by Annette Bridges. ©2010. All rights reserved.

Are you a good listener?

I’ve always been told that good communication begins with good listening. And I’ve often wondered how many misunderstandings and conflicts could have been avoided by better listening.

Undoubtedly, there’s a story behind every headline and every picture — a tale and a testimony on every street corner and in every home. And there’s a story behind every story. We each have a narrative that is part of humanity’s novel.

Are we sharing our anecdotes and are we listening to others share theirs?

We need to share our lessons, our successes and our failures. And we need to share our dreams and hopes as well as our fears and worries. We’re not walking this journey called life alone. We find this out as we talk with our fellow travelers.

Of course, first we need to want to listen to our fellow travelers tell their stories. Then we need to learn how to listen — which I think is rather different from mere hearing.

We can hear that our neighbor is talking to us, but does he have our full attention? Do we sincerely “lend an ear” and listen carefully to what is being shared with us? Do we genuinely want to understand his perspective and experience?

Or do we have assumptions about what our neighbor’s point of view is before he ever shares it? While our neighbor speaks, are we giving our watch an occasional glance or thinking about what else we need to do that day? Are we constantly tempted to chime in and add our two cents worth?

If you can plead guilty to any of these questions — like me — then I suggest our listening skills may need a good overhaul.

In thinking about a Biblical example of good listening, the first to come to mind was Mary. This Mary was sister to Martha who invited Jesus into her home to speak to those who came to hear him. While Martha was very busy attending to preparations for her guests, the Bible says Mary “sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.” (Luke 10:38-42)

Martha even complained to Jesus that her sister was doing nothing but sitting there listening to him speak.

I can only imagine what it might have been like to listen to Jesus. And I can relate to Mary’s inability to do nothing else but hang on to his every word. She was completely present in that moment — taking it all in. Now that’s what I call giving 100% of your attention!

And that, my friends, is surely an example of good listening!

Imagine what could be learned if we truly saw the world through the eyes of others.

We’ve not walked in the shoes of those around us and there really isn’t a way for us to understand their perspective and experience without the sincere desire to want to know and to listen.

Surely good listening opens our understanding about others and enhances our capacity for empathy. And good listening would probably help us better respect our differences and find what we have in common as well.

I suspect more agreements could be accomplished more efficiently and effectively if listening was improved by both parties involved.

When understanding is lacking, ignorance becomes the breeding ground for fear, hatred and prejudices. If good listening could result in improved understanding, then surely we could all think and act more clearly, reasonably and responsibly.

There are many stories waiting to be heard. As you and I listen — really listen — to these stories, we’ll find the key to more harmonious relationships in families, in government, and among the nations of our world.