A Response to the Events in Ferguson, Missouri


As I have been following the reactions to the Grand Jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri, regarding the case of Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, my heart has been troubled. In my Facebook news feed, I hear the voices of liberals and conservatives, of Black and White (and Hispanic and Asian); I hear voices calling for peace, respect, and safety, and I hear voices crying out in anger, frustration, and sadness.IMG_0269

It is not my intention to respond to the Grand Jury decision; I know the members of that jury were privy to information that is not available to me, and I have to trust that they made the best decision given the information at their disposal. Neither is it my intention to criticize those who are protesting and calling for change and reform; I see that there are things within our society that are broken, that are not working as we think they should.

It is my intention to use my unique position, situated between people of different races and socio-economic status, to try to bring greater understanding to all sides of the issue and to find a way forward that encourages justice for all. There is more to the story of the social injustices in America, and we as a society need to hear it.

I recently read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, a book purportedly about success, which opened my eyes to how our current situation has been made possible when so many middle class Americans aren’t even aware. In the first chapter, Gladwell talks about the American belief in the “self-made man” and the triumph of personal determination and grit, and about how this perception of success is flawed.

In Outliers, I want to convince you that these kinds of personal explanations of success don’t work. People don’t rise from nothing. We do owe something to parentage and patronage. The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves. But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot. It makes a difference where and when we grew up. The culture we belong to and the legacies passed down by our forebears shape the patterns of our achievement in ways we cannot begin to imagine. It’s not enough to ask what successful people are like, in other words. It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t. (Outliers p. 18)

The rest of the book documents these assertions, and if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

IMG_6718I grew up in a middle class White household, which gave me certain privileges that I did not recognize for a long time. As I was growing up, my peers and I were taught not to think in racist terms; we have come to believe that the Civil Rights movement ended all racism and that now we are living in a racial utopia. However, recent events are revealing just how wrong we really are, and we are trying to wrap our minds around a reality we never were aware of. Sadly, many are in denial, but the number of recent incidents, and the protests and riots in Ferguson, should show us that it’s a real issue, not something made up. Privilege is not a bad thing, but it does give us a greater responsibility for righting the wrongs in our society.

Now is not a time for vengeance for all wrongs, real or perceived. Now is not a time to pretend these wrongs are all imagined. Now is not a time for rhetoric and political posturing. Now is not a time to wait for things to “blow over” so we can get back to business as usual.

The time has come for action and change, for the deliberate opening of opportunities to those who have been denied, for whatever reason. It is a time for increasing our awareness and understanding, to practice “connective listening” with those who have long felt unheard. By listening and understanding, we can begin to identify practical steps to heal racial divisions, first in the Church, then in our communities, and finally in our country and beyond.

The Power of Connective Listening


By Tasha M. Troy

I recently sat down with a friend for lunch. As we were catching up, I began to feel like I was being interrogated rather than participating in a conversation. I’m not saying my friend was intrusively firing questions at me; she was friendly and cheerful as she asked me about the various situations I’ve been facing. She was even asking some good open-ended questions. However, I ended up leaving the conversation feeling like I hadn’t actually been heard.IMG_6706

I suspect most people understand what it takes to show interest in others – remember what is important to the other person and ask open-ended questions – yet we still fail to connect on the deeper levels that each person craves. How is it that my friend did everything she was supposed to do and still left me feeling unheard?

In an earlier blog post, What if you’re wrong?, I introduced the four levels of listening described in the book Real Influence by Mark Goulston and John Ullmen. The first two levels are generally negative and should not be used if at all possible – avoidance (distracted) listening and defensive (reactive) listening.

The third level, problem-solving listening, is very practical and often effective when facts and reason are paramount. However, according to Goulston and Ullmen, “Level 3 listening, especially when matters are complex or emotionally charged, leaves too much room for misunderstanding” (p. 93).

