Sir, I am afraid you are not listening to me!

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak…, – James 1:19

It was evident that she was having a nervous breakdown. Lately, she had been very withdrawn and spoke mostly in monosyllables. Her husband could not understand why. To the degree of his capacity, he was one of the most loving husbands around. Or so he thought. He could not figure out why the gifts he had been buying for her in recent times made little or no difference in her countenance. In fact, the more he tried to shower her with gifts, the more withdrawn she became. He loved his wife and hated to see her this way. He knew that something had to be done and that very fast. They both agreed to go for counselling. As soon as they settled before the counsellor, he heard his wife blurt out, “He does not listen to me!” He was shell-shocked. To him, he and his wife of 20 years were the best of friends and talked a lot. He wasted no time in saying that. Prompted to elaborate, she continued, “I know we talk. But that is all that it is. More often than not, my husband dominates discussions. Even when I initiate a conversation because I want us to talk about issues bothering me, he has a habit of taking it over and steering the discussion in ways that leave me with the impression that he is more interested in the sound of his own voice and his opinion on a matter than he is in what I have to say. So many issues bothering me have been largely unaddressed. He doesn’t even notice when I have switched off! And when he thinks we are done, he goes to sit behind the TV to watch football while I am left with my issues unattended to. Unfortunately, I made a resolution not to share burdens involving my marriage with a third party. So, it is simply eating me up. Even though I love my husband very much, I am not sure how much longer I can continue this way.” By the time she was done reeling out instances, the husband, sobered up, had no option but to apologize for his indiscretion and insensitivity. With a promise to do better on his part, the marriage was saved.

A popular preacher was taken aback when his wife of over 30 years served him a notice of divorce. At the hearing, he was shocked when his wife confronted him with the fact that he had been more focused on his mega ministry and international acclaim that he no longer had time to hear his wife’s inner cry for attention and affection! The marriage was eventually saved when he agreed to reboot the relationship and start dating his wife again as if they were just starting the relationship!

Listening is an art that far too many people are deficient at. Very often, in our attempt to prove how knowledgeable we are on an issue, we simply dominate conversations on it. While we may be thinking that we are smart, others may think that we are just verbose and insensitive! Effective communication is an essential aspect of emotional intelligence, a key skill for progress in the dynamics of our relationship with people. For communication to be effective however, it must never be one-sided. Everybody wants to be heard when they have something to say. But beyond that, everyone craves to be understood. The latter can only happen by listening. Several corporate organizations spend a fortune annually training their staff on presentation skills but hardly include a session on listening skills. The challenge that this creates is that people are unleashed to go and find a means of selling a product without getting adequate feedback on what the market actually thinks about it. Companies that practice this dimension of listening will always be successful because they can use what their market is saying to reinvent themselves for greater market relevance and subsequent enhanced equity.

Many families have grown apart because of the listening gap that is created when spouses, parents and children hardly sit together to talk beyond the absolutely necessary communication level.

Listening can be passive or active. In passive listening, we may be hearing the words of a conversation but our minds may not even retain the details or concepts in those words, talk less of listening to what is unsaid. Passive listening is more perfunctory than relational. It is usually what we do when our minds are preoccupied with many other issues while someone else wants to talk to us. We may be nodding our head, making gestures with our hands while the other party is talking but in actual fact, we may be wishing that they would just stop talking! It is not unusual to find people fiddling with their phones, facing something they are writing, running commentaries on an ongoing football match or listening to a message or music while you are so frantically trying to communicate with them.

Active listening on the other hand shows that we are interested in other people and what they think about an issue. Beyond that, it is a platform of building trust and effective engagement at a level beyond the superficial. Real, active listening is therefore participatory and engages the emotions by finding a point of identification with the person we are listening to. It seeks to understand rather than to react or judge. Active listening entails hearing beyond the words being spoken. A good listener does not interrupt a conversation except to gain further clarity and to ask questions that show that he is actually listening. Some of such questions include phrases like,

“If I get you right, what you are saying is………”,

“You would have preferred if xyz was made more accessible, right?”.

Every good listener understands that not everyone who talks to you wants a value judgment on your part in respect of the subject in discourse. They simply want someone to listen and understand.  It took me a long time to understand this. In my early years in ministry and corporate leadership, whenever people came to see me on a matter, I always assumed that they really wanted my opinion. And I wasted no time in volunteering it. I would tell a husband where he erred and would do same to his wife. Over time, I learnt that nobody really wanted me to apportion blames. More often than not, they simply wanted to vent!

When people know that their boss has a listening ear, performance levels soar because trust permeates the entire work environment. People gravitate naturally towards those who genuinely listen to them because there is hardly a better way to say, “I care”. Conversely, leaders who don’t listen are simply saying, “I don’t care!” People hardly miss the message!

A sage has well said that the only reason why God gave man two ears and only one mouth is so that he can listen twice as he speaks!

I totally agree!

Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!


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