This episode features content from module four of the “First Steps” curriculum, entitled: “Dialogue Skills: listening gently, speaking honestly.”
Module four address a key skill for Christians, yet one this is mostly overlooked. Specifically, as a religion eager to communicate its beliefs to outsiders—many of which are unreceptive and even hostile to these beliefs—it is difficult to overstate the importance of good communication skills for Christians and the Christian church. So I find it not simply ironic but baffling that Christians pay so so little attention to communication, to the point that I have never heard of a church or Christian organization requiring members to learn communication skills.
This module, then, focuses on “interest-based” communication skills.
Now before I begin I want to be very clear: the purpose of learning such communication skills is not for Christians to debate better, or win more arguments, with non-Christians. Nor is the point of this module to provide tactics and techniques to help Christians be more persuasive in presenting Christianity to outsiders. Instead, the point of this module—and the main value of learning interest-based communication skills—is to develop a fuller understanding of a) the other person and her views on a certain topic, b) of myself and my views on the topic, and c) of the actual topic under discussion.
Indeed, the orientation underlying the interest-based communication presented in this module is not an orientation aiming to defeat the other party’s views or necessarily reveal the weaknesses in those views. That orientation only listens long enough to form a counter-argument, and so it only hears the points that are disagreed with or that seem problematic. By contrast, the orientation promoted here begins with listening openly and fully (but includes speaking gently and, sometimes, critically). This orientation does not aim to undercut or disprove the other position but seeks to understand it and uncover its truth strengths.
To do this, this module introduces the complimentary opposition between affirmation and critique. In other words, participants learn to affirm others and the value of their views and develop the skills to offer critical responses to those views, yet to do so is a manner that opposes some of the content under discussion rather disparages some individual within the discussion.
This episode close out with a discussion with John Poelstra. More about the different levels of listening John refers to are found in his podcast titled What is Good Listening?