Why would a person even stop to listen?
The secret, I never was.
There is an entire field of academia dedicated to communication. Additionally, the behavioral sciences also illustrate why some messages are heard and stick. There is some heady stuff in these disciplines, and they are both worth years of devotion. Only having a handful of lines, I’m dedicating this post to a softer version of the first step in conveying information. I sadly posit that most organizations and people never stop to think about the first step.
Why would a person even stop to listen?
First, an abridged story from my life.
Recently I had the opportunity to spend a bit more than a week in Italy with my wife. We stayed mostly in Florence and Rome. There was a day trip to Pompei. I hung out with Michelangelo’s David, and at night we traversed the Christian catacombs under the ancient capital. The buffalo mozzarella was terrific and baffling to my tongue–perhaps I will miss that most of all. It was an adventure for my eyes and cherished time spent with the woman I love.
Upon returning, people I knew inundated me with questions about the trip. So I complied. But here’s the thing, when I watched their body language, I could tell that many of those individuals were merely being polite.
Ha! It’s such a human thing to do.
Ingrained in our culture, are norms we trigger for information that we don’t want because it would be rude to do otherwise. When I saw it happening about something as ordinary as a vacation, I had to ask the question. “Are they even listening?”
Some of my friends wanted a merry flow of stories. Others wanted me to shut it down.
There is psychology going on here, and I don’t want to dissect that just yet. Instead, first let us generically look at why people might stop to listen to what you have to share. In my case, stories of Italia. For you, it might have to do with asking for favors, expressing goals, or a recitation of the Gospel message.
Two quick presuppositions:
- We’re not talking about information that is too complex for the other person to follow.
- We’re not talking about information that is impossible to express.
After thinking about it, here is the brief, non-scientific list I jotted down.
-People will listen (at least for a bit) when they respect or care for the person speaking. The converse is that without care or respect, it’s typical for anything a person has to say to be dismissed.
-People perk up when they note passion. It might come across superficial, but Billy Mays could sell. The danger though, is that it can come across as fanaticism when not tempered with reason.
-If the offered idea or concept inspires the individual that it’s aimed at, they will want to hear more. The challenge is how fast you can get to that point? Also, is it universally appealing or a polarizing issue. Examine a few political slogans, and you’ll immediately know what I’m getting at.
-Some people are generous listeners, and they should be praised. There are some individuals that take delight in hearing other people’s ideas and stories. The let down with a generous listener is that having been privy to so much, they will often have overheard a counter voice to anything you’re trying to suggest.
-Messages that reassure people on their current set of beliefs are heard and taken to heart. Words that make people uncomfortable or they disagree with (even when correct) can backfire and further entrench people in said beliefs.
-Viral messages are heard because they are being shared. People want to know what the craze is about. They want to know what’s in style. Some want to be the first to that information.
-People will check out something that got a stamp of approval by someone they trust.
-Some people will never listen.
That was my list.
If you’re a clever reader, you’ll have noticed something. Most of the list is about the content being shared, and not why they would first even stop to listen.
I posit that the two most impactful reasons people will hear another’s two cents are that the opinion is coming from a person they already respect, or that they’ve been introduced to them by a trusted voice.
Even then, the message might turn them off.
What does this have to do with evangelism?
First, you will never be able to reach everyone. Instead, realize that there are some people you can reach, and some people that can be reached by someone else. You’ll be best suited reaching the people that already respect your opinion on a whole variety of topics. Why? You already have that social capital with them. Worry first about the people the Holy Spirit brings into your lives. If there is a loved one and you are desperate for them to come to faith, and you know that they will not listen to you–pray that God brings into their life that voice they will hear.
Second, you first need to be a person worth being heard. Live life as a pusher of peace. Work towards making the lives of those around you a better place. Be authentic in this pursuit. Be liberated for more and greater liberty.
And when you ask someone how their vacation was, just listen.
It shows you care.