Of course, they immediately come up with the first two—reading and writing. I nod . . . and wait. They stare. Then one student, usually with a furrowed brow, remembering that they often have to get up in front of the room and present, will tentatively raise his or her hand and venture a guess . . . speaking? Yes. Speaking.
At that point, however, there are no more guesses. Not even the logical ones who see that if someone writes something, then another person must read it can come up with the fourth. If someone says something, then there must be someone to . . . ? Listen.
Listening is the fourth Language Art and it is the most forgotten, and yet, think about it. It too is something that needs to be learned and practiced. When we teach the students the fifth habit in Sean Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood,” (based on his father’s––Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) we talk about the eight default listening modes. Covey lists them as follows:
Spacing Out (not listening at all)
Pretend Listening (inserting words, “uh huh,” “really?” “neat” so the other person thinks we are listening.)
Selective Listening (listening for a word or phrase which offers us the opportunity to talk about ourselves or about what we want to talk about)
Word Listening (listening only to the words and not to the body language, the feelings, or the true meaning behind the words.)
Self-centered listening (listening and filtering only from our point of view and experience)
Judging (judging what the other person says or even the person as we listen)
Advising (being predisposed to giving unsolicited advice from our point of view)
Probing (trying to get the other person to share feelings or thoughts before he or she is ready)
I bet every one of us practices each of these. It just depends on the situation and person.
According to Covey, Genuine Listening is listening with “your eyes, heart, and ears.” Watch the body language, feel the emotion, hear the words. The purpose is to understand both what is said and what is not said. It means walking in another person’s shoes. It does not mean agreeing with the person, but desiring to truly understand.
No doubt our human relationships would improve immeasurably if we practiced Genuine Listening, but by the same token I bet our relationship with God would improve as well.
For how often do we Space out? Pretend? Judge? Or . . . one that Covey never even mentions––an arms crossed, mouth tight, downright refusal to listen? Or do we really listen with our eyes? Our heart? And our ears? Do we genuinely listen to what He has to say to us? Yes reading, writing, and speaking are all invaluable skills, but then so is listening. Perhaps even more so, for why would James say in James 1:19: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak . . . .”