Are you “quick to hear?”
Are you a good listener? Are people able to disagree with you? Do others feel they can bring observations or critiques to you? Do you listen when they do? I mean really listen, to understand where they are coming from? To really weigh what they are saying? Are you teachable? Are you able to receive correction? Are you able to see things from others’ point of view?
Sometimes we can “listen” to people, but not really hear what they are saying. Sometimes we formulate our counter-argument or defense while they are still speaking. Or we write them off: “They’re just emotional;” “They are over-reacting to what I said.” We can be too quick to think or say “I disagree.”
Somtimes we cut them off before they’re finished. Or we make excuses for why we did something. I have been a poor listener many times in my life. But I am trying to grow and learn to be “quick to hear” as James tells us:
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20)
Why are we often slow to hear?
We can be slow to hear because we are proud. Because we think we are right, or that we have the most accurate assessment of ourselves. It takes real humility to listen to others, especially when they have a concern, a disagreement, or correction for us.
Another reason we can be slow to hear is because we interpret others’ corrections as attacks on us. And often, even though we are saved, we can have an inadequate view of our ongoing battle with sin. We need to constantly be aware of the temptation to be prideful or unteachable.
Sometimes we are slow to hear because we have prejudged someone. We assume we know their motives. We assume we know why they are bringing something to us and so we write them off.
So how can we grow in listening, in being quick to hear?
The next time someone corrects, criticizes or disagrees with you:
1. View correction as a good thing
“Let a righteous man strike me, it is a kindness; let him rebuke me; it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.” PS 141:5
This is how we should view the correction from a fellow believer – as a kindness. As a good thing. And the Psalmist prays “let my head not refuse it.” We need to pray for God’s help to be humble and receive input from our brothers and sisters.
2. Remember the danger of being wise in your own eyes.
“Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” Pr 26:12
What a temptation this is. When others correct us we can think, “I know more than this person.” Or, “I know the Bible better than they do. I’ve been a Christian far longer.” There are a thousand variations of ways we can think we we’re wiser than others or have a more accurate understanding of things than they do.
3. Consider that it may be really hard for this person to bring a disagreement or negative observation to you
Try to make it easy for them. Consider that if they didn’t love you they might not say anything. Especially if you are a pastor or leader, people can be intimidated to bring critiques or disagreements to you.
4. Determine that you really want to hear and understand their concern.
Try to understand what it is like for them. It is so easy for us to write someone off because we have never been through what they are going through. We need to learn to weep with those who weep. We need to learn to ask questions to help us see things from their perspective.
5. Keep an open mind. Wait until you have really heard them before deciding to whether or not to disagree.
To be quick to listen means we really try to hear what someone is saying before we disagree or interrupt them, or take a hard stand.
6. Remind yourself that God gives grace to the humble, but resists the proud.
A proud person doesn’t admit he’s wrong. A proud person thinks the other person is always wrong. They are the ones who aren’t seeing things correctly. He has the most accurate view of things. A humble person knows he could be wrong. A humble person knows he doesn’t know it all and that he needs God’s help.
I want to do all I can do to be humble, because I don’t want God to resist me. I would rather humble myself than have God humble me.
7. Remember we all have blind spots.
We all have logs in our eyes at times. We can’t know ourselves perfectly and can’t see ourselves perfectly. We can’t see ourselves as others see us. We may think we see something clearly, yet be completely blind.
8. Be slow to defend yourself. Remember, God is perfectly able to defend you.
When someone disagrees with you they aren’t necessarily attacking you. And even when someone attacks you, it is better to try to respond with gentleness. Remember,
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. PR 15.1
9. Don’t start formulating a rebuff while the other person is still speaking. That is not listening.
That is not being “quick to hear.” That is being quick to defend yourself, or quick to argue. If you formulate your response before hearing the other person, you haven’t listened at all.
10. Ask questions. Draw them out.
Seek clarification. Depending on the situation, take notes. Ask questions like, “How did that make you feel when I said that?” Or, “What could I have done better or what could I have done that would have been more helpful to you?”
11. Don’t write off their concern because they don’t deliver it perfectly.
Even if they share in anger, the content could still be accurate. It is so easy for us to focus on the way someone shares with us rather than what they share. In our pride we can dismiss what someone shares with us because they are emotional or upset as they talk to us.
12. Even if you feel like most of what they share is inaccurate, there is usually at least a grain of truth worth looking for in any criticism.
There is almost always something you can learn or something you can do better. You must have done something that made them feel they had to talk with you. Try to listen with an open heart and an open mind.
13. After someone shares with you, thank them.
It often takes a lot of courage for people to bring an observation. Ask if there is anything else they would like to share with you or if they have any other concerns.
14. Even if you don’t yet see what they are saying, tell them you really want to and that you will definitely consider it and pray about it.
We don’t have to immediately agree with every observation someone brings, but we should really want to see anything God wants us to see. At times people will share things with you and you won’t be able to see it right away. That doesn’t mean they are wrong. Sometimes we need to think about things and pray about them.
15. Ask them to come to you again any time they have concerns or observations in the future.
If we are humble and quick to hear, God will give us grace and we will grow. If we are proud and quick to reject correction, God may have to humble us. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather humble myself than have God have to do it.