As I pondered the experience with my friend, I realized that this was the level that she had engaged in. Her questions had me focusing on the facts of my circumstances, not the deeper meaning I am deriving from them or how I feel about them. To an extent, it felt as though she were working her way down a list of topics she had to cover and was less interested in actually hearing what I had to say about the topics.  I have to wonder how often I, too, take this approach in relationships – more often than is good, I suspect.

The highest level of listening, Level 4, is called “connective listening.” This is listening to understand and build rapport; your interest at this level is not even in solving a problem but to get underneath the surface of what the person is sharing. According to Goulston and Ullmen, “It’s listening without an agenda, because you’re not focused on responding or even on helping” (p. 94). Only after fully understanding the situation can solutions be explored.

IMG_6867Listening to another person at this level is a powerful way to build a relationship. Whether someone is simply sharing an experience or is venting, responding by asking for more information affirms the speaker and shows your concern for their feelings. It allows them to release all the negative emotions associated with the situation, and consequently they become better able to listen to you in return, further strengthening the relationship.

As I pondered which Biblical story to reference in relation to connective listening, I settled on one that may at first seem unorthodox – the case of King Solomon judging between two mothers who were both claiming a surviving child. We find the story of Solomon’s demonstration of wisdom in 1 Kings 3:16-28. Every teaching I have ever heard has pointed to Solomon’s divinely-sourced discernment, and I do believe God to be the source of wisdom and discernment.

However, when I read it again recently, I can see this is also a case of connective listening. While it isn’t explicitly stated in the Biblical narrative, I believe that the two women stated their cases in very different styles, and I believe that Solomon was able to hear not only the words of the two women but also their hearts. Can you imagine the tone of voice, the body language, the passion of the true mother when she opens her explanation by saying, “Oh, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house” (v. 17, emphasis mine)?   Can you hear the coldness and bitterness in the voice of the false mother as she says, “No, the living child is mine, and the dead child is yours” (v. 22)?

I was further struck by verse 23, in which Solomon simply summarizes the two women’s argument: Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son that is alive, and your son is dead’; and the other says, ‘No; but your son is dead, and my son is the living one.’” This very simple statement indicates that Solomon has practiced connective listening; he has heard what the two women said and understood the situation before making any moves to render a judgment that reveals what I suspect he understood from listening to them state their cases.

I believe that connective listening is a powerful tool. It may have the power to not only improve relationships but also to promote justice and mercy.


Take It Deeper

How much suffering can we alleviate simply by listening with open ears and open hearts to those around us? Who can you practice connective listening with today?

If you would like to go deeper on this topic, I hold free exploratory coaching sessions on Fridays.  You can register online at Troy Communications or email me to schedule an appointment at TMTroy@TroyCommunications.Net


Links and Resources:

Bible verses quoted from the English Standard Version (ESV)

YouTube Playlist of interview with Dr. Mark Goulston

Website for Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

Series of blog posts by Mark Goulston and John Ullmen based on the concepts in Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

72 Bible verses about listening

Why Is Listening So Hard?


Today I want to share with you two very short video clips featuring Dr. Mark Goulston, a business psychiatrist, author of Just Listen, and coauthor of Real Influence.  In these clips from an interview, he shares some observations about how well the average person listens and why people might not listen.

To Live A Well-Connected Life


My first year teaching in S. Korea was challenging in several ways. Not only did I have to adapt to a new culture and language environment, but I also had to adapt to a new student population. I had previously taught college-age international students in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, but that first year in Korea I found myself teaching classes to elementary school students.

St. Louis Botanical Garden

St. Louis Botanical Garden

On top of that, for most of my classes, the mothers of my students sat along the walls of the classroom observing the class. I did the best I could to deliver lessons that were full of content and language practice, but in the end students started leaving my classes because they were bored. In fact, my first teaching contract was not renewed for a second year, primarily because I failed to connect with my students.

