Do You Talk When You Should Be Listening?
The 5th of Stephen R. Covey’s 7-Habits of Highly Effective People says, “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.” This wise advice succinctly states a Biblical principle.
“Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood” – Stephen R. Covey
Thousands of years before Stephen Covey was born, King Solomon (the wisest man who ever lived) spoke thousands of proverbs (1 Kings 4:32), many of which were collected into the book of Proverbs. The book of Proverbs was written to teach wisdom and understanding through instruction (Prov. 1:1-6). In Proverbs, Solomon often contrasts the behavior of fools to those who are wise, and shows the natural results of foolishness.
Proverbs 18:2 states, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (ESV). Unlike Stephen Covey, the fool is not interested in understanding. It is not clear that he even cares about being understood. The fool just wants to speak his mind. The fool does not want to listen; he only likes to talk.
“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” (Proverbs 18:2 / ESV)
This principle can often be observed in everyday life. People are naturally interested in their own lives, and many like to monopolize conversations. People often ignore what others are saying as they think about what they want to say next. And people often interrupt each other as they vie for airtime. In the midst of a long conversation, there is often an amazing lack of communication.
Proverbs 18:13 also speaks to this communication failure:
“He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.” (KJV)
This proverb clearly teaches that we should “listen to understand” before we respond to what another says. It also plainly states the consequences of this foolish behavior: “folly and shame.” Yet virtually all of us fall into this self-made trap at least on occasion. (I know I do.) Many people are especially good at letting their opinions rip on social media pages and other online forums.
Perhaps we all need to pause to examine our communication behavior and motives. You could ask yourself:
- What is my true motive for talking so much?
- Is my opinion really so valuable that it needs to be shared?
- Or am I just being proud, wanting to show off my vain opinion like a fool?
- Have I really listened? Do I understand what they said?
- Do I really even understand what I am answering?
- Is my pride setting me up for a fall (Proverbs 18:12)?
- Am I being Christ-like in my communication behaviors?
- Am I speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15)?
- Would I want others to treat me the way I am treating them (Luke 6:31)?
We should follow the admonition of James:
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19 / KJV)
We need to Listen More (be quick to hear) and Talk Less (be slow to speak).
In other words, We need to listen with the intent of understanding before we speak.