The Pulse: Flipping it on its Head

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Express. Announce. Share. Tell. Speak. Explain. Expound.

Do these sound like synonyms for communicate to you? When we talk about someone being a good communicator (or a bad communicator, for that matter), it seems like these are usually the things we’re referring to.

But what if this is not primarily how we’re supposed to evaluate, or be evaluated? These are all externally focused — they describe the way we send communication out. They’re missing a huge component of the communication equation.

How about listen?

There is a repeated emphasis in the Bible about receiving communication. Most of us likely recognise James 1:19. When I watch people angrily talk past each other, it seems that this still feels second-best.

Likewise, when we talk about strong leadership, we usually mean bravado, boldness and authority. Someone who’s willing to take charge, say it like it is, call a spade a spade, etc., etc.

In the face of that, listening sounds weaker. Practically wimpy. It can imply we don’t have our own thoughts, our own perspectives — that we’re relying on other people to set our agenda, or dictate our terms.

On one hand, that’s not always a terrible idea; Jesus was clear that to follow him, we must consistently lower our own status — to die to our selves.

On the other, it reveals that we clearly have some room to grow in the way we think about listening.

Listening doesn’t mean either accepting or rejecting other people’s ideas or perspectives. Rather, listening gives us the tools to understand the problem.

Listening is strength.

In the discipline of nonviolent communication, the ultimate goal is to identify a need. It takes wading through a whole lot of murk — blame and subterfuge and wishes and wants — before we begin to arrive an actual, actionable need. This principle can work at every level, from weighty-but-delicate international diplomacy, to intrapersonal communication — the way each of us talks to ourselves.

Needs are not self-evident.

We don’t wear them on our sleeve. We hide them because they are what make us vulnerable. Exposing a need offers people the most direct way to hurt us. Either by ignoring the need. Or worse, by intentionally attacking it.

As a result, we often we keep our needs so well protected that we aren’t even able to articulate them, even to ourselves. But it’s only when we understand all the needs at stake, even when they appear contradictory, that we can begin to design solutions. In fact, therapists are telling us that we feel stronger and less anxious when we’ve divulged our needs to each other, even if they’re ignored, than we do if we keep them bottled up afraid of how people react if they knew.

Listening is power.

Listening is the formation of relationship, of successful negotiation and of understanding. Listening can unbind the layers of self-protection, of anger, jealousy, hurt, regret and anxiety that accompany a need. Listening connects people.

Listening makes an ‘us’.

And makes that us strong.