My friend Lee Fiske has given me a few good ideas over the years, but far and away the best was his recommendation that I read the book "Can You Hear Me Now?" by Dallas and Nancy Demmitt. This was such a good idea it easily outdid all the lousy ones he has also given me. Just kidding, Lee, just kidding.
Communication is such an integral component of healthy, successful marriage as it is in just about any kind of relationship you can think of. And yet, as you are about to read, so few of us are ever trained how to communicate -- especially in the listening department.
I reached out to the Demmitts and asked them to share some thoughts with us both here in print and on air. They will be my guests tomorrow at 6 p.m. on KLJH 107.1FM, where we will be discussing more do's and don'ts about communication.
The Demmitts have been married for 53 years. They have a rich history of helping folks communicate in their private counseling practices. They write from a faith-based perspective, but their information is suitable for anyone who wants to be a better communicator.
We are in a listening crisis
People long to be heard, but few people know how to listen. Individuals don't know how to tune in to each other, or to their children, or even to their own hearts.
In our experience, when people are not heard or understood, they don't feel valued. When they don't feel valued, their self-esteem suffers. With time, low self-esteem "paralyzes our potential, destroys our dreams, and ruins our relationships," notes author David Seamands in "Healing of Memories."
A common result of our high-tech, low-touch, listening-deprived culture is loneliness. People have increased the amount of their communication, but they enjoy it less!
We are in the information age -- our lives are bombarded every day by the radio, the television, the newspaper, magazines and the Internet. Yet increased information has only increased the need for listening.
Each of us is awash in insignificant communication, which leaves us exhausted at the end of the day. The information super-highway whirls around us at dizzying speeds. Chat rooms buzz with interaction. Participants juggle three and four conversations while instant messaging each other over the Internet, volleying back and forth short messages to represent the complexity of their lives. Yet, we still feel lonely.
On the Internet, people reveal their souls to faceless strangers through anonymous and sometimes desperate dialogues that occur at breakneck speeds. In cyberspace, people will take communications risks to try to ease the loneliness, while searching for answers. Despite these conveniences, our communication frenzy is still marked with an absence of caring, purposeful, loving listening.
We participate in verbal ping-pong
We're exposed to millions of words thrown out there for us to absorb, yet we often feel we haven't had a significant communication all day. We absorb so much that is not satisfying without realizing it and wonder why we feel glutted and yet empty at the end of a day. We've feasted on verbal Twinkies, but we're longing for a nutritious meal!
Communication is taking place, but usually the interaction takes the form of ping-pong. It's the shallow exchange and the superficial conversation where people are "talking" but connecting very little on a heart or feeling level. Everyone's expressing and reacting -- and nobody's listening.
We are all familiar with the term "hearing impaired" as a disability afflicting individuals. But what about those who are "listening impaired?" Isn't this a relational disability?
When we ask people in our seminars which role they prefer -- talking or listening -- only a few prefer listening. Perhaps it is because we prefer the role that draws attention to ourselves. Why do we love the limelight and avoid being the audience, the ones who make the talking role possible? Isn't it ironic that speech is usually a required subject in high school? Where is the instruction in listening?
Why listening Is important
Intentional listening opens powerful pathways for intimate, vulnerable, satisfying relationships.
In our experience, a high percentage of married people report feeling alone and lonely. Likewise many roommates, children, pastors -- people in all kinds of relationships -- report loneliness and isolation as the dominating emotional landscape of their lives.
So how does "Can You Hear Me Now?" help us eliminate or alleviate loneliness? As you complete the chapters in the book, you'll discover a bridge to connect at the heart level in ways that untangle relationship knots and invite intimate, vulnerable, satisfying relationships.
One important benefit you'll experience is profound relief from the exhaustion of trying in vain to untangle your relationship knots. Have you ever tried to untangle fishing line? Last summer, we took our grandsons fishing. In a few short hours, three active boys -- ages 6, 9 and 11 -- produced two small fish, two exhausted grandparents, and hopelessly tangled fishing lines. After that long day, we found it easier to throw away the tangled fishing line than attempt to unravel the knots.
Have you felt the same way about some of your relationship knots? Maybe in your experience, it's easier to discard relationships rather than untangle them.
Through the concepts in "Can You Hear Me Now?," you can untangle the knots and preserve these precious relationships.
I hope your interest in becoming a better listener has been peaked by Dallas and Nancy's thoughts in this column. I invite you to listen to the interview I will conduct with them tomorrow at 6 p.m. Again, I must stress that they cite biblical principles throughout their book. Since I realize some of you may be offended by that, I went to Amazon and typed in "listening" under the books category. Within seconds I was looking at a listing of 25,176 entries, and, no, I did not take the time to view them all.
But the fact that there are that many books on the topic tells me two things: No. 1 -- There is a great need for this skill in our society, and No. 2 -- There is no excuse for not being a good listener. None of us were born good listeners, but we can all improve if we make it a focus. For the sake of your marriage may I suggest this might just be time, energy and effort very well spent?