Communication is two-way. That’s what the “co” at the beginning means. Its definition is the sharing of information between two or more people, not the one-directional imparting of information.

Unfortunately, we live in a society in which a lot of time and energy is spent on trying to get a message across. We’re bombarded with television and radio ads that “communicate” the sponsor’s pitch in the cleverest possible way. Sometimes we may want to talk back at the ad, but there’s no way to do that. When the commercials are over, we relax and enjoy the program, which, ironically, may be a “talk show.” Have you ever heard of a “listening show”?

Out of curiosity, I looked up UCLA’s course offerings for a major in Communications. I found twenty-three distinct areas of emphasis, including: Persuasion, Linguistics, Forensics, Journalism, Animal Communication, Mass Media, Decoding Media Strategies, Marketing, Political Communication, Freedom of Speech and the Press. THERE IS NO UCLA COURSE ON LISTENING!

In my computer browsing, I found entries on Corporate Communication, which is part of the structure of all modern businesses. One informative site defined corporate communications as: “The way in which businesses and organizations communicate with internal and external various audiences. These audiences commonly include: customers and potential customers, employees, key stakeholders, the media and general public, government agencies and other third party regulators.”* I’m struck by the repeated use of the word “audience.” How many times have I been talking to my wife, rather than with my wife? Is she just my audience? The online article goes on to list “Required Skills for Corporate Communicators” as: writing skills, public speaking skills, communicating with data, research and critical thinking, technical skills. THERE IS NO MENTION OF LISTENING SKILLS.

As Christian believers, we sense a responsibility to “share the Gospel” with others. Evangelists and missionaries feel especially called to do this. Often, the anxiousness to “share” what we believe to be true keeps us from hearing the “truth” of the person we’re trying to reach. Maybe we need a new understanding of the “co” in communicating our faith.

There is a verse in the Bible that says a lot in a few words (Now, that’s communication!):

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. (James 1:19)

Unlike the UCLA course listings or the website on Corporate Communications, THE BIBLE PUTS LISTENING FIRST.

Of course, this is important in our relationship with God. Before we start babbling on in our prayers about all the things we need or want, we should LISTEN to him, as he’s revealed his thoughts, his will, his values in the Scriptures and in Creation. Similarly, we would do much better in all our communication — with our marriage partner, our children, our neighbors and our co-workers — if we focused on LISTENING, rather than on telling our side of the story.

A successful therapist once told me about her best advice to couples who have lost their ability to talk to each other without immediately falling into an argument. When the wife expresses a complaint or a negative feeling, the husband should not respond until he can restate, in his own words, what he heard her saying. Only when she is satisfied that he heard what she was truly saying is he allowed to give an answer in response. It’s a great plan, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to pull it off successfully in real conversations with Judy. I’m not a good enough LISTENER. I need to keep repeating that Bible verse to my yakkity-yak self: “George, be quick to listen, slow to speak.” Once in a while I bite my tongue in time.

— Pastor George Van Alstine