Sunday, September 06, 2015

Thoughts on listening

Chatty Cathy, Little Miss Chatterbox, Big Mouth... yes, I have been called all of these things before. I recognize that is probably a problem. Something I've realized is that words sometimes spill out of me because if they don't, I feel a bit like a boiling pot about to blow the lid. Hopefully writing will be a better outlet for me than talking the ears off of my obliging friends and family.

I don't think that I am alone in this problem. In trying to address it, I came across a helpful article published in Forbes online entitled 10 Steps To Effective Listening. As a brief summary:

1) Face the speaker and maintain eye contact. (*caveat cultural context needs to be taken into account!)
2) Be attentive, but relaxed
3) Keep an open mind
4) Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying
5) Don't interrupt and don't impose your "solutions"
6) Wait for the speaker to pause to ask clarifying questions
7) Ask questions only to ensure understanding
8) Try to feel what the speaker is feeling
9) Give the speaker regular feedback
10) Pay attention to what isn't said -- nonverbal cues

The two points that I struggle the most with are #5 and #6. I struggle with #5 not necessarily because I think that I know best, but because I have a strong desire to help when I hear friends/family discussing problems. I realize, however, that it is often best to wait for someone to ask for your feedback or advice before offering it. Oftentimes, all the person wants is a listening ear. I also struggle with #6 because my thoughts tend to race ahead of the pace that the person is speaking, unless the person is speaking very quickly. I agree with what the author of the article wrote about pacing a conversation. The onus is actually on the listener not the speaker to hold back his/her desire to ask questions or to interject, and to allow the speaker to set the pace of the conversation.

I am hoping that I can improve in these two areas. Perhaps others will also find some of these points useful, particularly with identifying weak areas. In summary, God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sharing our other selves

Something I've been reflecting on over the past few months, and which a friend highlighted to me at church the other day:

When you casually ask someone, "how are you?" how often are you prepared for a non-superficial response? We're often afraid of being vulnerable so we don armor or a mask to protect ourselves from prying eyes, gossip, or even for fear of being hurt by misplaced kindness. Expressing pain or fear is difficult to do. Perhaps we also hide the broken parts to shield others around us because to look at someone who is in deep pain, be it physical, emotional or spiritual elicits a complex mixture of sympathy, empathy and perhaps even disdain or guilt because we are unable to help. So we hide these parts away, and sometimes are grateful that others hide their brokenness. We look away, only allowing a select few, if any, to ever see.

Sometimes, that may be what's necessary to function from day to day, at least for a while. But ultimately, when we're ready to let people into those broken and hurt spaces, what we thought was ugly isn't as hideous as we thought it was. The broken shards that we thought could never be pieced together again miraculously start fitting together. We should choose wisely who we do let in, but God did not intend for us to go through life alone or to hide our faces from Him or others when we feel hurt or shame. He asks us to look at Him, to trust Him and offers to lift our heads, often using those around us to remind us of this truth. We just have to take that first step of acknowledging and sharing those parts of ourselves that we feel are too hurt or too unlovable to reveal. Then we realize that we are not the only broken ones. We are acceptable as we are, and there's healing in that first step.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Promise keeping

As with any new year, there are often resolutions abounding. A new year's resolution is generally a decision to do something differently this time around, or often a promise that we make to better ourselves. Fortunately, if we break it, the consequences generally only fall upon ourselves.

The consequences, however, tend to be more serious when we fail to keep our word to someone else. Why does promise keeping matter? Firstly, because it's the right thing to do. Secondly, the damage that breaking a promise can cause to a relationship, whether personal or professional, can be very difficult and painful to repair. Some promises are implicit, as in an intimate personal relationship, e.g. a parent's "promise" to love and care for a child; while others are explicit, e.g. a contractual agreement. Both are important to fulfill. On an even larger scale, broken promises made to a collective, such as the all too familiar "campaign promises", erode our trust in our leaders and public authorities.

It's a bit past the new year, but I propose that this year be a year of keeping promises to ourselves and others around us. Here's to a more considerate, kind, honorable year ahead.

“Civilization rests on a set of promises; if the promises are broken too often, the civilization dies, no matter how rich it may be, or how mechanically clever. Hope and faith depend on the promises; if hope and faith go, everything goes.”--Herbert Agar