Proverbs 18:13 says, “He who answers before listening, that is his folly and shame.” One major obstacle to being a good listener is assuming we know what the speaker means by what he is saying. We then assign our own interpretation to the words we hear, thinking (or acting as if) we understand what is truly being said. This manner of “listening” will lead to trouble. Sometimes our assumptions are accurate, but more often they are not. Answering based on assumptions leads to communication that is not productive and, therefore, to difficulty in relationships. Exchanges like this are all too common:
“You are not listening to me!”
“What do you mean I am not listening to you! I heard what you said, and I don’t like it one bit.”
Here is one effective strategy for combating unhelpful assumptions. Repeat back to the speaker what you think you heard them say and mean. If you have listened faithfully, you should be able to recount what the other person said so that the speaker confirms that you have accurately heard the intention behind his or her words. This does not necessarily mean that you agree with the speaker; however, the speaker can know that, at the least, you have clearly understood what was said.
So, to test whether or not you have heard correctly you might say something like this:
“This is what I understood from what you just said. Is that what you meant or did I misunderstand?”
Then, if you have not heard correctly, you need to continue to listen until the person you are hearing can say, “Yes, that is exactly what I meant.”
As I said, you might still disagree with what was said, but you have demonstrated that you are really interested in understanding. It is important not to be argumentative or challenging when asking for clarification. Your concern must be genuine. Humility is key. Listen to what Paul says in Philippians 2:3-4:
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
If your teenager or spouse or middle schooler really believes you consider them more significant than yourself, your attempts to clarify what is said will go a long way toward building loving, humble and effective communication. This will strengthen your relationships and God will be honored.