Anyone who has read any of my blog posts or received emails from me is familiar with a piece of ancient wisdom that has become a key guide to my approach to communication. I end each blog post with it and I use it as a closing on many of the emails I write. Perhaps you’re already looking down this post for the answer. This wisdom is “be swift to hear and slow to speak.”
This wisdom comes from the Epistle of James, a first century writing that is part of the New Testament. This letter is like wisdom literature found in the Old Testament, such as in the Book of Proverbs, a collection of wise sayings from various authors writing at various times. Many of these sayings are similar to those found in other wisdom literature of the ancient world. This wisdom literature has a lot to say about how we should communicate.
Be swift to hear and slow to speak
The particular saying that has become so important to me comes from the first chapter in James’ letter. The fuller comment reads, “Know this my beloved brothers; let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (ESV). My use of the word “swift” comes from the older King James translation.
The connection between speech and anger is interesting and I have found that those who struggle with being slow to speak also tend to struggle with anger. But that is an idea for another article. I want to focus in on the relationship between listening and speaking.
Easy to Understand, Hard to Apply
There is nothing new or earth shattering in “be swift to listen, slow to speak.” It is not unlike something our mothers and teachers may have told us when we were younger: “You have two ears and one mouth. You should listen twice as much as you talk.” This too is good advice.
While it is easy enough for even a grade schooler to understand, it is difficult to follow in our lives…even as adults. We simply do not listen well. When we do listen, we are generally focused on responding and not on understanding what others are telling us. Most of us just cannot wait to talk ourselves. As a rule, we tend to “be swift to speak and slow to listen.” Let me share an example from a recent article I wrote on communication in the healthcare industry. On average, doctors interrupt patients only 18 seconds after they begin speaking. Most of us are no different.
Wisdom leads to Intelligence
The wisdom espoused in “be swift to hear and slow to speak” was a governing idea when I created the Intelligent Communication approach. In the Smart Talk model, I expand the concept of listening to four steps. These steps are part of what I call the Think & Feel process. If you notice in the graphic, the Think & Feel cogwheel is larger than the Say & Do cogwheel. This displays graphically what James was sharing in his letter. We must consider listening as the bigger deal…the more important task.
When we let the Smart Talk model guide our communication, we begin to listen more than we speak. We understand better and we can use this greater understanding to guide a more effective response. That way, we are more likely to achieve our goals. We can actually accomplish more by saying and doing less. Because, our saying and doing is informed by our listening and understanding.
Would you like to learn how to use Smart Talk?
I believe in this ancient wisdom and I believe in the model I developed from it. The Intelligent Communication approach and Smart Talk model are the basis of the training I have been providing to intelligence officers, law enforcement personnel, special operators, and more over the past decade. If you are interested in whether these ideas can make you a better communicator, you can find out. I have created a ten-lesson email mini-course introducing the Smart Talk model. Each lesson includes a practical exercise to get you started with applying the model to your own communication. Sign up for this course here. If the course is not available, check back after I complete updates.
If you have any questions about this offer, add a comment below and I will get back to you soon.
And remember, be swift to hear and slow to speak,