Everything rises and falls on how well we do relationships in life. But most of us have not been taught the skills needed to have powerful relationships. And those skills have to do with our ability to communicate and experience authentic connection. But we need to know HOW to do this.
In our years of helping people, we have found there to be one very critical skill that is missing from our relationship interactions and that is the ability to effectively listen. You may even think you are a great listener but your patterns show otherwise. You may try to listen, but don’t know if you have done it effectively in a given situation. What a lot of people do not know is listening is not a passive thing. It is very active, way more than people realize.
Without effective listening, you won’t have the kind of relationships you want in life. But how do we know we have effectively listened? That’s what we want to address today.
The Key Skill We All Need in Relationships
Melissa: All right. I feel like I’ve struggled with this a lot. I get called out on it a lot, because I get distracted very easily.
Mark: Oh, you’re talking about with me in the home or-
Melissa: No, I’m talking about-
Mark: Oh, with people-
Melissa: Me on the phone. Yeah.
Melissa: I know, that if I’m talking to either my mom or my sister they know when I’ve checked out. It’s not good.
Mark: I do too.
Melissa: Yeah, so as far back as I can remember, I’ve had this struggle and I think that given the history of my life and things I was trained and not trained in and all of the things that kind of happen in our home, I feel is what trains you up in how you’re going to act and all of those things. Obviously, it’s a big part of what we talk about here on the show. There was very, very huge part of me that had a massive insecurity. What insecurity does is it makes you very selfish, because you’re “me” focused. “What are you thinking about me? How does everyone think about me? What’s going on in the room about me? Do they like me? Am I accepted here? Am I me?” Okay and I didn’t realize it.
I thought in some ways maybe it’s a good thing, because I was always self analyzing and everything, but what it did was, no matter who I was in connection with, no matter what conversations I had, I’m analyzing what they’re thinking about me. So, I’m not really listening, or I’m thinking, because I’m so insecure and I don’t feel safe in anything, this is my whole life, that I’m thinking about other things. “What do I have to go do? How do I get out of here?” I never was fully, I shouldn’t say never, but I would say a lot of the time, fully present-
Mark: That’s really good.
Not Being Present
Melissa: In most things. As a result, I don’t really have a good memory of a lot of things.
Melissa: I don’t. I really don’t and if those of you are struggling with, “Gosh, I don’t remember.” I get very envious of people that go, “Hey, remember when that happened? When we went out, when we” I said, “No. I don’t.”
Mark: Wow. Did you just unlock something that people who have struggles with not remembering or having memories. That they may not have been great listeners to intake-
Melissa: I didn’t.
Mark: What was going on.
Melissa: I didn’t.
Melissa: It didn’t hit me powerfully. Nothing, relationships didn’t hit me that way and so really because we were designed for relationship, then I craved it, so because I was then lacking connection, I found it with men in relationships in my life and that never satisfied because, I didn’t attract the right people. It just spiraled into this whole mess in my whole life and when I needed people to listen to me, again, it was about me. It was about me. I had friendships and I had those things and I wasn’t a complete mental case my whole life. I’m not trying to weave that picture, but I really struggled in being safe in relationship and really being okay with myself at the end of the day, I was not okay with myself. Am I going to deep about all this listening stuff?
Mark: This is amazing.
Mark: Don’t stop.
Melissa: I was not okay with myself at all. Anybody I talked to I was hyper or because then I got uncomfortable, so then I’d be the funny person. Funny, funny, funny.
Mark: Or over talk.
Melissa: Over talk, oh my gosh! I know a lot of people listening can relate to this. You just start over talking, because you’re so uncomfortable. You’re just so uncomfortable. Okay? That was me my whole life. Then I started to, as I got older, okay I need help and I need, I have issues and all that stuff. So you and I get together and you are a talker. You’re a talker. You love to talk. You want connection and I’ve had to learn what that is like, because-
Mark: You’re a talker.
Melissa: You are!
Mark: That’s great.
