Did you hear what I said?”
Gulp. I’d been caught, red-handed, and not even at work where my coworkers would cut me some slack.
“Mom, you’re here, but you’re not listening to what I’m saying,” my daughter Annie said, clearly exasperated. And she was right. I had started our conversation fully focused on her, but as soon as I had the gist of what she was saying, my mind started to wander to my to-do list and then to an email I had recently received. I was so busy solving these other problems that I didn’t even notice when Annie stopped talking. She was hurt, and I could see it. But this wasn’t the first time.
The truth is, I’m not naturally a good listener. I have a busy life, and my brain is hardwired to constantly be doing and accomplishing. As soon as I’ve taken in enough information to understand the basics of whatever problem or topic is being discussed, my natural inclination is to move on. There are times when this tendency serves me well and helps me to process information very efficiently, but it can also cripple my ability to listen well. Over time I’ve realized that, in both life and work, listening can be more necessary—and more powerful—than doing.
Re-Learning the Art of Listening
First and foremost, we should learn to listen well because the Bible commands it. James 1:19 admonishes us as Christians to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” We are to listen first and listen fully before formulating a response or reacting emotionally. For a multitasking addict like me, it takes real effort to slow my brain down and absorb what someone else is saying. But good news! Listening is a skill that can be learned and improved, and when put into practice, listening has a big impact.1