For some time, I’ve been noticing an increasingly common characteristic of meetings – and that is that listening is in decline. I can’t say exactly when this started, but I do know when I noticed it. I was in a regularly scheduled meeting at work – one of those weekly meetings where you talk about what’s going on, nothing particularly unusual, and people could barely wait before speaking. I was struck by what I hadn’t realized before – no one was really listening to what others were saying.
I began to pay more attention at other meetings, watching to see if this has been an anomaly or was more common than I thought. I kept a running tally in my head, and it was more than clear. People were focused on speaking out. Virtually no one was focused on listening. In some cases it was so bad that people would interrupt or jump in as another person was almost, but not quite, finished.
And it was happening at meetings at all levels. People were more circumspect and kept their tongues more in check when a senior executive was sitting at the table, but barely. Sometimes it appeared that the presence of the senior executive was actually encouraging the behavior.
Sometimes I found myself doing it. Sometimes meetings sounded more like a gaggle of geese squawking at each other than a meeting of adults supposed talking about serious subjects.
I’m not the first person to make this observation. It’s actually been studied, and in depth, and causes identified for the problem (and, yes, it’s a problem): we’re not interested in the topic; we find the speaker unattractive; prejudice and bias; trying to listen to more than one conversation at a time (or thinking we can listen while we send emails on our cell phones); we’re preoccupied; we’ve already judged the topic (or the speaker). The web site Skills You Need has a whole laundry list of barriers to effective listening.
And then I wondered, how are my listening skills when it comes to God? Am I guilty of jabbering away, telling God all of my problems, and not really listening to any kind of response?
Sometimes, God uses circumstances to teach us to listen. In The Fire of Delayed Answers, Bob Sorge describes being led through valley experiences so as to learn how to listen, really listen. “One of the reasons,” he says, “we can’t hear from God, when the darkness descends, is that God wants to retrain the way in which we hear from Him.”
Is this what we sound like to God, like we’re jabbering away at a meeting, more than ready to force our way into the conversation and almost totally unwilling to listen? Is this what I sound like?
Am I so busy talking that I ignore the cry for help, the desperate call for support, the obvious need staring me in the face? Do I have to be taken through the darkness of a valley experience to learn how to listen?
I hope not; I pray not. And yet I shudder.
Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been discussing The Fire of Delayed Answers. To see more posts on this chapter, “When the Lights Go Out,” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact.
Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.