It’s difficult to admit, but I’m not the greatest listener. I enjoy debating and discussing things, but mostly, I enjoy sharing my own opinion with others. I can honestly say that when I’m having a heated discussion with someone, I’m more interested in convincing them of my point of view than understanding theirs. Can you relate to this? Do you find yourself listening with the intent to respond, or do you listen with the intent to learn?
Last weekend, Casey Greenawalt, Director of CedarCreek Kids at the Perrysburg Campus, spoke about Proverbs 18:2.
Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions.
This proverb not only condemns the foolish and impulsive words that come from our mouths, it condemns the impulsive conclusions of the mind and heart that those words stem from. Casey talked about the importance of not just understanding the words someone is saying but also feeling what they are feeling. He gave us three principles of empathetic listening:
- Listening with the intent to understand, not just hear.
- Listening with your ears, eyes, and heart.
- Listening with the intent to have a deep emotional connection with the person.
These principles teach us that even when we disagree with someone, we have an opportunity to experience a deeper connection with them.
I love this perspective from a hospital chaplain named Susan from the book Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey. When she enters a room, Susan assumes that, bidden or not, God is already present. “If I forget that God goes ahead of me, and think instead that I am bringing God into the room, I can have an air of smugness. I feel pressure to say the right thing, try to impress the patient and staff – in short, I take myself too seriously. I need the constant reminder that God precedes me in that room, and that the person in the bed has a story that I can learn from.”
When you are more focused on learning and less focused on impressing, you can create a deeper, more meaningful connection with someone. Always seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Do you listen with the intent to learn or the intent to respond?
Which of the three principles of empathetic listening is the most difficult for you and why? Which is the easiest?
Do you feel God already present in a conversation, or are you more interested in being the one who brings God to the conversation?
As you are in conversations with people this week, especially people with whom you find it difficult to connect, challenge yourself to seek first to understand.
If you didn’t have a chance to hear Casey’s talk, you can watch it on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zp5xCoXnlC0).
God, thank you for creating me with the ability to listen with my eyes, ears, and heart. Please help me to seek first to understand before I seek to be understood. Please especially help me to experience a deeper connection with those whom I disagree by practicing empathetic listening. Amen.
This post was written by Meghan Yarnell. Meghan is an art teacher and artist. She is married and has a son and daughter.
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