Updated: Nov 18, 2022
This continues our Foundations of Synodality series with more on listening. Need some help in this area? Feel free to contact us and let's see what the Spirit suggests on this #synodjourney.
As I was walking out of Mass about a month ago, on my way to set up for a meeting and so in more of a hurry than usual, I realized I was rushing so that no one would stop me and want to talk. I had something to do and I wanted it done a certain way. As I was hastily making my way up the sidewalk to another building, this occurred to me: “There’s something wrong with being too busy to connect with other members of the Body of Christ.” Fast on the heels of that thought was the memory of the number of times others have indicated they would have liked to talk with me but
did not want to bother me because I am “always so busy.” Sound familiar?
The result of all that busy-ness? I am not viewed as a listener, as someone who can be trusted with the hopes and dreams, joys and sorrows, fears and frustrations of another. I am not at all like Jesus in the view of others. Ouch. Not listening is just not good. #synodjourney is making me evaluate me!
It’s especially not good when leaders spend 40% of their time in some sort of listening mode and when executives spend up to 80% of their time listening to assess information, gain new insights, and make decisions in meetings. [i] And if many of us who are part of the Body of Christ are not listening to each other or others with whom we come in contact, we have essentially declared that we don’t need to learn and grow.[ii] (And here’s an even more unnerving thought: if we are not spending time listening to Jesus, we’re telling him the same thing…we’re good. We don’t really need you to teach us any more.) Not good!
Effects of Poor Listening
I’d like to turn my attention now to those who hold various influencer positions in the Church. So clergy, lay ecclesial ministers, staff members, key volunteer leaders, plank-holding parishioners, this is for you! Take a look at this list of what happens when leaders are not effective, that is active, listeners:[iii]
1. Others do not feel paid attention to.
2. Others do not feel as if they have been understood (either their message or how important it is).
3. The speaker is frustrated, and feels disrespected.
4. There is low to no sense of connection between speaker and listener.
5. There are more unchecked and perhaps incorrect assumptions leading to misunderstandings, which have a real dollar cost:
a. $37 billion is the total estimated cost of misunderstanding[iv]
b. For smaller business it’s about $420,000/annually lost to poor communication
6. Real physical danger can ensue in the form of accidents and injury. Ask me sometime about the child who didn’t listen and broke his arm after launching himself off a concrete bench on the parish grounds, and the lawsuit that ensued; or about the number of times adults refused to wear helmets in the parish construction zone, resulting in potential fines. But there’s more that happens when listening is missing. Take a look at this list, with an eye to assessing to what degree you think this might be occurring in your ministerial milieu:[v]
Errors, often costly in terms of people and money. These three large categories of consequences speak volumes: 1) Lower productivity: failure to share intellectual insights or talking around them. Time invested in clarity or more misunderstanding which is time not spent on the actual “work”; Breached deadlines; loss of organizational credibility[vi]; 2) Lowered trust: lack of innovation; confusion, frustration, hurt feelings, reluctance to collaborate, loss of emotional and intellectual safety.[vii] (Keep following our blog series. Next up after listening, we'll be addressing trust/trustworthiness); 3) Higher turnover.[viii]
But then there are these even deeper human costs: demoralization and dehumanization.[ix]
Finally, not feeling listened to results in a culture where there may be compliance, but there’s not commitment. [x] We’ll come back to that idea in the next section.
Some of this happening in your parish/diocese? I bet so. Read on. I’ll share with you the impact of this on the Church.
Effects of Poor Listening Specific to the Church
1. Community and communion are weak. These two characteristics of life in Christ suffer mightily when disconnection, dehumanization, and demoralization are experienced, at least partly as a result of a culture that does not value active listening.
2. Commitment and creativity by far fewer people than claim connection. This is just another way to express the ongoing frustration about why more people aren’t coming, won’t step up to serve, and don’t seem to care about the parish or even much about one another. They have been affected by the ecclesial culture that tells them they don’t have a voice and many have had the experience of trying to be heard and felt as if they were not.
3. Drifting away…stretching the bond…becoming loosely to almost non-affiliated. When asked about why they no longer go to Mass or connect with the parish, many people say there was no single reason. They just drifted away, got out of the habit. It’s not hard to see how this can happen when they are not connected, when no one is seeking their point of view, their creativity or their criticism…when no one is listening to THEM.
4. Low trust. We heard this expressed a lot as we facilitated or participated in listening sessions for Synod 2023: the sense that it won’t matter what they say, that no one is listening, that their input will be edited out by the people who “don’t want to hear it.” There was a fundamental distrust that those who make decisions a) even want to listen; 2) will listen; 3) will respond in ways that let the speakers know they were listened to.
5. Financial costs inside tight and often shrinking budgets. Time spent trying to figure out what someone is really trying to say, or what happened in a communication event that now has someone hurt, or belligerent, or loudly leaving “and taking their entire family with them” has a financial cost. How so? Well, it means the people doing this work are not doing the work for which they are being paid, for which parishioners are giving money. In a time of inflation (as I am writing this the latest numbers were released…an 8.2 % inflation rate!), of Covid affected giving, of falling membership, being a good steward of the budget is even more important. So while it may not show up on a balance sheet, there’s a real financial cost to poor communication, especially to poor listening. Not good.
So here’s my point. Poor listening/not listening is one cause for the struggles we are experiencing as Church. It’s why Pope Francis is leading the way toward a synodal Church, whose primary way of working is grounded in listening, actively, in order to discern the voice of the Spirit...a Spirit clearly showing us active listening is a pathway to communion and community! #symodjourney.
See yourself here? Want to act on what you have discovered? Here are some steps you can take:
1. Take the listening assessment here
2. Bring others along in this discovery by sharing this blog series and taking a look at this video in one of your meetings: Active listening is a skill! Here’s How it’s Done. 2:15. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nmJW_zExk0 (and the British accent is an added bonus!)
3. Take a look at this book excerpt to learn a little more.
4. Learn how to actively listen! You can do this on your own, but it’s much more effective in a small facilitated workshop. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash [i] “The Costs of Poor Listening.” Innolect. [ii] Steve Keating. “When Leaders Don’t Listen.” Lead Today. November 20, 2020. https://stevekeating.me/2020/11/30/when-leaders-dont-listen/#:~:text=Hearing%20is%20a%20gift%20from,lead%20even%20a%20little%20better Accessed 7-14-22 [iii] Holly Green. “Active Listening as a Leadership Skill.” Vistage. September 18, 2018. Includes a listening assessment. https://www.vistage.com/research-center/business-leadership/20180912-active-listening-leadership-skill/ Accessed 7-14-22 [iv] Marija Kojic. “The costs of miscommunication (and how to cut them). Management Innovation eXchange. July 12, 2021. https://www.managementexchange.com/story/costs-miscommunication-and-how-cut-them Accessed 7-14-22. [v] Dan Bobinski. “The Price of Poor Listening.” Management Issues at the heart of the changing workplace. February 3, 2016. https://www.management-issues.com/opinion/6564/the-price-of-poor-listening/#:~:text=Poor%20listening%20leads%20to%20assumptions,and%20weakens%20communication%20even%20further Accessed 7-14-22 [vi] Marija Kojick. [vii] Ibid. [viii] Ibid. [ix] Steve Keating. [x] Ibid.