Six Habits that Spell Love L.I.S.T.E.N.

John Wayne once said, “You're short on ears and long on mouth.” I’m not sure who John was talking to but it could certainly have been me.

How about you? Do you ever find yourself short on ears and long on mouth?

Listening is one of the most loving things you and I can do at home, with our friends, and in the places where we lead and seek to make a kingdom difference. Paul Tillich agrees: “The first duty of love is to listen.”

Paul said, “Love cares more for others than for self…[love] doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always me first…”

What gets in the way of effective listening

  1. We have our own interests (Phil. 2)
  2. It’s hard work
  3. We’re too busy to take the time required to really listen
  4. We have unresolved issues of our own lives that get in the way (ie. hurt, stress, insecurity, the need to be listened to)
  5. We feel like the person only wants to talk and isn’t open to my input
  6. We loose control of the conversation when we listen (or so we think)

There was a ninety-year-old couple who were sitting on the front porch one warm summer evening.
The old man was overcome with warm feelings of love towards his long time partner and said loudly to his hard of hearing wife, “I’m proud of you.”
“What was that you said?” she said.
“I’m proud of you” he yelled even louder.
She replied, “I’m tired of you too!”

Six habits that spell love... L.I.S.T.E.N.

1. Look with love in your eyes

Our eyes give away the level of our interest in a conversation. When you make loving eye contact, you show people that you care. Being able to shut out the distractions that pull our eyes away from our ability to listen is key.

Ears to hear and eyes to see — both are gifts from the Lord (Proverbs 20:12).

2. Ignore your own interests

Engaging listening requires us to set aside our own interests in favor is being completely occupied with the interests of the person we are listening to. It means keeping that “better story” to yourself and holding off advice giving to the appropriate time.

“…in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

3. Speak sparingly and hold your emotions in check

Listening is a function of leadership. James says to lead with your ears not with your tongue which is some meat to chew on. And reacting because of how we’re feeling is also to “straggle along in the rear.”

When you listen, listen to understand, not to give you time to formulate your next question or think through how you’ll solve the problem. Stephen Covey said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

4. Take as much time as necessary

To lovingly listen requires patience (1 Cor. 13:4).

Some cultures use a talking stick often to regulate the listening process. Not a bad idea in the work we do with congregations and people. The person with the stick gets to do the talking the rest sit quietly and listen. What a gift time is for those who need to be heard.

One of the challenges with listening is that the average person talks at about 225 word per minute, but our mind processes words at about 500 words per minute. What you do with that extra 275 words can make a big difference.

5. Enter into the suffering and story of others

If someone is hurting and need you to be present to listen, it’s important to know when to speak and when to be silent. The golden rule helps. “…Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them” (Matthew 7:12).

When discerning how to listen and when to speak to someone in pain, here’s a gauge I thought was helpful: The greater the pain, the less words you should say.

6. Never stop learning

When you take time to listen, you take time to learn. “Wise men and women are always learning, always listening for fresh insights” (Proverbs 18:15).

“You ain't learnin’ nothin’ when you’re talkin’” (a motto framed on Lyndon Johnson’s office wall).

Listening uncovers all kinds of clues to what’s really going on. You can learn so much when you’re not talking!

Final Thought

Listening is one of the most loving things you can do. It’s a core competency of an empathetic and loving leader and is not something you’re born with. You can grow as a listener and when you do, your love grows with you.

Which habit do you need to work on?
What do you need to stop doing to improve in that area?


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