As a young and fairly inexperienced teacher, my focus was on the content of my lessons. However, I needed to understand the specific needs and wants of the individual students in my class. For my elementary students, this was their need to have fun and play as well as learn English. By the time I moved to my third teaching position in Korea, working with mid-level managers in an international corporation, I finally began to understand the needs of my students well enough to connect with them in ways that led to their success and mine.

Until I learned to take the students’ perspectives into consideration, I was unable to connect with my students in ways that encouraged them to engage in the lessons I prepared. In their book Real Influence, John Ullmen and Mark Goulston identify a primary cause of disconnection as the “blind spot” in our brains. Because we naturally approach any issue from our own perspective, we fail to consider other perspectives, which creates a mental “blind spot.” They further describe four traps most people fall into when it comes to connecting and influencing others:

  1. the fight or flight response – “your nervous system … doesn’t know the difference between a Tyrannosaurus Rex and an tyrannical boss” leading you to either respond aggressively (fight) or avoid the situation (flight)
  2. the habit handicap – when stressed or challenged, we resort to our “comfort zone” of behaviors that have worked in the past, but which may not be best in the current circumstances
  3. error blindness – being wrong feels just like being right, and it isn’t until we realize our error that we can correct it
  4. the double curse of knowledge – even when you are right, you may find it difficult to explain what you find obvious to a less knowledgeable person.

I think I experienced all four when I moved to Korea!

Through trial and error I eventually learned how to connect with my students. However, I now recognize that John Maxwell has summed up these strategies of how to connect with others in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership:

  1. Connect with yourself – know who you are and be confident in your skills and abilities
  2. Know your audience – learn the goals, hopes, and dreams of the people you are working with
  3. Go to where they are – meet people in their circumstances, or as Ullmen and Goulston say, in “their there”
  4. Communicate with openness and sincerity – being transparent is essential to creating a connection
  5. Offer direction and hope – present the positive and optimistic view; there are enough negative voices in the world
  6. Live your message – practice what you preach and you can build credibility
  7. Focus on them, not yourself – show people you care about them and their circumstances
  8. Believe in them – encourage and support people, even at their lowest.

These guidelines have become the backbone of my teaching style.IMG_6764

Many of the Old Testament prophets failed to connect with the people of Israel and Judah, in part due to the nature of their messages of repentance, messages the people simply weren’t interested in hearing. However, a notable exception is Daniel who practiced connected influence as an advisor to the kings of Babylon and Persia.

  1.  Connect with yourself – Daniel had such a clear view of himself that he asked for an exception when given “the king’s delicacies” (Daniel 1:5, 8-16).
  2. Know your audience – when Daniel first approached the chief eunuch about his diet, he demonstrated a concern for the man’s predicament (Daniel 1:8-10).
  3. Go to where they are – Daniel suggested a 10-day trial of a vegetable diet to limit the risk to the chief eunuch (Daniel 1:12).
  4. Communicate with openness and sincerity – when Daniel came before Nebuchadnezzar to interpret his dream, he was clear that he didn’t have the interpretation because he was wiser than any other but because God had revealed it to him (Daniel 2:27-30).
  5. Offer direction and hope – when Daniel gave a negative interpretation for one of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams, he also gave counsel for how the king could avoid the coming personal disaster (Daniel 4:19-27).
  6. Live your message – when the lower government officials tried to discredit Daniel, they couldn’t find any opening to accuse him of wrongdoing (Daniel 6:4).
  7. Focus on them, not yourself – Daniel humbly served those set above him as well as those under his authority (Daniel 1:8-13; 2:14-18, 24-30, 49; 4:19, 27; 5:17; 6:1-3).
  8. Believe in them – Daniel consistently encouraged the best in the kings he served (Daniel 2:37-38; 4:19, 27; 6:21)

Connecting with others is an important step towards developing a sphere of influence. Daniel exerted a gentle influence upon the pagan kings of Babylon and Persia by connecting with the rulers of those countries. We, too, can exert a similar influence upon those in our sphere of influence if we follow his example and truly begin to connect with those around us.