Melissa: Which I think is great. I don’t, listen, listen, I would rather have that over than what some people have, where women are like, “He won’t talk.” Trust me, Mark talks. There’s still a part of me that I am healing of, you’ll be talking, talking, talking, talking, talking and I’m like, “Yeah, I just want to go on Facebook right now.”
Mark: Mm (affirmative).
Melissa: I’m just admitting this, because I think a lot of people can relate.
Melissa: Okay. Men, women, we can all relate. There is a part of me that my brain was trained to kind of numb out to life, in connection. I’ve had to work hard. I’ve had to work really hard in not being, you wouldn’t know if you’re in the room with me. I don’t think you would really know.
Mark: Mm (affirmative).
Melissa: Maybe you do. Maybe you’re like, “Yeah, Missy it is obvious.”
Mark: No, because you can make eye contact with somebody-
Mark: It doesn’t mean you’re listening. You can even nod-
Melissa: I can repeat back to you too, what you said, which you and I, you’re like, “That’s not the point! You didn’t hear it,” or I can say the last five things that you said, but I’m just babbling now.
Mark: To put it funny, some people aren’t going to think this is funny if it offends you, whatever, but there was a funny thing I used to do when we would talk.
Melissa: Yep. This really happened.
Mark: And I knew you weren’t paying attention. That I would start to describe the, “I don’t want to live anymore.”
Melissa: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mark: I would go, “Life is not worth living and I don’t know, I think I’m going to jump off this cliff-”
Melissa: He would.
Mark: “It’s over,” and “Goodbye cruel world, I’m jumping and I’m in the air and I’ve now landed.”
Melissa: Yeah. It would see how far you would get in the death. In your own death of when I was actually going to catch on.
Mark: If that offends you, I’m sorry, we’re just bringing you into our world.
Melissa: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.
Mark: Because then she would catch me or like I pulled the trigger or something like that-
Melissa: I’m like, “Really?”
Mark: And she’s like, “What a second. What?” I’d be like, “See, you’re not listening.” Then we would have a discussion, but wow! You brought out so many things, so many more things than I even wanted to address.
Melissa: Oh, okay.
Not Really There
Mark: In a good way, you brought out the inability to be present. I think you nailed it and for various reasons that we’re not good listeners, because we’re not really there. If I’m having coffee with you, I’m thinking about the rest of the things I have to get done or the thing that I just got done or the problem I’m carrying. I’m still mindful of it and I’m not with you.
Mark: Wow! I think that one of the things I’ve learned in life is the power of being present-
Mark: And I first learned this by breaking my worry patterns, because worry keeps you from being present.
Melissa: So good.
Too Focused on Worry
Mark: We’re always worried. We’re projecting in the future and Jesus is like, “Don’t have no thought for tomorrow. Today, just today. Focus on today, right now and here.” That was one of the things that’s helped me to overcome worry. It’s like, “That’s not my job to be projecting in all those problems. It’s the right here and right now,” but in my coaching sessions with people I’ve found that I’m the most powerful when I’m 100% present with the person in the moment right now. Not thinking about the next thing, not thinking about the thing before, or the residue of it. Right here, right now I’m going to focus and something about the brain, it’s very powerful when you get very engaged in the moment, but the only way you can be fully present is not to be fully selfish and talking about yourself, is to take in the relationships that are in front of you.
I think the Bible is so wise in how it says, “Be quick to listen.” It’s like that’s the posture in relationships, is that “I’m here and I want to listen,” but some people say, “Well, I’m a good listener.” Really, what they do is they sit like-
Melissa: Like a voyeur too.
Mark: Yes, like a voyeur or like a blob and they take in-
Melissa: A blob.
Mark: I remember when we were pastors and we’ve had certain group meetings, there were certain people that would just sit there and it’s almost like they were taking notes of everything that was in the room going on.
Mark: Exactly. They weren’t present. They weren’t listening. Listening is not analyzing anyone-
Melissa: Everybody, I was going to say that, being suspicious of everyone.
What is Listening?
