I used to think that conversation was all about talking. To "con-verse" means "to speak words with." Two people speak words with each other, and that’s conversation. Some time ago it began to dawn on me that if two people did nothing more than speak words with each other, there might not be a lot of communication going on. Someone needs to be on the receiving end of the words.
And so I grew to understand that conversation was made up of two parts: speaking and listening. Ideally, each participant in the dialogue would do both. Give and take, fifty-fifty, like in a good marriage. I learned this important truth, but it took me a while longer to put it into practice.
In conversations with friends, though I was careful not to talk more than my fifty percent, I wasn’t so good about listening the other fifty. I’d be making eye contact and nodding intelligently but my mind was usually on the future—what I was preparing to say during my upcoming 50% talk time. I’m a slow learner, but eventually I realised something might be wrong with this picture. The technique wasn’t working. Conversation was stressful, and it wasn’t very rewarding either.
I remember the exact moment when the light dawned. I was talking with a friend about religion, and I was beginning to think the dialogue wasn’t going anywhere. Maybe we should just agree to disagree and leave it at that. Then another participant entered the discussion, whispering in my ear—in a deep place where I sometimes hear God’s voice. The input came in the form of a question, as God’s input often does. He said, "Are you hearing what Simon is saying to you?"
I began to listen, and a strange thing happened. I discovered we were talking about some of the same things and we agreed on many of them. I was able to take ideas he was giving and hand them back in a meaningful way—a way that was a blessing for both of us. I had a sense I was entering into his heart and finding treasures that I wouldn't have discovered anywhere else. Our conversation became rich, refreshing and enjoyable.
Since that day my conversations with others have changed dramatically. I sometimes even abandon the 50/50 ratio and listen 90% of the time. Consequently, I’ve learned so much. I’ve had the opportunity to get out of myself more often and into others, and my world is now that much bigger.
My current challenge is to apply this life lesson to my relationship with God. I’m reading a great book called The Papa Prayer, by Larry Crabb. He says what’s important about prayer is not getting what we ask for but relating to the One we’re speaking to, and relating is more about listening than talking. In fact, I’ve decided listening is so important that if I don’t have time to both listen and talk to God I’m going to leave out the talking part. His whisper in my ear is always life-changing. I want to hear it more often.