Think about the words LISTEN and SILENT
How are they related to each other?
Obviously, we listen better when we are silent In fact, it is hard to listen when we are not silent And the more parts of us that are silent (lips, limbs, and logic) the better we listen
What is less obvious but equally powerful is that the two words have the same letters, simply rearranged
Ponder the power of silencing our lips, limbs, and especially our own logic as you read this story told by Elder
W. Craig Zwick in the October 2017 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. [Section in italics are my words.]
“....while serving as a mission president. A young elder arrived with apprehension in his eyes. As we met in an interview, he said dejectedly, “I want to go home.” I thought to myself, “Well, we can fix this.”
Have you ever thought that while listening to someone? “I know just the answer…..” when talking to friends, in conversations with concerned spouse or a frustrated teen….???
“I counseled him to work hard and to pray about it for a week and then call me. A week later, almost to the minute, he called. He still wanted to go home. I again counseled him to pray, to work hard, and to call me in a week. In our next interview, things had not changed. He insisted on going home.”
Has this ever happened to you? You know the answer but those whom you advise just are not listening?
“I just wasn’t going to let that happen. I began teaching him about the sacred nature of his call. I encouraged him to “forget [himself] and go to work.”2 But no matter what formula I offered, his mind did not change.
“It finally occurred to me that I might not have the whole picture. It was then that I felt a prompting to ask him the question: ‘Elder, what is hard for you?’ What he said pierced my heart: ‘President, I can’t read.’
“The wise counsel which I thought was so important for him to hear was not at all relevant to his needs. What he needed most was for me to look beyond my hasty assessment and allow the Spirit to help me understand what was really on this elder’s mind. He needed me to see him correctly.”
He needed me to see him correctly. The young missionary needed his mission president to listen to him.
When we listen to others we begin to see them correctly and, by seeing them correctly, are be able to minister effectively to them, as we have been asked to do by our prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, and by our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Stephen R. Covey, author and international inspirational speaker whose 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has changed the world, teaches people to “Seek to understand, then to be understood”. We are more effective, in our families, in our professions, and in our ministry as servants in the Lord’s hands, when we try to understand others before insisting they understand us.
Listening to cues, both verbal and nonverbal, is a skill that can be developed. Here are three powerful tips for effective listening, given to me by my boss, Amie Campbell, who knows how to listen.
1. Listening is a conscious decision. We create the presence of mind to listen if we choose to but we have to remember that the brain can only do one thing at a time, so multitasking while you “pretend” to listen is not real. We need to say to ourselves “be present” as others begin to speak. Do this in personal meditation as well. We should be present to listen to what is whispered into our hearts and minds.
2. High emotions create barriers to good listening. When we are emotionally charged, we need time to calm down before being a listener and that is okay.
3. A need for “control” can destroy our ability to listen. If we want to make people see it our way, whether it is to force our opinion on them or to win an argument with them then we do not listen for understanding. Instead we listen to build rebuttal and to prepare what we want to say next. It is vitally important to step back from a disagreement or a need for control in order to hear the views of others. This is the number one thing that blocks communication.
My mission president told me “You have one mouth and two ears. Use them proportionally.”
A word to those in leadership positions…..This 2:1 ratio is so important. Many years ago, when Lance’s mental health issues threatened to destroy our home and family I longed to share the burden but, for multiple reasons, some good and some bad, was reluctant to initiate a conversation about my situation. I distinctly remember approaching several interviews with my ecclesiastical leaders hoping for a chance to unload. The good-hearted, well-intentioned leaders with whom I met talked to me; they not ask , listen, or give me a chance to share.. I am sure what they said was good though I do not remember any of it. What I do remember is that I entered their offices burdened and I left burdened. Clearly it all worked out. I am fine now. Lance too, believe it or not! But it would have been so nice then to have had someone who listened. This is true for all those in leadership positions. It is true for those in positions of friendship as well.
The Lord tells us to listen.
D&C 88:122 Appoint among yourselves a teacher, and let not all be spokesmen at once; but let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege.
- One speak at a time (....the others are SILENT!)
- Let all listen (not argue, not rebut, not judge, not moralize….LISTEN)
- That ALL may be edified of ALL (True ministering!)
Elder Zwick said “.....the gospel mentors us to look beyond what we see. To look beyond what we see, we must look at others through the eyes of our Savior. The gospel net is filled with people in all their variety. We can’t fully understand the choices and psychological backgrounds of people in our world, Church congregations, and even in our families, because we rarely have the whole picture of who they are. We must look past the easy assumptions and stereotypes and widen the tiny lens of our own experience.”
“For man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
We cannot see beneath the outward appearance and look, as the Lord does, on the heart but we can listen to people as they share their hearts..
My wise and cherished friend Rob Dow helped me understand that most sincere listening communication is nonverbal because it comes from the heart; it is motivated by love..
Why does God listen to our prayers?
Because He loves us.
LOVE is a key to LISTENING
Look at what Paul teaches us about love:
- "Love suffereth long" (Patience)
- "and is kind" (Kindness)
- "Love envieth not" (generosity)
- "love vaunteth no itself, is not puffed up" (humility)
- Doth not behave itself unseemly" (courtesy)
- "seeketh not its own" (Unselfishness)
- "Is not provoked" (good Temper)
- "Taketh not account of evil" (guilelessness)
- "rejoiceth not in unrighteousness but rejoiceth with the truth" (sincerity)
We will do and be what is needed at the time it is needed--whatever that might be. We would mourn with those that mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice you; We will be a ministers and respond in the a manner that God would have us respond.
A good picture of real listening is a caring mother lovingly and attentively listening to her child as if the rest of the world doesn't exist.
