The Power of Listening

I was listening to one of the political talk shows the other one of those where the name of the show is the name of the host. The host of the show kept interrupting the guests to argue with them about points the guests were trying to make. Since he was the host he had the power to speak and the power to interrupt. They put up with the interruptions partly, I suspect, because he had the power to invite them to appear again, or not.

This show like our political discourse generally in this country is based on the power to speak; if you don’t have power you don’t get to speak often or to large audiences.  So we get powerful people talking at one another – talking past one another.  In what passes for conversation they seem to wait for the other to take a breath in order to be able to speak and to express a dissenting point of view often without regard to the content of the opinion just expressed by the other. It seems a given in our society that the persons that have the most power has the greatest right to speak.

But what good is speaking if no one sees any power, or any advantage in listening? The result of all this speaking with no one listening is that nothing changes and we get more and more polarized. And each side accuses the other of not being reasonable. (Which causes me to recall a sign my Dad had in his office that read “Be REASONABLE – do it MY way!” )

One the most transformative pieces in my life has been the evolution of my understanding of the power that comes in listening. When I was first ordained I believed I had to have answers to all the questions, and that my charge was to direct the lives people and of the church I was to serve. I quickly learned that people needed to have someone listen  far more than to direct them. And over the years I have found that the more and the better I listen the more influence I seem to have. Once people know they have been heard and their opinions valued they are better able to listen, to ponder another opinion, and even to change their mind.

Listening changes me as well as the other and by really listening  deeply I may find common ideas, ideals and values on which we can build a newer, stronger and better understanding. Listening also tends to turn enemies into colleagues and even to friends

There IS great power in listening – often more so than in speaking.


About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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