Quick to listen, slow to speak

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)

There are many times in which I find myself in a conversation where the other person has said something to me that I find hurtful or unfair. My natural response is to get defensive and want to argue back, to prove that the other person is wrong and that I am right. However, my natural response does not usually result in deeper understanding and a closer connection. Rather, it usually ends up in raised voices, hurt feelings, and emotional distance. Can anyone relate? Isn’t there a better way?

The passage from James that is listed above spells out a better solution: be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. What if, instead of responding to a hurtful or unfair comment with arguing, we instead acknowledged to ourselves and to God that we are feeling hurt, but decided to courageously press in for understanding instead of arguing? What if, instead of saying “well this is how I feel…” we said something like this:

Tell me more about why you feel that way.

Help me better understand where you are coming from.

What do you need from me right now?

What is making this situation so difficult or stressful for you?

What are you most concerned about right now?

Perhaps if we chose to listen a bit longer before choosing to speak (especially if it is out of anger), then we might come to a better understanding of why the other person feels or thinks the way that they do. Maybe, as we listen carefully and communicate what we have heard (or press for a better understanding), the other person might feel heard and feel like we care. And just maybe, this would soften the tension and lead to a more productive conversation when the time is finally right for us to open our mouth and share our perspective.

Relationships are hard, but we often make them harder by responding in anger and escalating an already difficult situation. But God gives us a better way – be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. The next time you are in such a situation, why not try using some of the sentences listed above, and then really listen and seek to understand.

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