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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Art of Listening...

I spent the majority of my twenty year span with Hewlett Packard and their spin off Agilent Technologies, in supervisorial positions.  The company was always proactive in upgrading and improving the skills of their management team.  Throughout the years I took countless classes on a variety of subjects, but by far, the most prevalent training was in the art of communication.  In the late 1980’s I even became part of the teaching team and taught many classes in which we helped our employees to improve their communication skills.
Combined with my college degree that emphasized family and adolescent Psychology, my years of Pastoral experience and my Bible College education, I have developed a fairly decent insight and practical experience in effective communication.  With that in mind, I tend to be very aware and intuitive to people’s efforts and skill to accurately convey their thoughts to others.  On the negative side, I also can get easily frustrated when some individuals, who should know better, make no attempt to effectively communicate their ideas to me.
I have come to learn that the most important tool in the communication feedback loop is our ears!   I got the impression that the Apostle Paul was trying to convey this same thought when I read Philippians 4:8 today.  The Contemporary English Version states Paul’s conclusion to his thoughts as, “Finally, my friends, keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper.  Don’t ever stop thinking about what’s truly worthwhile and worthy of praise.”  The King James Version tells us to “think on these.”
In the Greek this term means “to take an inventory, to consider and to take into account.”  In my way of thinking, Paul is instructing us to count the cost of what you are going to think, say or do”  In my communication classes this would be called the “Active Listening” phase in a successful communication loop between two people.  This is where our ears come into play while talking with another individual.  In order for us to effectively express our thoughts with others we have to listen more than we talk to assure that both of us are sending and receiving accurately.
In recalling some of the one-sided conversations I had with certain family and friends in California, I expressed some of my frustrations on this subject to my wife yesterday as we took our morning walk around our neighborhood.  I then recounted to her a lesson I remember her teaching during one of our many children’s church sessions over the years.  She had written out the word: "PRIDE" on the white board but overly accentuated the letter "I" such as:  “prIde.”  Then she talked about how “I” is the middle letter in pride and how too much thinking about ourselves and our needs can mis-guide our lives as well as our conversations. 
I commented yesterday that too much “I” can blind us from seeing and hearing the real needs of others as well as block our ears from really hearing what someone is trying to say to us.  That was my frustration with some who refused to hear and/or understand what I was trying to convey to them as to what Piper’s real needs were and what we were doing about them.  They were so intent on expressing their own views and suggestions that they missed half the conversation, the communication loop was never completed and their good intentions went up in smoke because they totally missed the mark!
Paul seems to be teaching us the importance of listening and considering what others are saying in order to more accurately and lovingly be a blessing to them.  I admit that there are still a few folks that cause me to cringe when I hear their voices on the other end of the phone because I know that it is going to be a one-sided conversation.  They may say the right things in reaction to my words, but as the conversation continues I pick up the cues by their words or by the silence on the other end that confirms that they really haven’t heard what I said.
Paul reasonably conveys that this type of reflective listening is to be a regular part or mark of our Christian lifestyle.  When people see us they should be at peace in knowing that what they say is important enough to you that you take the time to really hear them.  Jesus told His listeners in Matthew 11:15 and in other conversations throughout the Gospels that “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (KJV) My training and experience over the years confirms that this is a good piece of advice for us to follow… and I must be in good company as I believe that Paul is telling us the same thing!
So give it a try!  I can almost guarantee that you will walk away from your various conversations today with a greater degree of satisfaction and peace!  Have a great day.  Stay in tune to His Word, and keep asking yourself… “What or Whom am I expecting TO LISTEN TO today?”

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