I have taught numerous classes on the art of listening. I have taught those classes at our church – for Stephen Ministry – and for Quick Start.
Quick Start is a function of the Georgia Department of Labor. To encourage companies to move into, or expand in, Georgia, Quick Start will provide free training for the newly hired employees. In addition to their required job skills, we include topics that would help them deal with customers, management, and other employees.
Listening is an art. Hearing is a natural ability – for most of us. Listening is an art for all of us.
One of the groups I’ve taught are employees of Hamilton Relay in Albany, Georgia. Their job was to accept calls from people with hearing impairments and relay the information to whomever the caller was trying to reach. They would read what the deaf person wanted (the hearing impaired used keyboards to communicate) and recite it to the person called. They would then have to listen very carefully to the speaking person and type it word for word (EXACTLY) so the deaf person could read the response.
That is one of the most difficult job skills I can imagine. Listening is extremely difficult. (Men! Take note. Here is what you can tell your wife!)
The human brain is capable of hearing and understanding more than 250 words per minute. The average speaker talks at a rate of 150 words per minute. Thus, the brain has free time.
During that free time, we might find ourselves grabbing onto a word or phrase that we hear and begin formulating our response, or it might remind us of something we forgot to do. A word or phrase might even bring back a long repressed memory that causes us to get angry. We may begin to stifle thoughts that make us feel uncomfortable. We may…
Do you see what just happened? We stopped listening.
In one ear and out the other is hearing. Getting the sound to stop at the brain and be processed is listening. As soon as we begin to process more than what we are hearing, we are no longer listening.
Like I said, listening is an art and a very difficult one to master. One must truly work at it.
In Stephen Ministry we practice what is called reflective or active listening. Instead of simply sitting and soaking up what the talker is saying, we interrupt (shameful!) from time to time and paraphrase what the person has said. We begin by saying something like, “Let me make sure I understand you correctly.” Then we tell the person what we think we heard.
That does two things. First and foremost, it lets the person know that we truly are paying total attention to him or her. Second, it allows them to correct us if we didn’t get it right.
So, what does all this have to do with a beach?
When I stop listening to anything and allow my mind to wander, I call it “Going to the beach.” I’ve heard others refer to it as “Going to the mountains.” In any case, anytime our brains wander away from whatever, we have gone away. Notice I didn’t say we have gone astray, we have simply gone someplace else.
I often do that while watching television. My bride will ask me what I think of something that was said on the news or what I think will happen based on the latest evidence uncovered by the CSI group, and I have no idea what she’s talking about. I was at the beach.
If you don’t mind, I think I’ll head that way now.