Listening and Understanding

November 18, 2020

Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. Philippians 2:4

In our relationships with difficult people we often quickly realize there is a competitive set of desires and understandings. We just don’t think the same. It can then lead to argumentation, interruption, attempting to shut down the other if we can’t persuade them. This is not productive, and often causes the relationship to further deteriorate. One of the most productive things we can do is to ask thoughtful questions—and then actually listen to the responses. In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the late Stephen R. Covey listed as habit number 5, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

In a tense situation, it is all too easy to become defensive, or ignore the other person’s point of view. Asking questions, trying to understand the other person’s feelings, and listening to the answers can be key to defusing the difficulties. You can still raise your points, you can still share your opinion, but after listening to the “other side,” you may change your own opinion a bit, and almost certainly, the other person will be more willing to listen to you. 

Put yourself and your opinions aside for a while. There are things more important than being right. Dale Carnegie told about an inscription on a tombstone in a cemetery: “Here lies the body of Peter Jay, who died maintaining his right-of-way. He was right, dead right, as he sped along. But he’s just as dead now as if he’d been wrong.” 

The rhyme on the stone makes a point. You can be in the right but still suffer a terrible loss if you aren’t wise. An elderly saint said, “It seems to me, if pride, ego, and selfishness were laid aside for five minutes, most situations would show dramatic improvement.” Considering the other person’s interests and perspective always helps.

  • In your next difficult situation, start the conversation by asking gentle, well-intended questions. Really listen and ask God to help you understand.