Tag Archives: Listening

“I know what you mean”

Unlikely. In my opinion.

Yes, I am a suspicious guy, but if I hear, ‘I know what you mean’, then I guess that it’s probably not true. I reckon we  all overreach ourselves in claimed understanding.

I come to this thought after some (well-meaning) comments about me. Firstly, someone said to me, ‘I understand what you say.’ And I thought: the two of us have never once spoken about that issue.

Secondly, another friend spoke to a third party, ‘Chris and I have had a number of good conversations about this.’ When I heard, I thought, ‘We have?’ I recall a couple of brief chats while getting a biscuit at morning tea. They were fine conversational snippets, but not especially deep or probing.

Let me flip the coin over. For both of these friends I have no certainty that I could clearly explain their beliefs on these specific topics.

Then I read this piece by Miachael Duffy. In it he argues that we tend towards explanations too quickly or too easily. That we long for the ‘why?’, without sufficient justification. A sample of this piece:

we often assume we know enough to make a decision or form an opinion when we don’t; we often use dubious rules of thumb as short-cuts; and we often replace a hard question with a simpler one without realising it.

Duffy applies this to politics, but I’m sure it’s also true of everyday relationships. How wise are the many biblical encouragements to listen!

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
but a wise man listens to advice.
Proverbs 12:15

When I looked at some of the Bible on listening, a further link was clear. Listening is a hinge in the doorway of anger and punishment. For example, wisdom listens to rebuke (Proverbs 25:12). Or again, not speaking but hearing  avoids unproductive human anger (James 1:19-20).

Listening is not simply a matter of communication. It’s a matter of justice.

When I thought of this as a blog topic, I know what I wanted to say: why don’t people listen to me? Now, however, I can see that God wants something altogether more significant: my continued, firm commitment to listen to what people are saying; to understand what can be said, as well as the limits of what remains unsaid.



How to listen

OK, I’m slow & you’ve probably figured this out already. But I want to write it down anyway.

There are (at least) two ways to listen: listen to or listen through.

Listen to:
The interest is in the speaker. How is she doing? What are his concerns? Etc.

Of course, the listener can throw in his or her own stories and ideas. It’s still two-way communication!

Listen through:
The interest is in the speakers’ topic. The speaker becomes, if you like, a channel for the information about a third party, or a different place, or some other situation.

Of course, good communication like this is still two-way.

Neither is bad. And both are necessary.

Trouble might arise, however, if speaker and listener don’t agree on what kind of conversation they are having. Speaker might want to be heard – but hearer is trying to understand the wider situation. Or speaker might want to inform about some problem – but hearer tries to peer into the speaker’s psyche.

So when I listen, I’m going to try and think, ‘Right now, should I listen to or listen through?’

And what I talk, I’ll try to understand what kind of listening I hope for. So then I can try and ‘ask’ for that listening more clearly.