Listening Saves Lives

Do you remember the Waco, Texas 51-day siege of the Branch Davidians in 1993? Studying about it recently reinforced my belief in the art of listening. Did you know that the FBI’s hostage negotiation team, through active listening, respect, and gentle methods, secured the release of 35 people, 21 of them children? And that after the more aggressive tactical team took over, not one more person left the compound? We all know how that story ended in a blazing building and the needless deaths of 76 people.  

             We can negotiate smaller crises using active listening. Being heard and understood soothes the soul. When someone really listens, we start to feel that our complex anguish can be untangled, smoothed, soothed, combed out and carried away. 

             “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13). “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). God tells us to listen first and speak second, but we reverse that order. We speak quickly, listen slowly if at all, and escalate at lightning speed. For proof, check out the friendly neighborhood opinionfest called social media. 

            The bedrock of listening is reflection, which involves saying back to the person, in our own words, what they’ve said to us. When I first learned about reflective listening, I vowed to give it a try, then promptly forgot about it. The next day I found a sink full of crusted-over dishes in the kitchen. I marched into my college-aged daughter’s bedroom, ready to defend my rights. 

            “You say you love me, but then you leave dishes in the sink!” I charged. 

            “Mom! I just had a really late conversation and I was tired!” she tensely retorted. 

            “If you don’t do them, I end up doing them! And then I feel like your maid!” 

            “Mom! I hate it when you say things like that!”

            My daughter stood before me, her body literally scrunched up in defense mode, her face red, her voice ragged with hurt. Suddenly I remembered the little girl whose tears I’d dried so many times. There had to be a better way! Wait—I’d just learned about this thing called “reflective listening.” Maybe I should try it, I thought. 

            “So . . . it bothers you when I say that?” I asked, calmer. 

            “Yes!” she said. 

            “What about that bothers you?” I asked. 

            “Well . . .” she gathered her thoughts, “I don’t want you to feel like a maid. And I hate it when you question my love for you. I do love you. I don’t always show it, but I do.” 

            An amazing thing happened as I reflected her thoughts back to her. The red-faced girl’s shoulders dropped about three inches, from being scrunched around her neck to being relaxed.  

            At last I said, “I’m sorry, baby. I need to change the way I do things. I’ll do my best not to overinterpret your carelessness as not loving me. How about that?”

            “Thanks mom. And you’re right. I am careless. I’ll try to do better.” 

            And she did. 

            It works.

            I’m so inspired by the power of listening and other communication skills that I hope to put together a new training called Abide Peacemaker Training. This training would help equip individuals to, first and foremost, “so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). Trainees will also be equipped to act as mediators in the conflict situations that arise in personal, family, work, and church life. 

            Would you be interested in such a training? Or, how have you witnessed the power of listening? Let me know by replying here. 

16 thoughts on “Listening Saves Lives

  1. Tonya Hendrick Reply

    Yes Jen I would be interested in the training. I do not however have much funds. Perhaps if you offer it again sometime in the future I will be in a better position to attend.

  2. Selwyn Charles Reply

    Fantastic practical experience and information regarding the art of reflective listening. God gave us two ears and one mouth. The inference is that we should listen twice as much as we speak! I certainly need to acquire this great skill. Thanks for the knowledge.

  3. Jeanine Goodwin Reply

    Powerful…simply powerful. And a welcome reminder for my own practice and personal interactions. I would definitely be interested in the training.

  4. Thelma Hill Reply

    I am interested in the training to help me do better with my grandchildren that I am raising. Is the training good for my purposes?

  5. Elaine Hilliker Reply

    Something I’ve learned is that you can even “listen” when you’re texting. My daughter agreed to do the special music each night of the evangelistic series “Jesus on Prophecy” that is going on in the Michigan conference currently. The first night she showed up to sing, but her attire wasn’t “professional.” Nobody had an attitude about it, as we are an extremely loving church family, and she has been in the church all her life. But I was asked just to mention to her that we should dress professionally, if possible, while we are presenting these meetings. I said I would mention it the next day. Well the next day came and she was having a bad day, emotionally. She sent me a long text and I could see that she was getting down on herself about some things. I perceived, through “listening” that this was not a good time to mention the dress thing to her, so I didn’t. I was perplexed because she was due to sing again that night, but I simply could not risk her perceiving that she was being “picked on” about clothing. Now, on a different day it would be no big deal, but this day she was emotionally weak (devil pestering her), so instead of saying anything, I prayed for her. We serve a kind and merciful God who cares about everything that besets us. He faithfully answered my prayer, and that night she was more appropriately dressed for singing for our church guests. When we really listen we can act with wisdom and live peaceably with others, as much as depends on us 🙂

    • Jennifer Schwirzer Post authorReply

      Wow, Elaine. What a beautiful story of Holy Spirit-led tact. I love it! I think we pick on too many externals in the church anyway. We’re supposed to be a spiritual organization 🙂 Thanks again for sharing your story.

  6. Elder Angela Lundy Reply

    So well put Jen! I would like to contribute to your teaching by contributing copies of my autobiography, Uphill Journey because Im guessing you have not included material for the deaf who can’t listen with their ears but have to read lips, gestures and sign? We often have huge issues with misunderstanding and repeating back accurately.

    • Jennifer Schwirzer Post authorReply

      Yes, Angela, that would be great. I have a heart for the deaf and I love you so it would be awesome to have some books. I’ll email my address. Keep trudging uphill, girl, God loves you and you bless people!

  7. Brenda Albrecht Reply

    Yes, Jen, please keep me on a list of interested people for this training. It sounds so very practical and needed.

  8. Marlon Llewelyn Reply

    My pastor at my church did a series called the love language and in that series we each learnt our language was , some people’s were acts of kindness, others were words of inspiration and etc, etc . The point of it is although you were upset that the dishes weren’t done your love language is acts of kindness in this situation meaning that by your daughter cleaning up the sink that would show her love for you and usually when another person doesnt do something as an act of kindness it gets to you , I know because I’m a deacon at my church and often it is difficult for me as a complain often . But one day god showed in the book of philipians 3:14-15, where it says do all things without murmurings and disputing: that he may be blameless and harmless , the sons of god, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom he shine as lights in the world. Its funny because after the lord told me this as I sat in the church parking on a sabbath evening I immediately prayed and god helped me through my struggle as not to blam the other guys for not stepping up the way I want them to but in other words god showed me as you said in james 1:19every man must be swift to hear , slow to speak and slow to wrath . Thanks again jen for sharing and if your every in the rhode island area feel free to stop by the grace and glory SDA church, located in providence Rhode island.

  9. Daniel Parsons Reply

    I need to practice this right away in my closest relationship ! God uses you Jill in many ways to help all of us with our interactions with other people !

  10. Belinda Thomas Reply

    Hi Jennifer, this is me to the point. I have hurt so many people especially my husband. I have an anger issue, it’s literally killing me.

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