Mark: That’s not listening. Listening is, “I’m actively hearing your words and I’m wanting to connect to the heart of what you’re saying.” That is a trait called empathy. Empathy is the ability to heart connect to what someone’s saying. Whether it’s something they’re rejoicing in and is going well or to connect to their pain and people have a really hard time with-
Melissa: Oh, it’s getting worse.
Mark: With that. I’m saddened at even my own expression with people of hard times we’re going, we’ve got some things that are going on right now in our life. That we’re having some struggles, some battles, some things that we’re trying to break through and there’s certain people, I just cannot share it with, because they’re horrific listeners.
Melissa: Yeah, and responders.
Mark: They, yes, because you’ll share and it’s painful that you even shared it, because what they said just makes it worse.
Mark: Because you share something and they’ll either just try to fix it and move on, or then they just immediately take what you shared and just go into their own story and you’re like, “Oh my goodness. I was trying to share something to just connect to be understood,” because everyone has a sign over their head that says, “I want to be understood.” Everyone, everyone has that, because when you’re understood, you’re able to connect.
You’re right, we’re so self consumed, that’s a battle that we have is that we’ve got all these stacked up things that take your time away from being present, because you’re worried about a relational thing, financial thing, or some structural thing in our organization, or whatever, scheduling. Then you’re not available in the moment. Wouldn’t it be the enemies tactic to just keep us so wound up in problems, in our struggles, in suffering, or whatever it is. We cannot be engaged in the moment to connect with someone and we are lacking that ability.
I think it’s one of the top skills of people. It’s funny and I’m going to teach on this at some point. It’s funny that I found it in my kid’s material. We went to a parent teacher-
Melissa: Open house, open house at school
Mark: Open house and they pass around papers and they talked about traits that they’re teaching the kids.
Melissa: Which, can we just stop there for one second and I’m in full agreement, because unfortunately, this is going on at home. Our school system is now teaching emotional, there is fear, there is disobedience … They’re teaching, they’re having to teach emotions at school for kids to recognize emotions.
Melissa: Okay, we’re not doing a good job at home.
Melissa: We’re not.
Mark: Yeah, because one of the keys of developing of skills for parents is to help people to be self aware.
Mark: Aware of what’s going on. Able to regulate your emotions. Anyways that’s a whole different tangent-
Melissa: Yeah, a whole other topic.
Mark: One of the key things is, it was in the paper and I joked with one of the teachers that handed it to me, I go, “This isn’t just for kids, adults need to take this class.” She kind of laughed, but it’s true and one of the keys was empathy, having a social awareness. Some people jump to, “Well, I’m discerning,” and it’s like-
Melissa: Oh, blah, blah. I’m sick of that word.
Mark: Yeah, what they’re saying, when they’re saying discerning is they’re projecting their own junk on somebody else is usually what it is. Empathy is, “I’m going to shut up and listen with high tuned listening frequency, to do my best to really connect to this person’s heart of what they’re going through without judgement, without quick assessment. I want to connect.” I even for a living, I meet with people and my job is to help them go to the next level. I don’t just jump right in. I need to take a proper assessment of where the person’s at. Now, doing that, that skill has grown out of life and out of our home where we take time to learn and to connect. Now, I know you’ve talked about your bad side or your struggling side of listening.
Melissa: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mark: But I also think that, a thing that people may or may not know about you is you have an incredible ability to connect to very raw problems with an understanding.
Melissa: Oh, thank you.
Mark: That’s one of the things I love about you. I can come home and I can tell you anything and there isn’t this like, because a lot people they don’t listen well because they get hung up on stuff.
Mark: Something somebody said, or they’re easily offended, or they’re thrown off, you’re able to kind of take it in with no shame, process through it, and give a compassionate response. You do it very well
Melissa: Thank you.
Mark: I think that one of the struggles that we have and we see, is in meeting with people, or even just in developing of a relationships, people are on this ongoing narrative that they just have to keep talking about and keep talking about and keep talking about, because there’s a thought that, “If I keep talking, keep talking, keep talking, someday I will figure out how to get through this.” A lot of times what we need to do is, “Let me just shut up and listen to somebody else.”
