Have you ever had someone talking to you and then realize when they finish that you virtually heard nothing they said? Or being asked if you took care of something but not even remember being asked? Or talk with someone about a matter yet they hear something completely different from what you said? You have probably had all of those experiences and possibly others when for one reason or another, communication failed.
It is frustrating for important information to be missed leading to something not happening the way it was planned. This affects our job, our family, our marriage, our friendships, and our faith. Jesus said that His sheep know His voice and they follow Him because they know His voice. My wife has said to me that early in our relationship she could speak in a crowded room and I could hear her voice anywhere in that room. Now she says she can sit right beside me and a I don’t hear anything she says. I think she is exaggerating on both parts, but there is also a tinge of truth.
Why do we struggle to listen at times? Why do we miss important information? Why do people speak to us, especially those we love, and we miss part or all of it? I think there are several reasons why we do not hear what is being said. This is not a discussion on the differences between hearing and listening, but before we can listen intently enough to decide what someone meant, we first have to hear clearly enough to even start that process. Here are four reasons that cause us not to hear what is being said.
We Have Already Decided
As a pastor I see this happen frequently right in a church service. For example, someone comes to the stage at the time when the offering is typically taken. Some people in the room think they know what is going to be said so they immediately tune out the person talking. This person on stage may tell an important story about how someone’s life has been affected or they may make an announcement that people need to hear, but because we have already decided “they are going to take the offering” we listen to nothing else they say. How do I know this happens? Because some people start talking as soon as that person enters the stage. Other people get frustrated because they missed an event or someone tells a story about something that happened in the church and they say they did not know anything about it. The problem was they did not listen.
This happens in every place of our lives. We think we know what our spouse is going to say because we think things like “here we go again”. We think we know what our boss is going to say so we start before listening and miss an important change to a process. Don’t just assume you know what someone is going to say. Take the time to hear it, even if you have heard it before.
We Have Something More Urgent Going On
All of us have things going on in our lives and some of them are urgent. Some of those things are tragic, painful, exciting or joyous. There are times when something going on elsewhere in our lives overtakes the person directly in front of us. For example, if you are having trouble in your marriage, when you go to work, that urgent matter often overrides everything that is going on around you. When we have stressful things going on at work, it can cause us to miss things our spouse or children are saying to us because those stressful things dominate our thoughts. It does not matter what someone else says if we are thinking about something completely different while they are talking to us. If this is a one on one conversation, it would do us well to share this with them so they do not waste their time and we do not miss something important.
We Are Just Too Distracted
Most of us carry the number one distraction tool known to man around in our pocket: a smartphone. Every single day new things are being added to those devices to take more of our time and our mental capacity. No matter how nimble our brain, we all have limited brain power. Our capacity to pay attention and take in what is being said is a limited resource. We have names and diagnoses for people who struggle with paying attention but the problem is not getting better. Our senses are constantly being stimulated with something new going on and those distractions limit our ability to hear and to comprehend. Learning to manage those distractions will help us hear more and miss less of the important things we need to hear.
We Know Better Than They Do
We all believe we are good at something. We know more about certain things than other people. Truthfully, everyone is a “10” at something. If we know what our “10” is, we will struggle to listen to what anyone has to say about that topic. Success in any area of life will tempt us to tune out advice or instruction in that area. Why? Because we think we know better than they do. When we believe our idea or our way is better, we will limit our hearing about that subject. I have been in rooms where I knew I was more qualified than the person speaking and the tendency is to shut them off. What we need to remember is that we can learn something from everyone, even if we believe we know more than they do.
With a little intention, most of these obstacles to hearing can be overcome. Listening better can be life-changing. I encourage you to work at hearing what others are saying. You will miss less and grow more.