What Happens When We Don’t Listen Well

I’ve said it before on this site: I’m not the best listener. In fact, I’ve written about ways I could listen better and lead better by listening. I’m learning in my struggle that not listening can cost me more than I should want to pay. When we don’t listen well . . .

  1. We miss the feelings behind words. When we listen with one ear, we can’t watch body language, look into eyes, or sense the emotions behind words. That’s particularly bad when we’re not listening to someone we claim to love.
  2. We miss an opportunity to learn. Most of us have much to learn, and others have much to teach us – especially in informal, face-to-face, life-on-life conversations. We won’t learn, though, if we’re not listening.
  3. We become a poor witness for Christ. We teach that God listens to us when we pray. We affirm that He feels our touch like Jesus felt the touch of the bleeding woman in Mark 5. When we neither listen nor sense the hurt of people around us, we show that we’re not like the Christ we proclaim.  
  4. We hinder the development of deeper relationships with others. Nothing about unengaged, unconcerned, and uncommitted listening leads to greater fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ.
  5. We shepherd badly. When we don’t listen well, we sometimes jump to offer solutions without understanding the issues. That’s not good pastoring.
  6. We make dumb decisions. Some of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made were decisions I made without listening to those around me. 
  7. We reveal our unrecognized addictions. Even if “addictions” is too strong a word, we reveal something when we don’t listen well because we’re tuned in to our phone or our television.
  8. We will miss something important somewhere. I know that’s true because it’s happened to me. “I just didn’t hear you” doesn’t work as an explanation when “I really wasn’t listening” is more the truth.
  9. We might affirm something we’ll regret. It’s simply easier to nod “yes” when you’re not really listening than it is to say, “no.” That’s dangerous.  
  10. We reveal idolatry. I know that’s a hard way to end this post, but I think it’s an accurate assessment. We often fail to listen well because we assume that what we’re doing is more important than anything else. 

What would you add to this list? 


  • Robin Jordan says:

    Learning to listen and to listen well is key in so many areas of life. When I was a social worker listening actively (or reflectively) was a skill that took time to learn but proved an important one in working with clients. It is also a skill that pastors and would-be pastors need learn. In my experience we miss a lot when instead of listening to what a person is saying, we are thinking about what we are going to say next. We also convey to that person, that we are more interested in ourselves, our thoughts, etc., than we are them. In my experience people who do not listen or listen well also tend to be more judgmental and less empathetic. As a result they create barriers to communication with others. If they are Christians, they may reinforce the stereotypes of Christians that others have – judgmental, critical, and uncaring.

  • Ed Litton says:

    I’m sorry, did you say something? Seriously, a much needed word for this idol factory heart of mine.

  • Tina Jasion says:

    When we listen deeply, there is something underneath, that is deeper and richer than what is being spoken and that which we observe on the surface. Listening in this way often brings the level of understanding for what the speaker is really trying to communicate. Thank you for this thoughtful post

  • Steve Reynolds says:

    I appreciated your comments and admittedly, I should join a support group called TA- Talkers Anonymous! I have heard it said that the Lord gave us two ears and one mouth and that we should listen twice as much as we speak.

    However, I think one of the areas we fail to listen the most is in the limitations of social media. Social media is a “talking” or writing media and is not conducive to listening. It is limited because we can’t see the meaning behind the words or we have a tendency to react with our next pearls of wisdom rather than truly understand where people are coming from. It is my opinion that social media has made the art of listening even more difficult. We react to posts on Facebook or we text back comments without really having to listen. I’d like to see your thoughts on this matter.

    • I agree with you, Steve. We not only don’t listen well to social media, but it’s also almost difficult to listen well. It’s hard to hear tone, intonation, intent, etc., in texts — so we mis”hear” them.

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