The one who gives an answer before he listens– that is his folly and his shame. (Proverbs 18:13)
One of the greatest skills a person can develop is the ability to listen. One of the biggest problems to effective listening is impatience. How many times have you started to share, explain, or speak to someone and they immediately interrupt you to give a response? It is frustrating for the person speaking for sure. You take the risk and the opportunity to share something that you feel is important with someone and they cut you off like a car cutting in front of you in traffic; you get pommeled with an answer that may, or may not have, anything to do with what you were trying to share.
Of course, when someone cuts you off there is often a reaction. I usually don’t bother starting up the conversation again because I assume the person is too busy listening to the sound of their own voice to bother listening to me. What is the problem? Some people think it is a mark of mental acuity to be able to anticipate, infer, or draw inferences from what the person begins to say, rush ahead of them, and give a response before they can finish the sentence. What is worse, if the context makes it clear where a person is going with their statements … and the other person’s response happens to “get it right”, it encourages this bad behavior. The responder is often very proud of themselves that they can figure out how to respond before they hear the whole picture, and it only encourages this bad behavior. This is often a problem in marriages because a couple usually learns the habits and thinking patterns of their marriage partner and they can anticipate the kind of response they are going to get; many spouses are profoundly guilty of not listening because they “already know what the other is going to say”.
Proverbs 18:14 does not indicate that a person is off the hook if they guessed right. Jumping in to give a response or answer before he (or she) listens is, to be blunt, folly (foolish) and a shame to that individual. So what are the possible reasons why people are this rude when they can’t even listen to what another person is saying? Notice the other verses around verse 13:
Before destruction the heart of a person is proud, but humility comes before honor. 13 The one who gives an answer before he listens– that is his folly and his shame. 14 A person’s spirit sustains him through sickness– but who can bear a crushed spirit? 15 The discerning person acquires knowledge, and the wise person seeks knowledge. (Pro 18:12-15 NET)
Three things stand out to me:
- People who tend to butt in and give answers to others without listening have a pride issue (v. 12). The essential problem is that a proud heart is destructive. We may not think responding to someone without listening is “destructive” but we rationalize it, at worst, as inconvenient. For those who are trying to communicate these kinds of interruptions can be very destructive. The impatience, boredom, or arrogance of a person to be giving a response before someone else finishes their sentence shows little respect to that person and can be very condescending and demeaning. Humility comes before honor. I will propose to you that good listeners are humble people and not only honor the other person, but gain great respect for themselves because being an effective listener is a great way to show respect for others. Those who have people in their life that are really good listeners really appreciate their friendship. The other person is not simply trying to fix them or solve the problem. They care about the person and want to hear what they are going through. They are with them in their journey not just trying to force them into their solutions.
- The “destruction” may not be overt or physical but more internal. Notice verse 14 – Depending on an individual’s sense of identity the condescending way a person takes over the discussion, interrupts a person, and gives an answer without listening can crush the spirit of another. When you think about it the “I don’t have time to listen to you, so here is my answer” is rather condescending. It basically says “I don’t have time to listen to you go on and on, and I know where you are going with this, so just to make sure you don’t waste any more of my time – here is the answer.” Of course there may be other reasons a person cuts someone off in a conversation – they might think they are being funny, cute, and quick to solve the problem. However, some people simply want to show off how smart they are by anticipating the issue and fixing it; it is utilizing the gift of a “sixth sense” to help others. I believe some people cut others off because they are simply not interested in listening to that person at all so they stomp on their conversation by shutting them down before they get started.
- The discerning person acquires knowledge, and the wise person seeks knowledge. What a great encouragement to learn to be a great listener. We acquire knowledge and insight by listening to not just the words of a person but also understanding their heart, emotions, and attitude to discover how this topic or issue really impacts this person’s life. Any counselor will tell you that listening is hard work. If we really want to gain knowledge and seek to understand others you can’t do it by cutting them off to show how smart you are; you have to learn to listen.