Communication is central to what it means to be human. God has created us as men and women who communicate. In reality, we are always communicating. Whether through our non-verbals, through what we say or do not say, we are in constant communication with one another. Communication is also one of the primary ways God has chosen to include us in community with Him. God communicates through His Spirit, through His Word and through His People. God has humbled himself, and uses our modes of communication in order to have relationship with us. As we seek to live our lives in a way that is consistent with our love for Jesus, we must learn how to communicate well.
Miscommunication doesn't help
Miscommunication can be very counterproductive and even hurtful to people at times. One common way we short-circuit our communication is when we hear what someone says, but we don't really listen. When we listen to someone, we process the information in such a way that we can respond appropriately. If my wife asks me to take out the garbage before I leave for work in the morning and I call out "yeah!" from the other room, and then when I walk out the door for work without touching the garbage, I have most likely "heard" her, but I have not listened to her. I have not heard her communication well enough to process it and respond appropriately. Megan (my wife) can be gracious to me for this oversight, but a consistent pattern of me not listening will eventually become hurtful to her and harm our relationship. This is a small example, but it can communicate a great deal about how much I value my wife and what she tells me.
Listening well is important
Here is a great quote about the difference between hearing and listening:
"The one communication skill that is paramount to good communication is listening. Listening is not the same as hearing. Hearing is an involuntary physical act of sound waves impinging upon the ear. It is passive; it requires only healthy ears. We can hear someone talking without listening to them. Listening requires cultivation. Conscious thought must be given to understand what is said."
The book this quote comes from - The Couple Checkup - is about marriage. Certainly good communication is supremely important to our most important human relationship, our marriage. It is also important to all our relationships. Good listening is important to our relationship with Jesus. It is important to our relationships with our children, our fellow small group members, our co-workers and every other relationship we have. Listening is an important way that we grow together and help one another feel valued - because when we feel heard, we feel valued.
In order to practice good listening, we must first eliminate distraction. This means we set aside our phones, our social media or our own thoughts when someone else is talking. This can be hard at times. If we are with someone and they have something to communicate, then they are important enough to proactively reduce distractions so we can truly listen. If you are at home with your spouse, turn your phone off or commit certain time periods to engage in conversation. When you are in your small group, listen to what others are saying and seek to truly understand what they mean. If there is something on your mind that is distracting you, write it down on a sheet of paper so you will remember to come back to it. Get it out of your mind and on paper, so you can listen to the person across the room from you. There are a number of ways to remove distractions, we just need to see the priority of actually doing it so we can listen well.
I know that it feels unnatural at times, and it can seem a bit cheesy, but paraphrasing what someone else said can be really important for effective listening. If they make a statement, try to rephrase it back to them so that you can clarify whether you understood what they meant. They can either correct misunderstandings, maybe alter what they intended to say or simply affirm that you heard correctly.
Asking good questions helps us understand the other person and clarify statements. Asking questions is so important. This does not mean that you ask questions in order to lead the conversation in the direction you want it to go. Rather, it is an opportunity for you to try discovering something new about them, come to a greater understanding of who they are and learn how God has made them. Remember, the transition from hearing to listening comes when we actually engage what the person says and try to come to a better understanding of what they meant. Asking questions is important to listening, because it helps us to understand what they want to communicate.
Listening helps people feel valued
Feeling like the people around you have listened to you and understood you is extremely important to feeling valued. According to research, feeling understood in a marriage is a high predictor of marital satisfaction (The Couple Checkup). This is likely true for all our relationships. If you are in a small group, I challenge you to be very conscious of how well you listen to your fellow group members the next time you meet. Remove distractions, use paraphrasing techniques and ask good questions. People feel valued when they feel understood. And we cannot be an agent of change in people's lives when we are not actually listening to what they say.
What about our relationship with Jesus?
Many of these principles ring true in our relationship with Jesus as well. While it doesn't function the same way as it would with people sitting around a room, we still should ask ourselves if we are actually listening to the voice of our Savior. Or are we just hearing him? When we read our Bibles, are we asking questions, analyzing the information and processing the message, or are we just reading/hearing it and then moving on with life? Jesus wants to have a relationship with you, and that means listening to his voice.