Be SILENT. Be PRESENT. LISTEN!
Following are some examples of love listening.
When I was in 6th grade my mom had two small children at home and was busily (and somewhat frantically) preparing dinner one evening while I was playing in my room. My then 3 year old brother tipped a lightweight, child-sized rocking chair over on top of me. I could have easily stood up and freed myself. Instead I called for my mother and asked for her help. Was I really asking for her help? No. I did not really need help. I was asking for her attention. Listening with love she understood my real plea.
Last week Kasey came into my room during his lunch break. “Did you hear what Marco and Ken were saying about me?: he asked and then explained, “I was just wondering if you heard because you did not do anything about it…’ Kasey was not accusing me of negligence nor was he trying to get his peers in trouble. Love listening lead me to tell him I had not heard the name calling and reassure him that I cared about him and that, if I had heard the bullying, I would have stopped it.
My elderly neighbor, John Malan, celled me three minutes after giving me a jar of honey to ask me if I liked it. Three minutes. I hadn’t time to hang my keys on the rack, much less taste the honey. Love listening told me that John wasn’t really calling to see if I liked the honey; he called because he was lonely and craved connections.
When Grace (or Tanah or Miles) says “Mom…..” and begins to talk she is not usually asking for advice or wisdom or solutions. (Though clearly I have lots of advice and wisdom and solutions!) I have found most often with teens, children, even most adults, but most especially teens, to listen bestly is to be silent mostly. For teens especially, the 2 ears:1 mouth ratio should probably be, instead of 2 to 1, 10 to 1 or maybe even more.
Love listening is particularly important for husbands and wives. Love listening helps me see that Lance is telling me he loves me when he rinses the dishes….and that he is NOT telling me that he does not love me when he throws his socks on the floor. With our spouses the principle of “seek to understand then to be understood” is critically important. We cannot listen to our spouses with the intent to change them, convince them, and/or control them. We must seek to understand as we listen to them.
When we were relatively newly wed Lance and I disagreed on what keeping the Sabbath Day holy looked like. He came from a family that swam and watched TV on Sundays. Apostates!!!! I felt like he was a heathen and he felt I was a Pharisee. It was NOT pretty. As we sought to understand each other we learned that we were both children of God, trying to do what we felt was right. Love listening to one’s spouse means seeing him or her as a child of God with human insecurities, weaknesses, and foibles...and a good heart with desire to do right.
Another oft overlooked aspect of listening is to ask. Afraid to say the wrong thing, too often we say nothing at all...which is the wrong thing. Sheryl Sandberg, in her book Option B, writes about losing her husband Dave who died suddenly while still quite young. “[Before he died] Dave and I had discussed [our friend] Jeff’s MS diagnosis many times with each other but that morning I realized I had never actually spoken with Jeff about it.
“‘Jeff,’ I said, ‘how are you? I mean, really, how are you? How are you feeling? Are you scared?’
“Jeff looked up in surprise and paused for a few long moments. With tears in his eyes he said, ‘Thank you. Thank you for asking.’ And then he talked. He talked about his diagnosis and how he hated that he had to stop practicing medicine. How his continued deterioration was hard on his children. How he was worried about his future. How relieved he felt being able to talk about it with me and the others at the table that morning. When breakfast was over, he hugged me tight.
She continues “In the early weeks after Dave died I was shocked when I’d see friends who did not ask how I was doing. I went to a close friend’s house for dinner and she and her husband made small talk the entire time. It was not until the breakfast with Jeff that I realized I was sometimes the friend who avoided painful conversations.I had failed to ask him about his health not because I did not care but because I was afraid of upsetting him. Losing Dave made me realize how ludicrous that was. It wasn’t possible for me to remind Jeff that he was living with MS. He was aware of that every minute of every day.” Ask, she pleads, and then listen.
I can personally testify of this. When our family was dealing with Lance’s major mental health issues, I felt so very isolated, so completely alone. Later one person said to me, “I did not ask you because I did not want to make you cry.” She was right. Asking would have made me cry. But I needed to cry. The tears would have been tears of relief in not having to carry the burden alone.
Note that asking is different than probing. Ask and then respect. Sometimes talking is not beneficial but almost always asking is.
Love listening helps us know when to ask questions and what questions to ask
Love listening helps us know when to be silent and when to advise.
Love listening helps us look on the heart and see others as Christ sees them.
Love listening invites the Spirit to guide us and give us glimpses into the hearts of others.
I asked some friends to share the places and/or times when they most frequently receive guidance from the Spirit. This is what I was told:
- Sandy Underwood: It comes to me when I extend a little effort..praying for spiritual experiences in church, temple, reading scriptures, focus on listening to still small voice when I am alone
- Janet Mayes: In the shower
- Michelle Drago: When working
- Me: When exercising...It used to be running but I don’t really run anymore. Now it is more appropriately called shuffling…
- Cierra Stewart: Out in nature
- Lance: In bed and when reading scriptures
- Tanah: When fasting
Notice that NO ONE SAID “WHILE I AM ON MY CELL PHONE” . Part of listening is creating space. Put the phone down and listen…..to your friends, family, and Father in Heaven. Create a space for God in your life.
Psalms 46:10 Be still, and know that I am God: Be Still. Be present. Be SILENT. LISTEN.
In her LDS April 2016 Conference address Sister Neill F Marriott promised: “As we ask Father in Heaven to make us builders of His kingdom, His power will flow into us and we will know how to nurture.” I would add “minister”..
I testify this is true. I have asked the Father to make me a builder in His nation and I have felt His power flow into me. He has helped me to listen, to nurture and to minister and He will do the same for you if you will ask…..and LISTEN. I so testify in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.