Perhaps it’s only an issue for men, but I’m fairly confident that the problem is more widespread… Have you ever begun to mentally compose a reply while the person you’re speaking to is still in the midst of talking? John Piper recently offered an illuminating meditation on Proverbs 18:13 ~ "If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame." Hmmm…notice the use of the masculine pronoun…
In what he wrote, Piper mused over ten reasons we should listen before we speak. The full text of the meditation is available online and is worth reading through. In fact, I got through writing reason #7 in short form before I decided that it’s too rich to abbreviate. What follows below is the full text of his meditation…
Ten Reasons to Listen to Questions Before You Answer
Meditation on Proverbs 18:13
October 25, 2005
â€œIf one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.â€
- It is arrogant to answer before
you hear. Humility does not presume that it knows precisely what a
person is asking until the questioner has finished asking the question.
How many times have I jumped to a wrong conclusion by starting to
formulate my answer before I heard the whole question! Often it is the
last word in the question that turns the whole thing around and makes
you realize that they are not asking what you thought they were.
- It is rude to answer a
half-asked question. â€œRudeâ€ is a useful word for Christians. It means
â€œill-mannered, discourteous.â€ The New Testament word for it is aschÄ“monei.
It is used in 1 Corinthians 13:5 where modern versions translate it,
â€œLove is not rude,â€ but the old King James Version has â€œLove doth not
behave itself unseemly.â€ This means that love not only
follows absolute moral standards, but also takes cultural mores and
habits and customs into account. What is polite? What is courteous?
What are good manners? What is proper? What is good taste? What is
suitable? Love is not indifferent to these. It uses them to express its
humble desire for peopleâ€™s good. One such politeness is listening well
to a question before you answer.
- Not answering a question before you hear it all honors and respects
the person asking the question. It treats the person as though their
words really matter. It is belittling to another to presume to be able
to finish their question before they do.
- Careful listening to a question often reveals that the question has several layers
and is really more than one question. Several questions are all mixed
into one. When you see this, you can break the question down into parts
and answer them one at a time. You will not see such subtleties if you
are hasty with your answer and not careful in your listening.
- A question sometimes reveals assumptions
that you do not share. If you try to answer the question on the basis
of your assumptions without understanding the questionerâ€™s assumptions,
you will probably speak right past him. If you listen carefully and let
the person finish, you may discern what he is assuming that you do not.
Then you can probe these assumptions before you answer. Often, when
dealing at this level, the question answers itself. It was really about
these deeper differences.
- Questions usually have attitudes
as well as content. The attitude sometimes tells you as much as the
content about what is really being asked. In fact, the attitude may
tell you that the words being used in this question are not all what
the issue is. When that is discerned, we should not make light of the
words, but seriously ask questions to see if the attitude and the words
are really asking the same question. If not, which is the one the
questioner really wants answered?
- Questions have context
that you need to know. So many thoughts and circumstances and feelings
may be feeding into this question that we donâ€™t know about or
understand. Careful listening may help you pick up those things. It may
be that there is just a small clue that some crucial circumstance is
behind the question. If you catch the clue, because you are listening
carefully, you may be able to draw that out and be able to answer the
question so much more helpfully.
- Questions are made up of words. Words have meanings
that are formed by a personâ€™s experience and education. These words may
not carry the same meaning for both you and the questioner. If you want
to answer what they are really asking, you must listen very carefully.
When the possibility exists that their question is rooted in a
different understanding of a word, we will be wise to talk about the
meaning of our words before we talk about the answer to the question. I
find that talking about the definitions of words in questions usually
produces the answer to the questions.
- Proverbs 8:13 says it is our â€œfollyâ€
to answer before we hear. That is, it will make us a fool. One reason
for this is that almost all premature answers are based on thinking we
know all we need to know. But that is â€œfoolish.â€ Our attitude should
be: What can I learn from this question? The fool thinks he knows all
he needs to know.
- And finally Proverbs 8:13 says that it
is our â€œshameâ€ to answer before we hear. What if you are asked
publicly, â€œMy wife and I have had serious problems and we were
wondering . . .â€ and you cut the questioner off by giving your answer
about the value of counseling and what counselors might be helpful. But
then they say, â€œWell, actually, what I was going to say was, â€œMy wife
and I have had serious problems and we were wondering, now that our
counseling is over and things are better than ever, how you would
suggest that we celebrate?â€ Then you will be shamed for not listening.
Still learning to listen with you,
Reprinted with permission from the Desiring God website.