Measure twice, cut once…

That title is a very good rule for anyone doing carpentry or sewing- but I want to try and apply it to the way I listen.

It might not be apparent in these reflective writings, that I am not always the best listener. I HEAR very well – I am, no doubt, terribly quick on the uptake, good at reading between the lines, and astute when it comes to interpreting the unspoken. But I am also often rather too quick to respond.

Kind people who have told me this throughout the years have described me as  ‘enthusiastic’, ‘keen’ or even ‘Tigger-like’. Unkind ones warned me in my youth , when I was forever being told off for answering back, ‘Be careful, you’re so sharp you’ll cut yourself’. Most recently it was ‘bubbly’… by which I think my bishop meant ‘effervescent’ rather than the giggly blonde partygoer image it conjures in my own head.

Either way I struggle with the recurring failure that I communicate too hastily – it is (except in a crisis) no good to hear and comprehend instantly, if the person who is speaking doesn’t FEEL that they have been heard.

I often find myself having a pastoral conversation that goes something like this:

‘Jemma, d’you mind if I talk to you about soandso’

Me: ‘Not at all… what is it?’

‘Well I’m worried about… (insert anxiety here at some length)’

Me, understanding where they are coming from and eager to allay fears’ Oh. Well do you think… ?(insert helpful and enlightening theological  comment here)’

‘You see I’m worried about (repeat anxiety here, at similar length)’

Me: ‘Yes, I understand you’re worried about (paraphrase anxiety), do you think perhaps (rephrase helpful notion in the form of an anecdote)…?’

(blankly, and with concealed irritation) ‘What’s that?’

Me: ‘Do you think that if you’re worried about …(neatly paraphrased anxiety) that…(quick reiteration of supportive concept that I have found helpful in a similar circumstance)?’

(Pretty much politely ignoring me as talking a foreign language) ‘Oh, I don’t know about that- only I am so worried about… (repeats anxiety, but in brief this time for vicar who is clearly foreign and having trouble understanding)’

Me: (beginning to think I must have misunderstood completely) ‘Do you mean that you are worried about… (reiterates anxiety at similar length almost word for word as the first time I heard it)?’

‘YES! (With visible relief now, despite no change) I am very worried about that. I suppose I ought to… (paraphrases all my previous advice in one common-sense phrase)

Me: (Finally realising they  perhaps didn’t need me to say ANYTHING except to let them know that I heard their worry) ‘Oh well it sounds to me like you’re approaching it in the right way, I wouldn’t worry any further’

‘No, that’s probably true.’

I would like to learn to skip my first two or three attempts to respond helpfully and go straight to the part where I make it reassuringly clear to the speaker that they have well and truly been heard.

Pray for me!





About Jemma

Learning to be both a priest and a human being in the Anglican Church
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