Two ears but only one mouth

In my daily study today I came across an interesting quote from an ancient Greek philosopher, Epictetus, from the 1st century AD:

“Nature has given us two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”    — Epictetus

This got me thinking about the skill of listening and how I’ve discovered over my years how important it is and how difficult it is to master. I think it is fairly intuitive that listening is important; after all we spend the first 18 years of our life in school listening to facts and knowledge. It is almost tragically ironic that while I’ve been taught and mastered the skill of listening to facts, listening to people is an entirely different experience and skill set that I did not understand until just the last couple of years. Once I recognized its importance and my lack of skill, I felt like a blind man seeing for the first time. Quickly I could see my relationships across the board in a whole new and much more meaningful way.

There is a popular book written by Stephen Covey, an acclaimed businessman and teacher, titled “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” One of the habits in his list is the skill of listening that is summarized in the headline:

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Everyone must learn to master this skill for themselves and the importance of mastering it is an undeniable truth. It is an imperative that requires and demands my attention and effort. It is important enough that Solomon also spoke of it in Proverbs:

He who gives an answer before he hears,
It is folly and shame to him.       Proverbs 18:13

The reasons to master listening to people are broad and reaching. Fundamentally, listening tells the other person that they are worthy and important to be listened to. The quickest way to literally turn off someone’s mental switch is to stop listening to them; trust me I know this from extensive experience. But listening is not just about sitting there nodding your head, although helpful is not a complete application of the skill. Showing someone they have been heard requires feedback that understanding is achieved. One technique that I use to get this across is after listening to someone I ask the question, “Let me see if I understand what you’re saying is…..” and then I provide a brief explanation of what that is. That is just one method of a long list too long to enumerate.

As a guy, one of the things that I had to set aside was a “fix it” mode that was always engaged. Listening and fixing is the right approach in some settings but it is a really, REALLY bad idea to apply it in all circumstances. Setting that mode aside is important for the simple reason that a true sense of self as an adult, a mature person, is that I can solve MY problems in life. One method that is very effective to that goal is talking something through with another person that is a genuine and empathetic listener. I have come to find for myself that a truth I discover is stronger than a truth told and a lot of discovery happens in the course of talking and listening.

What is needed to be an effective listener and help for other people is going to be unique to all of us. The mastery is a life long endeavor but a journey that is well worth the time and effort.

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About Steve Ledford
Christian, husband, father, businessman, engineer, and all around regular guy. I have travelled some uncommon paths in life. Over the course of time I have found that truth is always simple, without exception. My life's purpose is to find it, live it, and speak it.

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