Two Ears but One Mouth
Why did God give us two ears but only one mouth? Some think it was to emphasize the importance of listening! James wrote: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19).
As strange as it may first sound, listening is a vital aspect of witnessing. Usually, when we think of witnessing, we immediately think of talking. Many times, we are so anxious to speak the truth that we don’t first listen.
When we speak before listening, two things usually result. Our words miss the mark and the person feels dishonored.
Listening is one of the best ways we can practice the second pillar of bridge building, treating Mormons with genuine love and respect.
Listening, however, doesn’t come naturally.
Here are three tips for being a better listener and therefore, a better witness:
Don’t assume the Mormon you talk with knows or believes official Mormon teaching. The more you witness to Mormons, the more you learn about Mormonism. That’s good. And also bad. It can be bad because the temptation becomes stronger to automatically think the Mormon you are talking with knows and believes it also. But a surprising number don’t! Mormonism is all about doing, not knowing. It doesn’t take long for a Christian to know more about LDS teachings than the average Mormon knows. This applies even to their missionaries who only receive two weeks of training! Don’t assume any Mormon is well-versed in LDS teachings.
Instead of assuming, ask good questions. Ask them to define words. Ask them to expand on what they mean when they say something. And as they talk, write down their answers.
Many people give me a questioning look every time I say this. They think writing is too artificial. But it isn’t. Writing down their answers accomplishes two things. One, it makes us really listen to them. How many times haven’t you caught yourself not really listening, even after you asked a question? You are already thinking of what you will say next. Writing the answer helps us focus.
And it typically makes the person feel good. Think about it. Wouldn’t you feel honored if somebody thought what you said was worth writing down? Yes, it might make them a little more careful about what they say, but that is not all bad. At the very least, it sends them the message you are taking them seriously.
Above I mentioned how people often respond with a questioning look when I say to take notes. It illustrates the third tip of listening, namely, paying close attention to body language. Experts in communication claim that body language communicates more than words. Think, for example, how often when you read something from a loved one you wished you could hear their tone of voice. Even better is to see their expressions. Or consider the opposite. Think of the times you missed the unspoken signals being sent because you weren’t paying attention.
Listening involves not just our two ears but also our two eyes. Carefully observe people as Mormons talk.
All this is about treating Mormons with genuine love and respect. Take the time to listen and you will usually have more time to witness.