Improving listening skills can foster better relationships

Posted: Friday, October 15, 2004

I recently had one of those reoccurring experiences we all dislike to repeat, a sales person who did not listen.

I went into an auto parts store to get some spark plugs and wires to give my son's truck a tune-up. Knowing how important it is to have correct information, I was ready. I carefully gave the sales person my information: year, make, model, engine.

The reply came back, "What year was that?" Then, "What make was that?" Then, "How many cylinders does it have?"

I carefully repeated the information as he asked. There seemed to be some confusion on the other side of the counter and then what seemed like a prolonged search for the requested parts.

What eventually appeared on the counter did not seem to be what I needed. A careful question to the salesperson revealed that he had looked up the wrong year, the wrong brand of vehicle and the wrong size engine! Someone wasn't listening.

It might be easy to be critical at a moment like that, but before we act too indignant we might ask if we are often guilty of the same thing.

Ask any room full of people if they are good at remembering names. The usual majority claims they are not.

I find that when we ask someone's name, we aren't listening carefully. We are usually thinking of what we will say next or about other information we need from that person. What else can explain asking for someone's name and forgetting it before the conversation has ended?

It is probably the human condition that makes us too busy to really listen. Most of the trouble we find ourselves in comes from the fact that we didn't listen to someone.

One who we don't take time to listen to carefully enough is God. The book of Ecclesiastes gives us this advice: "Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong," Ecclesiastes 5:1 (NIV).

Sometimes we have a big agenda when we come to God. We have a long prayer list that is important to us. We have a lot of needs that we want God to do something about.

We talk to God and rattle off our long list with passion and intensity and then go off about our other business. Seldom does it occur to us that maybe God wants to talk to us!

If we do most of the talking in our relationship with God, it might be interesting to see if he has anything to say to us. Of course, he does want to talk to us. If we are willing to come near and listen more than speak, we will probably learn a lot and avoid pitfalls in our future.

It would also help our own relationships with others if we would take the time to listen specifically to those around us.

The principle of being "100 percent present" when someone is speaking to us is more difficult to practice than it would seem. Distractions abound. Television, newspapers, music, our preoccupying thoughts and the like vie for our attention while others are attempting to communicate with us.

If we could mute all other distractions while our spouse, children, friends and customers are speaking to us, our relationships would improve immediately.

It is comforting and a perfect example to us that when we do come to God in prayer, he is 100 percent present for us.

We are not put on hold. No appointments are necessary. There is no other distraction to him when we come to speak with him. If we could emulate this priority to others, we would make a great contribution to those around us.

Stephen Brown is a minister at the Kenai New Life Assembly of God, 209 Princess St., Kenai.

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