Resources and Links

Interview with John C. Maxwell on the 700 Club talking about the Laws of Leadership

Communication Fundamentals course on Lynda.com, taught by John Ullmen

Website for Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

Series of blog posts by Mark Goulston and John Ullmen based on the concepts in Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

Sunday message by Pastor Jeff Abyad on the life of Daniel: Thriving in Captivity




Speaking to be Heard


Do you find yourself frustrated by a lack of influence?  Sound consultant and communications expert Julian Treasure shares his “Seven Deadly Sins of Speaking” – habits of communication that prevent others from hearing what we have to say – and gives his perspective on what makes more effective communication.

What if you’re wrong?


A few years ago I experienced a misunderstanding and miscommunication with a student.  I worked with her for a few months but couldn’t understand why she was resistant to my instruction and feedback.  It wasn’t until the mid-term that I realized my own misperceptions regarding this student.

photo-1I work hard to build a connection with my students, but not all students respond to my efforts, which I usually attribute to personality differences.  However, in this case it turned out that she had gotten the impression that I disliked her on a personal level, which quite upset me.  As the instructor, it was my responsibility to correct the situation, and once I did, the final few months were very positive with this student.  If I had maintained my perception of myself as concerned about my students and hadn’t been open to discovering and correcting the misconceptions, the outcome for this student would not have been as positive.

Kathryn Schulz, in her TED Talk “On being wrong,” points out that being wrong feels like being right – until we realize our mistake.  We often get so wrapped up in our own perspective that we don’t consider the possibility that a different perspective might give a clearer picture of the situation.  It is my observation that most disagreements seem to be over a question of perspective or priorities, and these are subjective.  You can only comprehend the bigger picture by listening to others, by understanding other perspectives.

Mark Goulston and John Ullmen, in their book Real Influence, argue that, in order to exert influence, you must also be influenceable, which means hearing out others’ perspectives and ideas.  They describe four levels of listening, in order of degree of connection:

  1. avoidance listening, or listening without giving your attention to the speaker
  2. defensive listening, or listening to respond
  3. problem-solving listening, or listening to accomplish a task
  4. connective listening, or listening to understand and build relationship

Goulston and Ullmen point out that if you are not willing to engage in connective (or conscious) listening, to hear others’ ideas and keep an open mind, your listeners are not likely to afford that consideration to you.  This doesn’t mean that you need to abandon your own ideas; according to Goulston and Ullmen, “it involves not surrendering our judgment, but suspending it.”  You cannot properly evaluate an idea before you’ve truly understood it, and this requires attentive, conscious, connective listening followed by the weighing of ideas to see to what extent, if any, you should adopt the new ideas.

In Acts 15, we have a Biblical example of this when the early church came together to decide a controversial issue – whether gentile Christians should keep the law of Moses.  To us today, this seems like an obvious issue – we are saved by grace, not by keeping the law (Eph. 2:8).  However, at the time, Christianity was considered to be a Jewish sect, not a separate religion, so the call to keep the law made sense to many of the Jewish Christians.  In Acts 15:6, “the apostles and elders came together to consider the matter.”  After much dispute, first Peter, then Barnabas and Paul spoke and testified to how they had seen God move among the gentiles.

The result was a decision by the church in Jerusalem not to require gentiles to follow the entire law but to only follow a few foundational restrictions.  If the early church had not listened to these three respected leaders with open minds and the intent to understand and maintain relationships, Christianity would likely have remained a sect of Judaism, but by being influenceable, the early church was able to come to the decision to honor the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law.

Goulston and Ullmen say that connective listening “transforms conflicts into fertile ground where new ideas can take root.”  Doesn’t this sound like what happened in the early church?  Isn’t this what we need to see happen in our communities and country today?  I encourage you to begin practicing conscious, connective listening with the people around you today.


