Cutting Off Conversation

In Worship by Bruce LogueLeave a Comment

Why is it so hard not to interrupt?
by Rubel Shelly

Please don’t tell my wife what I’m about to confess to you. Don’t let our children know. And please don’t reveal it to my closest and longest-duration friends either. By all means, keep it secret from ….
Who am I kidding? They’re the ones who knew it long before I could admit it. And they’d just laugh at the idea that it was a “confession” or “secret” to say that I’m a poor listener who jumps to conclusions and cuts off dialogue.

In his recent book “How Doctors Think”, Jerome Groopman explores the fault behind medical misdiagnoses and the mistaken treatments that follow. A professor at Harvard Medical School and noted cancer researcher, he was bothered by the fact that very bright students were making judgments all too quickly and following cookbook recipes for patient diagnosis and treatment. So he set about to study how doctors (including himself) think.

His conclusion is that the best doctors know how to listen well as their patients talk, give histories, and otherwise relate their life experiences relative to what ails them. “We want to be listened to, and in a high-tech age, the key to accurate diagnosis and the basis of insightful thinking comes from listening and language. The errors that we make in our thinking often come about because we cut off the dialogue,” he said in a recent magazine interview. “Most physicians interrupt a patient 18 seconds after they start talking.”

Why, that’s terrible. It’s downright insulting. And it is also typical of more professionals and therapists, government officials and bureaucrats, company executives and managers, or mates and parents than most of us care to admit.

Everybody has a natural agenda. It has to do with getting what she wants, advancing his personal interests, and attaining or wielding power. That “natural” agenda is self-interest. That’s why it feels so unnatural when somebody really listens or acts unselfishly or yields without being defeated and forced to do so. Or maybe the correct word is not un-natural but super-natural.
The Bible counsels: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak … ” (James 1:19). Or, as Eugene Peterson translates that same line: “Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue ….”

God gave us two ears and one tongue. Maybe all of us should set a minimal goal of trying to listen at least twice as much as we talk. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But it is so hard to keep in mind and to practice consistently.

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