Creating True Intimacy
“ Listening to understand rather than listening to respond ”
It doesn’t matter if you are arguing with your spouse, communicating with your children or selling vacuum cleaners door to door. Listening to understand rather than listening to respond is essential to connecting with another person. If we don’t learn this skill our communications will be constantly missing the mark and falling short of connecting.
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”— James 1:19 NIV
I am amazed by how poorly most of us really listen to understand. I was watching a political talk show the other day and the opposing sides were continually talking before the other person finished. It was anxiety producing to watch and truly worthless communication. I am also faced with this kind of communication in my marriage counseling sessions. Over and over I hear couples talk to each other like their ideas, thoughts, feelings and beliefs are totally irrelevant. I know that this is often caused by years of damaging communication patterns but somewhere this must change or we will continue to experience a failure in connecting that characterizes this pattern. I believe that we were created by God with the intense desire to be understood and for true intimate connections.
So how do we change? Here are some foundational commitments we must make to become better able to achieve connection.
Change your goal: If your goal is to be understood then you will always fall short of truly connecting with another person. Yes, there is a place for expressing your opinion or contributing your thoughts but not until you have heard and understood the other person. Assumption is the enemy of communication. When we assume we know what the other person is saying instead of really knowing we create a chasm between us. If we have been in a relationship for a long time we can become insensitive to the other person by thinking; “I’ve heard this before” or “I know where this is going”. As hard as it may be we need to listen with fresh ears and an open heart.
Connect with the feelings not the logic:Here is where many of us completely miss the mark. Few conversations are simply about facts. Our conversations (especially arguments) are primarily about our feelings. We are feeling shamed, rejected, fearful, angry, or a myriad of other emotions that are often expressed in irrational conversations. When we point out the illogic of another’s words it serves only to increase the intensity of their feelings. This, my friend, is where small arguments turn into huge arguments. Instead, we need to try to identify the feelings and give the other person an opportunity to express them free of our judgements. It is amazing to watch the energy of an argument dissipate when one person decides to let the other person express their feelings in a safe and loving environment.
Listen without judgement. This is extremely hard for some of us. We view conversations like a court room with us playing the part of both judge and jury. No wonder our relationships are in trouble! Nobody likes to be judged. Often this is because we see ourselves as the one accused and therefore rise to our own defense. I don’t want to minimize how hard it is to hear someone’s complaint without becoming defensive. Nobody likes to feel they are responsible for another person negative emotions. But somehow we must be willing to put aside our wounded pride and really listen to their concerns. We must connect with the other person’s feelings and show empathy. Ask yourself this question; “If I thought the way they are thinking would feel the way they are feeling?” That question is the beginning of truly listening for understanding and finding connection.
This ability to demonstrate empathy is the cornerstone of our faith. God had every right to judge us and reject us for our disobedience but instead he became one of us and powerfully connected with us. He will also give us the strength to do the same. When we find our identity in who God says we are we experience the confidence to face the criticisms and accusations of others in a way that allows us to listen without defending our withdrawing.
“For we do not have a high priest [Jesus] who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”— Hebrews 4:14 NIV
Let us know if we can ever be of help to you. We welcome your comments, questions or prayer requests.