Links and Resources:

Kathryn Schulz: On being wrong

Communication Fundamentals course on Lynda.com, taught by John Ullmen

Website for Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

Series of blog posts by Mark Goulston and John Ullmen based on the concepts in Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

72 Bible verses about listening

51 Bible verses about conflict resolution

64 Bible verses about reconciliation




The Labels We Adopt


While I was raised in a very conservative home, I inadvertently chose a career dominated by more liberal-minded people. It is probably not surprising that my friendships with colleagues with very different perspectives would influence my own views.

Jeju Island, South Korea

Jeju Island, South Korea

This was brought home to me in an unusual conversation I had with my parents about socks. You see, it has become important to me to use sustainable materials whenever possible, and I have become enamored of bamboo yarns and fabrics. When I told my parents about my bamboo socks, they teased me by saying I had “gone green,” with the implication that I was becoming liberal in my thinking.  What they didn’t realize was that bamboo socks were just the tip of the iceberg regarding my views on environmental issues, and their reaction showed me the extent to which, at least in that one area, my perspective of the world and the role of humans in it had shifted from that of my parents.

This is a very simple example that points to a larger issue: in my opinion, people today are very quick to apply or adopt labels, especially within families or among friends and colleagues, where they can be used to include or exclude members. However, I often find these labels to be inadequate as a method of describing or understanding a person. Additionally, these terms have very broad applications; depending on which field is under discussion, my own views might swing liberal or conservative.

However, when a person applies these labels to him- or herself, it can reveal how they see themselves and what values they hold. This allows others to catch a glimpse of what Stuart Diamond calls “the pictures in their mind,” or in other words, their perspective, goals, hopes, and fears. “One of the most common labels used deals with our political alliances. Research shows that there are significant differences between the values of liberals and conservatives. One of the tools that explains these differences, and increases understanding of each other’s meanings behind the labels they choose, is the research into morality and politics done by Dr. Jonathan Haidt.

In his 2008 TED Talk, Dr. Haidt describes five dimensions of morality, what he believes to be the basis of all human moral psychology. While I might not define “morality” in the same way he does, his talk provides a vocabulary for talking about social and political differences of opinion by focusing on five areas:

  1. Care/harm – to provide care and protect the weak from harm.
  2. Fairness/cheating – to provide justice and treat others in proportion to their actions.
  3. Loyalty/betrayal – to place priority on your family, community, or nation.
  4. Authority/subversion – to respect traditions and institutions of authority.
  5. Sanctity/degradation – to avoid disgusting items or acts.
Image from TED.com

Image from TED.com

Survey research indicates that liberals tend to emphasize the first two dimensions, care and fairness, above all, while conservatives tend to give equal importance to all five dimensions.  Dr. Haidt finishes his TED Talk as I would, with a call for liberals and conservatives to practice conscious listening and to work together.

This call for working together is one that needs to be not only repeated but also implemented. Whenever I chance to catch a bit of political talk shows from a conservative or a liberal perspective, I am not struck by how “correct” the speakers seem but by how engulfed in their own perspective they are. I believe the deadlock of Congress is due to this mindset. If we are going to truly achieve a meeting of the minds that can lead to solutions to the many problems facing our country, we need to start by recognizing that those who think differently from us have a system of logic to support their position, a system that makes sense. According to Pastor Bill Shuler, God often uses people who are different from us, first to impact us and help us grow, and second to impact others that we cannot reach ourselves. We need each other, no matter how different. If we cannot first recognize this, we will have no chance of finding joint solutions.

We are charged by the Bible to pursue justice, to act as stewards of the resources we’ve been given, and to strive for Christian unity.  These are issues that will need all perspectives – the liberal, the conservative, the libertarian, the moderate – to find creative solutions.  It is time to start practicing conscious listening, to work on understanding the points of view of all sides, not to insulate ourselves from disagreement, in order to generate creative solutions to the problems that plague our nation.  Only by understanding what each other values, and moving beyond labels, will we be able to fulfill these Biblical mandates.


*Note: I realize that bamboo is not the best sustainable material, requiring large amounts of processing in order to make it into yarn or fabric. I still find it a very interesting fabric.