Melissa: So true, Mark.
Mark: It actually puts my problem in the right perspective. I’ll have some concern I have or thing and I just get out of myself and go talk to someone, listen to them and then I go, “Wow! That’s what they’re going through? Wow, it really puts it in perspective what I’m going through.” It goes back to what we’ve talked about even in past episodes. The key to relational connection and listening is that I, in my discussion, pull out questions and say things that causes the person to share their heart.
Mark: If you want to be a good conversationalist, people say, “Well, I’m an introvert, or I’m this, I’m that.”
Melissa: Oh, please.
Mark: Everybody can be a good conversationalist.
Melissa: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mark: It’s just what you put as labels, or what you put as [box 00:14:30], but if you want to grow in this, if you want to say, “Well, I’m just not a good conversationalist.” Well, then that’s what you’re going to be, but if you say, “Well, I want to grow in this.” The number one way you grow in it is not having articulate speech abilities, where you’re just so erudite in how you express-
Melissa: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mark: It is the ability to say things-
Melissa: Wasn’t that a group from the Hunger Games? The Erudites?
Mark: I think it was. Yeah. I think it was, it was like the smart sophisticated people. Yeah. There’s a-
Melissa: I’m listening to you, but I just went off a tangent.
Mark: Right. We had a good example there.
Melissa: That’s a good example.
Mark: She was like-
Melissa: I’m like, “Hunger Games, TV
Mark: Hunger Games, I’m hungry. Did I eat at Wendy’s twice yesterday?
Even Dale Carnegie wrote a book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” You want a summary of it, it’s learn how to ask good questions. Simple ones. Understand what makes people tick. Connect with them and when you listen, don’t give solutions right away.
Melissa: That’s so annoying.
Mark: Don’t give your quick solution. Spend a long time … Here’s the deal folks, and again I do this for a living, I don’t give out advice, direction, or any of that, unless it’s asked for.
Melissa: You’re really good at that. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mark: Because I’ve learned this. There was a day were I would just jump to the, “Well, you got to do” and I assume I just know what the Holy Spirit needs for them and it’s just bologna.
Mark: I have to learn to listen, listen, listen and even if I have, what I feel, is the answer, I need to be able to have be given the key to the person’s heart to do that. Where there is a, “Hey, talk to me. What do I need to do?” Even if I do feel that and there’s an opening and I’m not sure, a lot of times, I just share, “Here’s some things I’ve had to go through in that. Here’s some things I’m learning.”
I still, not in the advice, or just, “Share this and if that’s an encouragement to you but, I understand.” Connect in those kind of ways, because this is what we need right now, because all of you listening and watching, everyone’s going through stuff right now. I’m not sure exactly what’s going on or what’s happening, but there seems to be a lot of transition. There seems to be a lot of intense situations, there’s a lot of-
Mark: Crap hitting the fan with people and the more we talk, the more we investigate, the more we dig down, we’re seeing this. God’s doing something, we’re trying to figure that out, but we know people are being sifted and we need to spend a lot more time stopping, pausing and listening, having depth, because just keeping the machine going, just going, going, going and thinking about ourselves and not being aware of what’s going on, it’s going to kill us.
The Need to Truly Connect
Melissa: Yeah. We’re hearing from a lot of people where they’re just feeling heavy and dry and all of those things in their heart and in their life and the things that they’re seeking for and have been contending for, for years. I think that we’re in a very interesting season in time, especially as a church body. We really need at a whole new level to get connected with each other.
Mark: That’s right.
Melissa: A lot of people can relate to this, I am burnt out from the lack of connection that is there.
Melissa: Us going to churches and wives not connecting with each other. I’m hearing that this is a problem, or if they are, they’re connecting and doing the things that everyone accuses women of, getting together and gossip and jezebeling the church and all of that stuff. We need to really see the real good hearts of people rising up and seeing their position, that they can be a good influence, a good position of love, a good support, a good landing place. I think that’s the thing I’m striving for in my life. Can I be a good place for someone to land?
