I thought I was listening until my son’s friend said, “You’re not listening to me.” She was right. She wanted me to hear her story, her pain, and her trouble. I was playing junior therapist. So I stopped, put down my fork, and listened. I listened as she told us how her dad was not encouraging her, how he was different when no one was around, and how he did not understand. I listened until she stopped, but it was hard work for me. I wanted to ask the obvious things like, “Are you sure you are being fair?” and “Do you think you contribute to the problem?” It was even more difficult when silence took over, but I am glad I kept quiet.

Out of the quiet, she said, “He just makes me feel like it is all my fault.” Do you see it? My words, no matter how applicable, would have only fueled the negative fire of her feelings about herself. I would have been another adult, another man, saying, “Could this be your fault?” I would not only have prevented us from helping, but I would also have missed the real issue. Her actual pain was feeling blamed by someone who should be protecting her.

I was reminded of how important it is to just listen. I know better. I know that I need to listen to the end. I know that I need to listen to my heart for wisdom before I respond. James’ words are critical to my fix-it, fiery personality.

“Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”

My words have fueled fires of anger and division when I failed to listen well before I responded. I have regretted words that stoked the fire instead of putting it out. We are supposed to be peacemakers. We are supposed to be firemen removing the fuel and extinguishing the blaze. Solomon wrote,

“Fire goes out for lack of fuel.”

Here are a few ideas that I try to remember as I lead, as I love, and as I have the opportunity to listen and help those around me:

  1. Listen beyond the silence. Listen until they seem done and, then, sit one more minute and see what the silence brings out. Rarely does the depth of the story come out with the emotional dump.
  2. Let them get it out to sort it out. Not all “seeming” problems are big problems. Sometimes people just need to vent, to get it out to sort it out. Many times people need your ear and heart instead of your input.
  3. Remember who you are. If people want a psychologist, they will look one up. If they wanted a negotiator, they would have found one. Be the friend, the mentor, the spouse, the whatever you are to them.
  4. Know that you do not know. Remember that there are at least 12 sides to every story before you confirm, react, advise, or get involved. The bigger the problem, the more you do not know.
  5. Listen like a firefighter, not an arsonist. Emotional fires usually need a bit of water and not more fuel.

Today we are focusing on listening. Listening, by definition, uses few words. Even then, those words need to be formed in caring questions. What happens when it is time to speak? We speak like physical therapists!

What listening ideas do you have? How can you listen better? Have you ever blown it when you should have just listened?