CAREFULLY cultivating the practice of good listening—really paying attention to what is being said, no matter who is saying it—is one of the best shortcuts for a church leader who seeks to accumulate current information that is pertinent. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that persons in leadership positions often are poor listeners, largely for these reasons:
1. The person speaking to them is a subordinate.
2. They think of other things while a person is talking.
3. They talk too much themselves.
4. They don't hear a person out. Listening is hard work. It is hard physical work and it requires a great deal of mental effort. You don't sit back and listen to something important; you sit up and pay attention to what is being said. Good listening must be cultivated. Many men stop their climb halfway up the ladder because somewhere along the way they ceased to pay close attention to what they were hearing.
Leaders constantly come in contact with a great variety of intelligent, well-educated, and experienced men and women in the professions. These are capable people, and a little time taken to draw them out and listen will help the good listener to acquire pertinent information in capsule form. When you associate with people who are moving ahead, experimenting, brainstorming new ideas, you are helping yourself to move ahead—if you listen to and absorb what they tell you. And likewise, your work responsibility will benefit. Incidentally, it has been demonstrated that a subordinate usually does his job much better when he has a superior who takes the time to really listen to his ideas and suggestions, and who encourages him to speak up anytime he has something constructive to say.
Good listening is enhanced by the ability to ask leading questions. The answers we really want to hear come more often when we phrase questions indicating the direction we want the answer to take. But this is not wise. In some matters people don't like to be pinned down. A carefully phrased question approach gives them freedom of movement and usually will result in a helpful reply. "How do you feel about . . . ?" is a good way to begin.
When a person is answering a question, particularly if he is giving a technical-type answer, you can encourage him by nodding occasionally to show that you are getting what he is saying, and by interrupting him at appropriate times when something is not quite clear. Don't let him continue on without interruption when he is completely above you, nor should you let him waste your time with long-winded talk that obviously is elementary. A bit of tactful interruption in either case may save the day.
There is no such thing as a professional listener. But some people must be expert listeners; their very work depends on it. Reporters and writers, psychologists and psychiatrists, and certainly ministers— those who must be adept at interviewing —all must be good listeners. Not only that, they must be able to gather and absorb a large amount of information in a comparatively short period of time.
This ability in a leader, developed and refined, no matter what rung of the ladder he is on, is not merely good business, it is good public relations. Many problems could be solved in their budding if there were a bit more listening and a little less telling. A wag has put it this way: "You'll find plenty of profit in letting your ears do a lot of work before your mouth takes over."