Mark: Well said.
Melissa: Can I be that safe person for somebody? I think a lot of people want to be that.
Melissa: Don’t we? Don’t we want to be that for people? But we were never shown how to. I literally, I am a living example, I did not know how to do that. I, literally, had no clue. I did not know how to be a good friend.
Melissa: I did not know how to make someone feel special. I did not know what it looked like to think about people in that way, because I was so in my own world.
Melissa: I really was just so in my own world and we need to step out of that and I love that you brought out the word “empathy,” because I think that, even if you need to get nitty gritty with God and say, “I need empathy. Help me to have empathy for people.”
Melissa: Just call it out for what it is when you’re in your prayers. You want greater connection, have greater empathy for people and their stories, instead of going, “Oh, yeah, that’s yucky. I don’t want to go there with you.”
Mark: Yeah, or either there’s this culture that we live in, where it seems like the more interactions, more and more people and this term may strike some people offensively and that’s fine, but it’s like we’re becoming very asperger in our-
Melissa: Oh, that’s so good.
Mark: In our actions and I know some people have a diagnosis of that and our son is on the autism spectrum, but it’s like, that plague seems to be blanketing society of lack of social ability to connect and we’re not in a lot of ways, even seeing the need for it. Like, “Just bump you, I’ll just go on Facebook or I’ll just kind of do life in my own little world,” and there’s no skill, because this is a muscle that needs to be established.
In being a good listener, is one, asking good questions. If I ask questions, I have to be thinking about you. I think the second thing that has helped us, is that effective listeners are okay with a little bit of silence.
Because you and I, in our insecurities, in the early days, when we would meet people, we would feel very quick to fill in the empty space and that’s something that I think would help people. There’s a nervousness we have in relationships, so then they just talk and then what they do is, they end up talking about themselves and they’re uncomfortable with that little brief moment of silence. I find if I just give a little room for that and be okay with that, I give the interaction time to breathe and room for development of great, great interaction.
Melissa: Yeah. I don’t do good with the silence. I don’t like it. I don’t like it. I have to admit that I don’t like it. I am working very hard and I’ve had moments where I’ve tackled that and I know you and I talk about it if we have interactions with people and there’s a moment of silence, we’re like, “Yeah, we did it! We let the silence happen.”
Melissa: But it’s hard, because you know what? Honestly, it all goes back to how you feel about yourself. Do you feel safe? Do you feel secure? Am I okay in this moment?
Because whatever happens, happens. You can’t control another person.
Mark: Because in a great relationship, I go back to the analogy, remember the old days when you had a like a boyfriends or a girlfriend and you’d be on the phone and back then we had corded phones, so the cord went-
Melissa: Oh, mine went all through the house.
Mark: The cord would travel out of your room and into the kitchen and up in wherever the phone was and you would sit there. Then you’d be on the phone and you were in love, and the other person, you’d just sit there and silence.
Melissa: Listen to each other breathe? Yes.
Mark: You just do silly things like, “You hang up.” “No, you hang up,” or whatever and there’s a dynamic of great relationship where you know how to be okay with yourself so that your, and I’m not talking about like, awkward five minutes of silence and the person staring at you, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about there being room in conversation for there to be breathing and some people you’ll pitch and catch very well-
Melissa: Find your rhythm with them, yeah.
Mark: And those are the great relationships. Great relationships for me is, I pitch, catch, throw back. If I’m pitching the whole time, eventually my arm gets tired and it’s okay. We’ll do that, but pitchers need a break to come back to the next game to pitch again. They got to put ice on their arm-
Melissa: It’s true, mark. Yep.
Mark: And they got to take a rest, but if we’re going to have a great relationship, it’s pitching, catching, pitching, catching. I’m not talking about keeping score, it’s just where you feel like you can bounce back.