Benefits for leaders who are quick to listen:
Leaders who are slow to speak and quick to listen have time to respond thoughtfully—instead of reacting—protecting leaders from rash and regretful words and actions. (See James 3:7-12).
Benefits for the community where leaders are quick to listen:
Allowing others to finish their thoughts communicates respect and gives less aggressive talkers the space they need to participate in conversations. This in turn creates a more hospitable and collaborative environment for problems to get solved and new ideas to blossom and grow.
Biblical inspiration and support:
The book of James gives us this direction:
“19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19–20, ESV).
Later we read the author’s very sober view of the power of our words:
“7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” (James 3:7–12, ESV).
Let’s take a moment and let that sink in.
Every kind of beast can be tamed, but not the tongue?
It’s a restless evil?
Our tongue is full of deadly poison?
Can you think of some words you’ve spoken in the last week that have caused harm? I can, and I only have to think of yesterday.
Then James continues to explain the phenomenon that salt and fresh water do not pour forth from the same spring. If we want to bless, we ought not curse.
As uncomfortable as it is, we leaders need to be reminded of the power of our words. It might be tempting to make excuses that we are tired or overwhelmed and our words just flow without much thought. Perhaps that is why James advises being slow to speak.
If we are concerned we may say things we will regret, the book of James offers this advice: be quick to listen. It suggests having our go-to posture be listening instead of reacting.
Being slow to speak gives us time to listen, consider and then respond instead of reacting. This helps us be less likely to become angry. Anger sometimes results from assumptions, whereas listening and asking questions can help us really understand.
If this conversation is making you feel uncomfortable, let me point out that leaders typically spend much more time learning to speak and write well than to listen or read well. Both sets of skills are required for effective communication. Many of us have not been trained in how to listen but it is definitely worth the time to invest in learning to listen well.
This illustration was contributed by a friend:
“As a Chaplain in the jail, it is my job to listen. There are many who desire a conversation, a person to share their worries and hear their story. As the time allotted slowly runs out there are the quiet ones who look longingly for a glance their way. How easy it would be to leave with just a smile and wave. But that is not what the Holy Spirit is calling me to do. You sit. You wait. Their story often starts confusing because of all they need to say. How I want to finish sentences and offer a quick conclusion to their story! But it's in the patient listening you come to hear their heart where Jesus longs to minister.” How powerful it is to be reminded what the Lord does in the hospitable space created when we listen.
Practice “slow to speak” phrases.
Take some time to think of times you feel pressured to speak, especially when it goes poorly. What are some other ways to respond? How could you be slow to speak in that situation? How could you be quick to listen?
Here are some suggestions to get your brainstorming started:
“I am not sure, I will get back to you.”
“Thank you, you’ve given me something to consider.”
“I’m not prepared to engage in this conversation right now, let’s schedule another time.”
A final word:
Leaders who are quick to listen create hospitable space for people to ask questions, point out problems, and suggest new ideas.
Comment: What helps you to be quick to listen?
Hi! I'm Jeri Howe.
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