At one time or another, you’ve probably heard someone say in a dismissive tone: “I’m just not a good listener!”
Whether we get distracted by what we are going to say next, are easily offended by unfair criticism, or feel overwhelmed by needing to find the right words to reply, quality listening is complicated.
Add to that the fact that we tend to view ourselves better than we are and we tend to view others as worse than they are, and quality listening becomes a complicated dynamic that many fail to adequately understand.
However, if we are going to pursue a habit of loving listening in our relationships, we need to heed the many warnings about lousy listening from Proverbs. Failing to listen is not a laughing matter.
The previous post laid out four benefits of loving listening. However, Proverbs also gives us four warnings or results if we fail to listen. We undermine our effectiveness and damage our relationships when we don’t listen well. Lousy listening dishonors God and those around us.
1. Lousy listeners are prideful – Proverbs 18:2
Proud people don’t need the details, they already know the answer. In your conversations, how certain are you that you are right?
Some people go through life constantly correcting others, presuming to be an expert on almost everything, yet failing to realize they are more like the people they critique than they are different. Those around them feel unwanted and unneeded because their opinion is never heard; the proud person simply tells them what they should do.
Proverbs 18:2 says we imitate the fool if don’t choose loving listening, and we allow our pride to disregard others around us. Pride becomes destructive in relationships, and most of the time the proud person has no idea that the “proud” shoe fits them nicely.
If you are spending far more time talking than listening, often pride is at the root, and this warning may be one that you need to take seriously.
2. Lousy listeners look foolish – Proverbs 18:13
In high school, I worked at one of the top restaurants in the country. They took great pride in their service and their food was consistently excellent.
It always amazed me how many of their top servers could go to a table, take 4-6 dinner orders with no pen or paper, and enter the order correctly all from memory. It took extraordinary listening and memory in a noisy dining room of 400 guests.
However, some servers took notes and wrote it all down. The owner didn’t care, he just wanted to make sure that the details were heard correctly and that the food reflected the customer’s wishes. Bringing out the wrong order or getting the details wrong made us all look foolish and was not tolerated.
When we are a lousy listener, we will often get the details wrong and we too can look foolish.
Proverbs 18:13 reminds us that a wise man will listen first and speak after. Speaking first and listening second will often make us look silly and will ultimately take far more time than the speed we thought we were achieving by giving a quick answer.
Additionally, since people are more motivated by a caring conversation partner, we miss an opportunity to demonstrate love and kindness which may ultimately help us have a greater influence to help with a problem.
Take the warning seriously if you don’t want to look foolish, and in listening well you will help your relationships grow.
3. Lousy listeners create damage – Proverbs 20:18, 24:6
Lousy listeners cost lives, relationships, and vast sums of money. Don’t Believe Me? You don’t have to look any further than our military over the past few decades to realize that getting your data wrong will lead to battle messes that take years to clean up.
These two verses from Proverbs draw upon the writer’s military experience to observe the high cost of failing to adequately seek and listen to wise counsel when it comes to plans of war.
How many conversations go off the rails because two parties weren’t disciplined enough to attack the problem instead of each other?
How many conversations do we have without adequate preparation to think through what we are trying to accomplish, and if our approach will likely inflame or calm a situation?
Simply by choosing to listen, much damage to relationships can be avoided. Listening communicates love, requires self-control, and helps you truly understand the heart of others you are in a relationship with.
Lousy listeners end up with a “bull in the china shop” approach and break things that didn’t need to be broken.
4. Lousy listeners frustrate others – Proverbs 18:17
As a child, I sometimes got in trouble in ways that felt completely unfair because only my reaction to a conflict got noticed by parents or teachers. The original action, perhaps the more severe and intentional action, is often mistakenly overlooked.
Proverbs 18:17 reflects this common human dynamic where one person’s story seems accurate until you have all the facts. How do we get all the facts? We take the time to listen. Lousy listeners frustrate others because they refuse to take the time to hear both sides of a conflict out. They don’t see the full story.
Are you willing to listen to the explanations of why someone thinks they did what they did, without devolving into angry criticism and dismissive tones?
While it is true that some people seek to excuse their actions by explaining their mindset, we can be really quick to assume we understand why others do what they do. We proudly think we know their heart better than they do.
This is a deeply frustrating dynamic to solve in conflicted relationships. Lousy listeners are not humble enough or patient enough to listen to explanations they disagree with – because they “know” the truth.
However, what if you don’t know the truth? What if you have distorted the truth and share blame for the frustrating dynamic you are experiencing?
Loving listening is self-controlled and curious to learn more at the same time. The good news is that we have the power to change many of the frustrating dynamics of communication if we choose to speak with Spirit-controlled wisdom.
Lousy listeners rarely get the results they want, because lousy listening brings much difficulty and frustration into our relationships.
One of the core principles in our biblical counseling training is that “Love is the best motivator for change.” Fear can motivate us in the short term. Greed will drive some to extremes. However, love is what ultimately leads to lasting change. One of the best ways to know if you are being loved well is if your counselor or friend listens.
It’s hard to listen, even counselors struggle with it at times, but listening pays great dividends in our relationships.
Take the time to examine how well you listen, and refocus your efforts on listening more and talking less. You may be amazed that your frustration level will diminish and your fondness will grow.
Most of all, God models for us that He is a loving listener and we reflect His heart when we listen well and honor Him by choosing to imitate His heart. God loves others through our loving listening, and that makes a big difference in the lives of those we love.