the power of listening

I'd love to be a really good listener. In fact three longings cluster together for me. I'd love to be more humble, to be more holy - and to be a really good listener. Why? As far as I can observe, this is the combo that God delights in using and I really want to be used by God. Simple as that.

Don't get me wrong. I can listen well - particularly if the expectation for such listening is in place. For example, over the years I've developed different structured listening exercises in which the perspectives of others are given precedence. The trust it builds and the team it develops is terrific. This facilitative leadership makes space for others. It draws them into setting the agenda. I love it.

But ne'er a week goes by without me having three or four self-flagellating debriefs for not listening better in a conversation. I am an enthusiast. Sometimes I jump in at inappropriate times. I am curious. Sometimes my questions flow far too fast and furious. I have a mind that is as active as it is forgetful. Sometimes the only way I won't lose a gem is by expressing it verbally - immediately. I am frustrated. Sometimes I am with people who have an unrelenting need to talk and I barge into the conversation to remind them that I am here too.  It's bad. You'd think that by my age I'd have learned to do this better.

This is why I jumped on the opportunity to read Lynne Baab's The Power of Listening. I've enjoyed her books before (see here). She has a distinctive style. It is chatty and accessible. It is practical and realistic. It is collaborative with much of what she writes being generated by what she hears from others. It is transparent as she lives in her own vulnerabilities without wallowing there (check out p119). Plus there is an authenticity here, as Lynne has worked at becoming a good listener herself. I've benefited from this.

The focus in the book tends to be on congregations and communities, with the first half of the book making its way around the power of listening in this setting: 'healthy congregations are composed of people who listen well (ix).'

It is all good stuff, as each chapter concludes with a list of questions for discussion - and then each list concludes with an encouragement to 'pay a compliment' to someone. A nice touch.

But for me the book finds another gear towards the end. The final chapters on The Listening Toolbox, Anxiety and Listening, Humility and Listening, and Listening, Receptivity and Speaking Up ... this is where I was helped the most. For example, in the 'Toolbox' chapter (107-126), Lynne opens up (a) the skills that encourage people to keep talking; (b) conversational directing skills; (c) reflecting-back skills; and (d) skills that build empathy. Anyone involved in the caring and forming of others (which is pretty much all of us, isn't it?) will benefit from this chapter. The pages on 'Roadblocks to Listening' (150-153) are likely to make some others feel as uncomfortable as they did for me ...

Tomorrow I return to India after a three week visit home to New Zealand. It has been a personal visit with a threefold purpose: take my niece's wedding, gain a longer visa for living in India, and be present for the birth of our second grandchild (just slipping in a little photo of Amaliya Grace - afterall it is my blog and I can do with it as I please!).

Over these few days at home I've been struck again by how much listening we do. And not just to wedding vows and High Commissioners and baby cries.

To live well is to listen well.

I've been to a large funeral, a concert (Grieg's Piano Concerto), a party (or three), a lunch (with Don & Joy Carson!), a lecture (with Richard Bauckham), a breakfast (with an accountability group), a lunch (with another accountability group), numerous family chats - and then, remarkably, 14 different lingering conversations with friends, facing all kinds of situations, mostly difficult, and mostly at their initiative: redundancy, sickness, separation, life intersections, disappointment etc. And while this is all going on I am doing my Langham work - comprised mainly over these weeks with capturing the essence of a week-long meeting with our key leaders ... which was really one long listening exercise for me.

To listen well is to live well.

In her book Lynne Baab takes me back to my cluster of longings. The essence of humility is not so much 'to think less of myself , but to think of myself less' (Keller) so that I can attend to others and listen to them well. I wonder, too, whether holiness begins with being so absorbed with God, listening to him well - so well, in fact, that I take his primary expectation of holiness seriously - so seriously, in fact, that I give his Holy Spirit full reign in my life to do his primary thing - help make me holy.

nice chatting


Paul

Comments

Erica said…
My experience has been that you are a great listener. Auckland Libraries don't have a copy of Lynne Baab's book, so I have asked - online - that they will buy a copy. I am looking forward to reading and learning from it.
Love the photo of you with your new grand daughter. Must be so hard for Barby and you to leave them behind.
Paul RW said…
That is kind of you, Erica! I guess listening is one of those qualities where one's weaknesses are much easier to see than the strengths. Lynne's book has only just been published. I was sent an advance copy - but it will trickle into circulation soon enough, I'm sure. So practical and useful for pretty much anyone.

Just back in Bangalore this week, with Barby to follow in two weeks. And yes - being the ones leaving home, kids and grand-kids is kinda odd - and hard. But there is no better place to be on earth than the place God where wants you to be ... and that is Bangalore for us.

best wishes

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