by Matt Norman
I always end children’s church with a response time. Recently, I ran late and had to dismiss the kids before we did the response time. So, I told them if they needed to talk they could hang out afterwards. I had a couple of kids take me up on that offer. One in particular stayed after to talk about how she was being bullied. I listened and then I spoke, then she went to Sunday school. After she walked away I realized: I talk too much.
Quick to listen, slow to speak. John 1:19 says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” All to often in ministry we are quick to listen, but even quicker to speak. In my desire to help the girl I mentioned earlier, I quickly jumped into talking. In fact, I did much more talking than she did. I did more talking than I did listening.
This is not just about kids. The story I mentioned above was specifically about my dealings with a child. However, it has occurred to me that the lessons I learned from this encounter have application in leadership as well. As leaders, people come to us with questions that need to be answered or issues that need to be resolved. How we deal with these questions and issues can have lasting impact on the people we lead.
We shouldn’t give them ALL the answers. Certainly, there will be times when we need to give answers. However, far more often, we need to let THEM find the answers. There is the old adage; “If you give a man a fish you feed him for a day. If you teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” There is some application of this saying in leadership as well.
It’s about leadership development. Thinking back to the idea of a fish, if we always give the people we lead answers, then we halt, or at least delay, their growth as leaders. The goal, as leaders, should always be to help people grow. So, if we give them the answer, then we will only help them through that specific circumstance. However, if we can teach them to work through the situation, then we better equip them to handle similar situations in the future.
So, talk less. When I was studying psychology while pursuing my nursing degree, there was a method they taught us that drove me crazy at the time, but is actually pretty good. These specific statements may not specifically apply to every leadership situation, but they may apply to some. Consider these:
- How does that make you feel?
- What I hear you saying is . . . (followed by repeating what they were saying).
I seldom used these exact words, but I did use these techniques. The whole idea with these was to get the person talking so that you could learn more about them. It also helped them to work through the problem for themselves. The same can be true as we use these techniques to help the people we lead work through different problems.
Bottom line. For many people, listening is a natural thing. For others, it is something we have to work at. Either way, the benefits of listening more and talking less are great. I know that oftentimes what I need in order to work through a situation is someone willing to listen without offering quick answers. The people we lead often need the same from us. When answers are needed, don’t be afraid to give them. Yet, we may find that simply providing a listening ear can be of far greater value over time.
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