In Mark Goulston’s and John Ullmen’s article, Are You Listening? (3/13 adapted from Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In) they identified four levels of listening. They were talking about the normal listening we do each day when we are engaged with many different people. Let’s see how it would work if we were attempting toListen to God.
Have you ever been in a conversation with someone where they continue to say, “uh huh”? They may be checking emails or texting while you are telling them a story and you generally feel ignored. Been there? It is annoying to say the least. This is what is called Avoidance Listening or Listening OVER.
Our time communicating and listening to God is the same. When you approach Him at this level, Listening OVER, it may be that you are reading your Bible or in prayer while watching television, making a snack, or driving the car. While you can pray while doing all of these things, are you really listening to God or just giving Him the list of your needs?
The next type of Listening is Defensive Listening. Have you ever been in a conversation where everything you say seems to be taken wrong? The person takes everything personally and reacts quickly without much thought. This can be exhausting because you are interrupted many times while trying to communicate an idea or story.
This Listening AT is level two. Imagine your time with God as aggressive. You make demands on God by telling Him what you want to get out of your time with Him. AND, if you read a piece of scripture that you don’t like you are arguing about its fairness to you and your life. You decide that not everything is for you and you disregard what is in front of you.
Or, maybe this . . . you or one of your friends has said, “he doesn’t listen to me, he just wants to fix the problem”. This is level three listening, the Listening TO. You may think that this level of listening is great because it is efficient and gets the job done. However, most problems are not simple and what you really want is sympathy and understanding. This listening leads to unsatisfied communication.
You may be at this level in your Listening to God. You feel like you have it down. You read the Bible, get the rules, and follow them. You ‘do’ all the things you are supposed to do. But, when you do find some time to sit with God you feel empty. The experience is mechanical and you are just checking your box off that you did the Bible reading/prayer thing.
The last level of Listening is Connective Listening. This is where you Listen INTO the other person. Imagine putting down your phone, turning off the television, not thinking about what you are going to say, and just listening. The INTO also means using not only your ears and eyes to listen but using your heart and body. Physically positioning yourself for a ‘good listen’. This is when the person feels heard.
Within this Listening type you need to be comfortable, pause often from your own thoughts and reactions, eliminate distractions, and be mindful. Stay present in the moment. When you are with another person this can mean asking probing questions about how they feel or think about the situation or, ask for clarification on what it means to them.
With God, this is true Listening. This is taking yourself away to spend time alone with Him. It can be as simple as being in your room, sitting at the kitchen table, taking a walk, or as complex as going on a full day retreat of quiet time. It is about not having the agenda ready when you meet with God. It IS about asking Him what He wants to say to you and then just waiting. A journal works great for this type of Listening.
So, have you seen yourself in all these types of Listening at one point or another? Do you use one type for your spouse, another for your kids, and yet another for business colleagues? Are you missing out with your Listening to God and what He has for you because you are stuck in one of the first three levels of Listening? Get out of your rut! Push through to make Listening to others and Listening to God your priority. Ask God to show you what He wants to tell you. He will. AND, in the process, you will become the best Listener your family, friends, and colleagues have ever known.