Links and Resources

Stuart Diamond speaking at Google about the concepts in his book Getting More.

Jonathan Haidt: The moral roots of liberals and conservatives

Moral Foundations Questionnaire: If you are curious to find your position on these five dimensions of morality and how you compare to other readers of this blog (including myself), you can take a quiz at YourMorals.org.

Scholarly paper on Moral Foundations Theory

66 Bible verses about justice

73 Bible verses about stewardship

74 Bible verses about unity





Blessed are the Peacemakers: Dealing with Conflict


When I was still living and working overseas, I had a bit of a conflict with a coworker.  She taught the class right after me, and she started coming into my

Bundang Central Park

Bundang Central Park

classroom before I was finished with my class.  I decided to deal with this privately in the office, and I asked her not to do it anymore as it was disruptive when I was trying to wrap up my class.  She responded by verbally attacking me and declaring that she didn’t need to stop, that she had the right to enter that room to start getting set up.  However, despite her response to my request, she did in fact stop entering my classroom before I dismissed my students, and we were able to continue working together peacefully.

I personally hate conflict, but I have come to realize that there are times when addressing issues is necessary, regardless of whether it leads to conflict or not.  There are some who revel in conflict and find ways to instigate it whenever possible, but I believe most people fall in the middle, dealing with conflict as it arises but neither dreading nor enjoying it.  However, it seems to me that most people don’t handle conflict as effectively as they could.

Ken Thomas and Ralph Kilmann developed a theory of conflict handling which identifies five distinct styles:

  1. competitive – I must win this argument
  2. compromising – Let’s meet in the middle
  3. avoiding – I’d rather not deal with this
  4. accommodating – You can have it your way
  5. collaborative – Let’s see if we can find a creative solution

Each style has it’s merits and drawbacks, and there are situations where each might be the preferred approach.  A first step in improving your own approach to conflict is understanding which style is your default.  For example, my default is to avoid the conflict; I don’t believe every disagreement is worth confronting.  However, I have learned that a delay in dealing with an issue usually makes the situation worse, and I am still learning how to recognize sooner when it is important to deal with something head-on.

Wherever the Bible speaks of reconciliation, it is addressing broken relationships, not the resolution of disagreements.  In my experience, it is impossible to fully agree with someone on all points; there will always be some measure of disagreement, but this is not necessarily a bad thing.  Differing perspectives are necessary for creativity to flourish and for assumptions to be challenged.  When there is a difference of opinion, you are forced to explain your position more explicitly, leading to clearer thinking and better decisions.

There is much that has been written about dealing with conflict – a quick Google search brings up over 65 million results in under one second!  However, I have found three keys to resolving conflict and living with differences of opinion in my own life.

1.  Humility.  This is the number one most important element of successful conflict resolution, which is why I think so many conflicts remain unresolved or even escalate.  Someone has to take the first step toward resolution, and that step requires setting aside your sense of fairness.  Just remember – conflict is not fair for anyone.

2.  Conscious listening.  Another key reason many conflicts go unresolved is because people get too caught up in their own perspectives and refuse to consider the other side’s point of view.  Very often, both sides have valid points that need to be recognized and taken into consideration.

3.  Creative problem solving.  If the particular conflict under consideration does not allow for “agreeing to disagree,” and compromise is distasteful at best, then a collaborative approach is necessary.  This approach requires honesty and openness from both sides, as well as a release of preconceptions and a willingness to think outside the box.  Finding a solution in this way is usually time consuming, but ultimately the result garners greater buy-in from all involved.

Conflict is inevitable.  How we approach a conflict determines the extent the conflict can be constructive or destructive.  If you value the relationship, consider the three points above the next time you find yourself in a dispute.


