The practice of listening

April 06, 2017

One of the fundamental practices of leadership is listening. 
One of the fundamental practices of building and being a community is listening.
One of the fundamental practices in career and life planning and discernment of one’s individual call and purpose is…yes, you guessed it: listening.
Listening is crucial in our relationship with God, in living an authentic life, in being part of a vibrant, healthy community, and in leading anyone or anything. But the truth is, we generally aren’t very good at it. Maybe you have fallen into one of these common habits:
Positional listening: We listen to confirm what we already know. We either hear what we want to hear or quickly move to blocking what doesn’t fit and take a “positional stance.”
Distracted listening: We are distracted listeners, thinking about what happened at work today, what we need to get at the store for dinner, or what’s on the TV in the next room—or we’re just plain zoned out because “We’ve heard this all before” or we don’t want to hear what we think might be said.
Impatient listening: We are in a hurry, so we give short amounts of time to a listening situation because we’ve got something else to do or someplace else to be. We show up inattentively, and at a pace that doesn’t support deep listening.
Even if you never fall into any of the bad habits that I’ve listed above, I believe that most of us are not listening to our potential. Have you heard about certain tribes of South Pacific Islanders who can sail for 1,000 miles over open ocean and under complete cloud cover—with no sun, moon, or stars—and know exactly where they are by listening to the kind of waves beneath their rafts?

Gregg Levoy in his book Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life shares that example, along with the story of Gordon Hempton, creator of the Emmy Award-winning PBS documentary The Vanishing Dawn Chorus. Hempton followed his call, recording the sounds of nature as dawn rose around the world. He developed such refined listening skills that he can listen to a recording of wind in the pines and tell you the length of the pine needles.

Gordon Hempton wasn’t always a great listener. Earlier in his career, while working as a bicycle messenger, he was struck by cars on several occasions and it literally “hit him” with the necessity of growing his listening skills! So, listening takes practice.

I am embarking on a listening tour of my own, reaching out to talk with clergy and lay leaders about leadership development in the Minnesota Conference. Please let me know if you’d like to talk, and I’ll practice listening!

How are you regularly practicing listening?

  • How are you listening to God?
  • How are you listening to and discerning your call?
  • How are you listening to each other within your church community?
  • How are you listening to each other in your family?
  • How are you listening to those you follow, those you lead, and those you serve?
Jody Thone is director of leadership development for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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(612) 870-0058