Bridging the Divided

The Gift Of Listening To Hear

“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.” (William James)

Stephen Covey said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” His quote is similar and fits like a hand in a glove to James’s quote. Stephen wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s a good read, actually. Listening to respond and listening to hear are very different, and we would do well to understand the difference. 

I recently received the James quote from the organization I work for as part of their daily devotional message. I won’t lie and say I always read the devotionals because I don’t. Usually, I open the devotional, give it a quick perusal, and trash it. The organization leans heavily to the religious right, but every now and again the devotional messages give me pause. 

When we think we are listening to others, we are, in fact, constructing our responses and filtering our responses through our prejudices. Multitasking at its worst. We certainly can’t process what the other person is saying while thinking about our responses as the wheels of prejudice are turning. So, when it’s our turn to respond, we pontificate, thinking we are King Solomon incarnate, but in reality, we are just spilling words into the atmosphere while stacking our prejudices block by block. No real wisdom comes forth, and the other person, unfortunately, is left feeling unheard and frustrated. Sound familiar? If you have been on the receiving end of prejudicial pontifications, I’m sure you can relate. 

Listening to hear is a learned skill. It doesn’t come naturally, we need practice. Why? The simple answer is that we are, by nature, egotistical beings. We like the sound of our own voices and are more interested in sharing our views and prejudices than listening to hear. So, what are some things we can do to learn to listen to hear vs. construct our responses and line up our prejudices?

  • Listen for the feelings and emotions beneath the words; listen from the other’s perspective. 

Often, when we find our views and opinions in opposition to those of the speaker, we immediately begin constructing our responses to create walls of protection. On a subconscious level, oppositional views threaten our beliefs. When we realize oppositional views are not a threat, rather they are views different from ours, we can relax and listen to hear. If everyone held the same beliefs and opinions, the world would be incredibly boring! Our differences make us interesting and unique.

  • A response is not always needed.

That’s right, we don’t always need to respond. Silence on our part is golden. Sometimes listening is enough, and sometimes when the other talks long enough, they eventually arrive at the answer without our input.

  • Ask if the other wants our thoughts and opinions. 

I learned this a long time ago. Here is why asking is important: others don’t always want to hear our responses especially if our responses require action. An action like forgiveness, for instance. And, the reality is, some people just want us to play the pity-party game with them, not actually help solve a problem or conquer fear. Pity parties are not parties I like to attend.

Where do you fall on the spectrum of listening to respond vs. listening to hear? And, please, remember to check any prejudices at the door before responding. Listening to hear and leaving our prejudices out of our responses may be the best gift you give to others this Christmas…..

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