Hi, this is Pastor Ken and I want to welcome you once again to the Monday Marriage Message.
Although I mentioned in last week’s podcast that it would be the last in the series on Marital Communication 101, I think it important to take the opportunity to look at the other side of the subject…literally. Although nearly everyone knows that communication is far more than the use of words, most consider speaking to be the primary role of communication. Quite naturally, when we think of being a good communicator, we think of someone who speaks clearly, concisely, and is effective at having his or her thoughts and ideas understood. Most often, the other side of communication is seen as the less important, secondary, and in fact passive role of communication. In marital communication especially, the flip side…listening is crucial to arriving at mutual understanding. One might think this true simply because if someone does not listen well they cannot understand what is being said. While this is true, in Marital Communication how we listen “says” more sometimes than even the speaker is trying to convey. As I have mentioned in previous editions on this topic, there are undercurrents to communication that must be navigated correctly if mutual understanding is to take place. When that communication is taking place between a husband and a wife, those undercurrents can become riptides that push us way off course if we are not careful.
James 1:19 admonishes all of us to be “quick to listen and slow to speak”. We often look at the art of communication to be all of the overt activities designed to convey a message. When taught to communicate effectively almost all of the guidance is to that end. In the podcasts of the past six weeks, I myself encouraged each of you to speak clearly, speak lovingly and respectfully. I mentioned the importance of body language, tone and choice of words attempting to be as certain as humanly possible you are being correctly understood. While there is little doubt we all need to exercise incredible care while speaking, we also all need to practice the other equally important habit of active listening.
Listening is not a passive activity. There is as much that goes into being a good listener as being a good speaker. There is an age-old question in philosophy, “If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one to hear it…does it make a sound?” I would submit the following corresponding question about Marital Communication. If one spouse speaks and the other does not listen, has communication taken place? If the speaker is clear, loving and respectful, and uses careful body language, but still no one correctly considered what was said, has communication taken place? I would argue that it has not. Marital Communication requires a messenger and a hearer who understands both the messenger and the message.
James wrote we should all be quick to listen but slow to speak. What does this mean? How can we be quick to listen? The original Greek text implies that we should listen swiftly or without delay. The idea here is that listening has such high value that it should never be postponed. Interestingly, in contrast, the inference of being slow to speak is that we must put off speaking until all possible consideration has been carefully made. Essentially this scripture is telling us that listening is the far more important role in communicating. I believe that one of the things that gets in our way and causes us to want to be quick to speak and slow to listen is the aforementioned misunderstanding that speaking is the more important part of communication. We errantly think that speaking, especially if we believe it to be done well, highlights our wisdom or mastery of a particular subject. Scripture however, takes issue with this mindset. Proverbs 17:28 tells us; Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues. A slightly more humorous version of this adage is; Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt, and has been attributed to both Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln. Regardless of who said it, the biblical basis for it is clear…speaking certainly offers far more opportunity to look unwise than does listening.
How can we become quickened listeners? The first and maybe most important step I mentioned a moment ago…listening is not a passive activity. There is much to do when being a good listener. How we listen ‘speaks’ volumes about how much or how little we value the one we are listening to. As I was considering this truth, I asked my wife Lynn some questions. I first wanted to know how it made her feel when she notices that I am listening intently to her. She responded that when I ask her a question as I was doing right then, and she can see that I am paying close attention to her responses, it tells her several things. First, that I value her opinion. Second, though not less important, she said it shows that I care about her thoughts, especially when she can see that I am considering her words carefully and not developing my response to them that might prove to be an attempt to show hers less valuable than my own. She also said that there is a slightly different message received if I actively listen to her when she approaches me unsolicited. She said in that case, there are two important pieces of information I am giving her based on how I am listening. First as mentioned, she is able to see based on my listening skills if I value her thoughts. Additionally, and equally important to her if not more so, she is able to tell if I am willing to meet her need for my attention in that moment. This is altogether true when you consider that communication is not only used to give and receive report, but also to build rapport. She added to her thoughts on the subject a further idea that I concur with completely. When we sense we are not being actively listened to, it causes some visceral responses on our part that represent our differing primary need for relationship to be in good standing. If she senses that I am not actively listening to her, she feels unloved and uncared for, and she also noted that she has learned that when I feel she is not actively listening to me, I feel she is being disrespectful.
So what makes a good active listener? Of course, the primary skill is attentiveness. Learning to listen carefully to everything spoken is vital. It is easy to see the difference between someone hanging on your every word and someone who is barely hanging on. Be careful, trying to look interested and being interested are two distinctly different things and they present accordingly. Genuineness is unmistakable, so an active listener learns the art of actually being interested in what is important to the one to whom they are listening. In marital communication, even if the subject matter does not especially fascinate to you, the speaker should. Additional to this process, it is vital to learn not to begin developing a response while listening. When we do, we exchange active listing for passive listening which is one of the riptides I mentioned above that will get you off course in a hurry. Additionally, as James 1:19 insinuates, being slow to speak, requires not speaking until ALL of the pertinent information has been heard, AND considered CAREFULLY.
Second, active listeners ask as many open-ended questions as necessary for clarification. If our responses are based on our own understanding considering all of the biases imposed by core limiting beliefs, our families of origin, and any other number of factors, we will likely respond errantly and be adversely drawn off course by the riptide of misinterpretation. Many open-ended questions for clarity dramatically reduce the threat. Additionally, to mitigate misinterpretation, it is always wise to ask if a restatement of what you have heard is accurate according to the speaker. I often do it this way, “Would it be fair for me to say that you are saying…” and then say in my own words what I believe to be the intended communication. This practice helps me be a better active listener and often helps me understand much better the message I’m hearing.
Finally, I am a much better active listener when I choose the one I am listening to. What I mean by this is that if I choose for the duration of the conversation with someone that they are most important person to me, I will make better active listening choices. There is power in decision. If I decide, I am going to choose to give someone my undivided attention I will not make active listener mistakes like checking my watch. If I were to do this, I would risk telling them my time is more important to me than they are. If I were to be caught looking at my phone while ‘listening’, it may convey I wish someone more important to me would take his or her spot with a call or text message. If I am looking at the television, newspaper, or any other distraction when I should be actively listening to someone, they might believe anything else see will usurp their importance in my eyes. Being a good active listener always means choosing to make everything else secondary to the one you are choosing to converse with.
Questions to Answer:
Do you think listening to be more or less important a role in the art of marital communication?
How does it make you feel when your spouse does a great job at listening to you?
How does it make you feel when you are not being listened to well?
Actions to Take:
Talk about the undercurrents and riptides that cause your marital communication to be drawn off course.
Tell your spouse what things they do that help you know they are actively listening to you. Include such things like their body language, countenance, and verbal responses.
Ask God to help you become a better active listener to your spouse, others and especially to Him.
So now, understanding that listening is likely the more important of skills when communicating with your spouse, and “says” far more than we are sometimes aware, learn to be slow to speak…but quickened to be an amazing listener…especially for your spouse…and go be awesome!