Jesus used reflective listening to communicate well

Published 6:47 am Friday, August 24, 2018


Religion columnist

Few people will argue that relationships are more important in our lives than working and making money. Yet people tend to talk a lot more about how important their relationships are than actually working on them. That is surely because many people find it a lot easier to make money than to have healthy relationships.

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Ministers often teach couples in premarital counseling that the big reasons for divorce are money problems, sexual problems, in-law problems and fooling around. But I have found that these are only the arenas of life that come up if you cannot communicate. Healthy relationships and good communication take time and lots of work, and it is worth every minute.

Jesus, the great communicator, can teach us some things about communication tools we can use. One such tool is called reflective listening, that is telling someone something they have already told you to make sure you are talking about the same thing.

Jesus used this tool at Simon’s home in Luke 7:36-50 (take time to read it now) where a sinful woman washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, and anoints them with expensive oil. Simon gave no water for Jesus to wash his feet as he entered Simon’s home, no kiss of greeting as was surely given to all of Simon’s other guests, and he certainly didn’t anoint Jesus’ head. Jesus wants to make sure he and Simon are arguing about the same thing. Simon wants to argue about Jesus’ choice of friends; Jesus wants to point out the great power of mercy, hospitality and forgiveness.

Once they are arguing the same thing and there is no argument, Jesus communicates quite clearly what is truly important in relationships with people and God, as he does not try to justify himself, but seeks to serve the other.

In our relationships with one another, we can use reflective listening to help us escape those circular arguments where one person is arguing one point, and the other is arguing another point. Have you ever been in an argument with your spouse and thought to yourself, “S/he didn’t hear a word I just said?”

I have this great ability to know what my wife is going to say before she finishes talking, and I am ready with my answer so that when she takes a breath I can regale her with my wisdom. That is when she asks me, “What did I just say?” I usually stammer a bit, think about making something up, and then confess that I don’t have a clue. Now I am ready to listen. She says it again, I repeat it. We usually find we are not that far apart, once we start listening and discuss the same topic. This helps us solve problems much faster with a lot less fighting.

This can be an invaluable communication tool when working with your children, especially if you have a child who doesn’t listen well. Ask them what you just said. If they don’t know, calmly say it again, and again … For example, you walk into the family room and see clearly that your 6-year-old son has scattered every one of his games across the floor, mixing them up with one another completely. The parent’s natural response is, “I can’t believe what a mess you have made. It is going to take a long time to clean it up. You will not be able to do anything else today until the job is done.” You think the matter is settled. Many children stopped hearing when they heard the words, “I can’t believe…” It is a simple matter to check this out by asking your “Ace wrecking crew” son, “What did I just say?”

The most common response is the blank stare. Clearly, good communication has not happened. Give your son a one-minute time out, say your punishment again with less drama, and ask what you have said. Repeat this until he can repeat it. It won’t guarantee the room gets cleaned, but at least when you punish him by not letting him go play with friends, he will understand why.

Ask your spouse if you can try reflective listening the next time you have a disagreement. Can you better model good communication for your children by using this tool in raising them? Is there a situation at work that went badly because people were not arguing about the same thing? Find a way to test this communication tool and see how well it works.

To find out more about Al Earley or read previous articles, visit