August 3, 2016

Listening to a Better Life

Listening becomes more difficult as we grow older.

Delbert W. Baker

During waking hours average people spend approximately 9 percent of their time writing, 16 percent of their reading, 30 percent speaking, and 45 percent listening. The highest percentage of our time is spent listening; yet studies reveal that we don’t do it very well.

Numerous training programs exist about reading, writing, and speaking, but few about being a good listener. Yet poor listening leads to miscommunication, misunderstanding, and strained relationships. On the positive side, homes can be strengthened and relationships improved by good listening.

Listening Importance

While there is an important distinction between hearing (the process of perceiving sounds and words) and listening (paying attention in order to understand an intended meaning), the Bible often uses hearing and listening interchangeably. In fact, listening to the Word of God, and submitting to it, leads to eternal life and is evidence of genuine commitment (John 5:24; Rom. 10:8-11).

Since listening is so important, why do we often get poor marks in it?

One reason is that most people speak about 125 words per minute; while humans have the ability to understand up to 400 words per minute. So the 75 percent gap between our speaking speed and our thinking speed is where the mind wanders. Further, research demonstrates that listening becomes more difficult as we grow older. Ralph Nichols, in his book Are You Listening? says, “If we define the good listener as one giving full attention to the speaker, first-grade children are the best listeners of all.”

Listening Improvements

Listening can increase learning, facilitate understanding, and, most important, be the means for one to obtain truth and an understanding of God’s will. But effective listening takes intention. Here are five tips to help us become better listeners:

  1. Align your listening objective with your values. Seek to understand or appreciate the intent of the message and fairly evaluate it. Having a good grasp of intent facilitates engagement.
  2. Be involved with speakers by considering the merits of what they say. Don’t allow internal perceptions, preoccupation with counterarguments, or the urge to critique their appearance, speaking skills, or other distractions, sidetrack you.
  3. Concentrate on focusing, listening, and attending to the subject. Resist the urge to get annoyed with counterarguments because of something said or done by the speaker.
  4. Discern the main point. Listen carefully and/or take notes to understand. Actively identify the main point. Don’t fake attention; be really attentive. Educate yourself as to what the main point is and your opinion concerning it.
  5. Engage with patience. Determine to hear and listen well. Engage with the points emphatically; use the thought/speaking gap to identify supporting elements and make your own mental summaries.

With attention and effort we can revitalize our listening skills and move from being average or poor listeners to good, even exceptional, listeners. We can listen our way to a better life.

Delbert W. Baker is vice chancellor of the Adventist University of Africa, near Nairobi, Kenya.