Links and Resources

22 Bible verse about peacemakers

51 Bible verses about conflict resolution

64 Bible verses about reconciliation

Conflict Resolution: Resolving Conflict Rationally and Effectively

An article that explains the five conflict handling styles as well as the “Interest Based Relational Approach” to dealing with conflict, an approach based on the concepts of the book Getting to Yes by authors Roger Fisher, William L. Ury, and Bruce Patton

Check out these previous blog posts for more on my thoughts on:

humility – The Power of Gentleness

conscious listening – Reclaiming the Art of Listening

creative problem solving – The Value of Diversity






Reclaiming the Art of Listening


When I was living in S. Korea, I made a point of learning the language and using it whenever I had the opportunity.  However, more than once, I walked into a shop and asked a question in (relatively) good Korean only to be answered by the wide-eyed shop keeper with a hand up in a “stop” gesture and “So-ree.  No En-guh-lish-ee.”  And that was the end of the conversation.

Jeju Island, S. Korea

Jeju Island, S. Korea

After this happened two or three times, I finally figured out the problem – the shopkeepers heard the language that they expected to hear.  They were not actively listening to the words coming out of my mouth, so when they saw my white face, they assumed I would speak English.   I adjusted my approach to start off with a Korean greeting in order to “warm up the ears” of the shopkeeper, which worked beautifully.

Let me repeat the problem I experienced:  People hear what they expect to hear.

Admittedly, the case I have just related is an extreme example (though absolutely true); however, my observations indicate that we hear what we expect to hear, not necessarily what was actually said, especially when we are not actively and consciously listening.  I see this with my students time after time, and I’ve even seen it happen with friends and family.  Many times my students tell me they couldn’t focus on what a speaker said because they were distracted by their own opinions and views on the topic or by their perceptions of the speaker.  Our biases interfere with our ability to listen accurately.

Julian Treasure, a sound and listening expert, calls these “filters,” which most often unconsciously determine where we place our listening attention, and so determine our sense of reality.  In his TED Talk “Five Ways to Listen Better,” he references culture, language, values, beliefs, attitudes, expectations, and intentions as filters that can interfere with listening.  It seems to me that this encompasses just about all of the essentials of life!

So how can we ever begin to understand people with whom we disagree?

Julian Treasure uses the term “conscious listening,” which is the idea of being intentional in listening.  Dr. Athena Staik describes five attributes of conscious listening:

  • Train your mind to listen with an open heart
  • Be an empathic presence
  • Give empathic responses
  • Be accepting and not judgmental
  • Use clarifying questions

Of course, these things are very difficult to do when you are speaking with someone approaching the issue from a very different perspective.  Another strategy is one employed in marriage counseling called the Speaker-Listener technique.  This strategy is characterized by a focus on understanding, not agreement, and has the goal of intentional, conscious listening.

These sources have one key element in common – effective conscious listening does not happen when we are focused on our own position, our own ideas, our own “rightness.” Conscious listening requires both parties to view the situation from the other’s perspective.  This is what makes listening an art.  Empathy, kindness, integrity, trustworthiness, a willingness to suspend reactions – these are keys to open communication, and it starts with listening.  Focus on the heart of what people are saying rather than on the words used to express those ideas, and ask questions to clarify when the words make the message unclear.

The fact is that the Bible has a lot to say about listening; one website lists 72 scriptures that talk about listening!  One of my favorites has always been James 1:19, which says that we should be quick to listen and slow to speak.  Another relevant verse is Proverbs 18:13, which says that it is foolish (or destructive to relationships) to answer a matter before listening.  What these scriptures emphasize to me is that listening is an essential skill in building and maintaining relationships.  In my experience, when people feel they are being listened to, they feel accepted and loved.  This is an essential key if we are to have an impact in our culture, if we are going to be responsive to God’s call to share His love with a broken world.

Just think, how could our lives and our communities be transformed if we simply began practicing conscious listening?  


Links and Resources:

Julian Treasure, free online Sound Affects! course

Dr. Athena Staik, Psych Central, “Five Attributes of Conscious Listening” article 

The PREP Program, Speaker-Listener Technique, presentation slides

 72 Bible verses about listening, website