:23-24).

B. Why is it so difficult to be a good listener.

1. Most of us would rather speak than listen. We are more comfortable in asserting our own opinions, beliefs and feelings than we are in listening to someone else.

2. Many of us filter the things that other people say through our own prejudices, opinions and feelings.

3. We find it difficult to listen because we second guess other people.

a. We do this when we never allow a spouse to put a period on the end of a sentence.

b. The author of Proverbs exposes the flaw of second guessing when he writes in Proverbs 18:12,, "He who answers before listening -- that is his folly and his shame." - "What a shame - yes how stupid to decide before knowing the facts." (Living Bible Paraphrased)

4. Most often we fail to listen, because we are threatened by what we hear.

a. Such was the case of the men who stoned Stephen

(Acts 7:57).

b. In marriage, we often fear hearing the other person's suggestion for change.

c. Or perhaps we may be thinking, "if I really listen, then the other person may really listen to me and I will be exposed for what I am."

II. But we must listen.

A. Someone has said, "God gave us one mouth and two ears, which suggest that we ought to listen twice as much as we talk." (See James 1:19; Mark 4:24).

B. Why husbands and wives must listen to each other.

1. If you don't listen to your spouse, you are saying that you don't care what your spouse thinks or feels.

2. Your spouse must be heard if you expect your spouse to feel respected (Proverbs 27:2). "At all times in our lives we must have at least one person who cares about us and who we care for ourselves. If we do not have this essential person, we will not be able to fulfill our basic needs." - Dr. William Glasser.

III. Suggestions for improving our listening.

A. Accept the fact that listening is a difficult skill to acquire.

1. To hear the actual words spoken is one thing. To understand is something else again.

2. Once I was discussing racial issues with a black person. At one point in the conversation, I said, "I know how you feel." He said, "Norman, you can't understand how I feel unless you can get inside my skin." I've been very careful about claiming how much I understand ever since that time.

B. Over ride the tune out button. It seems that men come into this world equipped with a "tune out" button. The next time a domestic conversation heats up make a special effort to hear what was said.

C. Check your listening. You might say something like "Did I hear you correctly?" "Did you mean to say?" "What I think you said is this."

D. Be alert to non-verbal signals. (Proverbs 6:17; 15:1).

1. In a 1968 study, Abraham Mehrebian concluded that 93 per cent of our communication is non-verbal and only 7 percent is verbal. Those figures may be open to question, but in a general sense, they are accurate.

2. If my wife calls me "honey" in a caustic tone of voice, I'm probably going to hear the sarcasm before I hear the word, "honey."

3. A husband decided he needed to do a better job of communicating with his wife. He stopped by a florist, picked up an expensive bouquet and handed it to his wife as he entered the door. His only verbal remark was "here," which he grunted as he handed her the flowers. He promptly retired to the den and turned on the television set. She was not impressed and it's not hard to figure why.

CONCLUSION

It has been said that listening is the cornerstone of all communication. Listening may be very difficult for you. Sometimes honest listening can be downright painful, but it will lead you out of your self-centeredness. It will force you to reconsider your attitudes. It will start you down the road to the development of a wholesome relationship and that's surely worth all he trouble and time. It's a beautiful thing when we learn to break through the pride, fear and self-centeredness that keeps us from being sensitive listeners.

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Minden Church of Christ

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This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.