Learn to sense what is going on in other people’s hearts. Some people are easier to read than others, and it all depends how open their hearts are. But some people’s hearts will sing their songs even when those people themselves do not realise it. Pain and wounding will often show through a person, despite their best attempts to hide it. Their heart songs may be sad or glad – but they are there for those who watch, listen and discern.
Discerning a person’s heart helps you to decide your best response to them. Here is an important principle: Discerning people’s hearts will tell you the most about people, but you must practise listening to their hearts in order to best discern them.
When you have discerned someone’s heart – what then? What do you do with the wisdom and insight that you have gained? Is that insight correct? Is it consistent with what you know of the person over a longer period? Is it appropriate for you to say anything at all?
That leads to another important principle: Once you have discerned someone’s heart, it is vitally important that you carefully decide your next course of action. Unthinking and unwise words or actions can freshly wound an already hurting person, so be careful.
It may not be appropriate to share with others the insight that you believe you have gained. Learn not to speak or act in haste. And NEVER try to show off because you have learned something about someone – that will surely rebound on you and damage that relationship. It is not just the other person that you need to think about – it is also important to think about yourself.
What would your reaction would be if a person was angry with you, or hurt you? Unthinking or badly expressed words can hurt people, so think before you speak! You cannot recall hasty words. Life does not have an ‘UNDO’ button! Neither does your mouth. Therefore, here is a vitally important principle: Put yourself in the shoes of others and listen very carefully to yourself.
One very important tool you have available to help you grow and mature – and to grow in relationship with others – is questions. Questions are a greatly undervalued and yet also a terribly misused tool. Questions are sometimes used so carelessly and so cruelly that we easily forget just how good and useful a tool they really are. Used unwisely, they are intrusive and offensive; used wisely, they are able to bring great benefit. But how should questions be used?
Consider very young children. Here is a fictional (or is it?) conversation between a busy mother who is preparing vegetables at the sink and a toddler boy by her side who is far too small to see what his mother is doing:
BOY: What you doing mummy?
MUM: Peeling a potato.
BOY: What’s a potato mummy?
MUM: It’s a vegetable.
BOY: What’s a vegetable mummy?
MUM: It’s what we’re having for tea.
BOY: When’s tea mummy?
MUM: Not for a while yet.
BOY: Why mummy?
MUM: Because I’m only peeling potatoes now.
BOY: What you doing now mummy?
MUM: Peeling another potato.
BOY: But you did one already mummy.
MUM: We need a lot of potatoes.
BOY: Why mummy?
MUM: To feed all of us.
BOY: What are you doing now mummy?
MUM: Go watch TV.
It would never happen like that, would it? But it does… Insatiable questions from insatiable curiosity. But here is the most important revelation that comes from that little conversation: The boy was never seeking information from his mother; he was seeking relationship. He wanted to know that he was important to his mother.
His mother knows all that, of course she does. The boy didn’t want words or facts; he wanted his mum. But things also needed to get done for the family meal. Children RARELY seek mere information; they ALMOST ALWAYS seek personal attention. They want to know that they are worth giving attention to. They want to know that they are valued.
Believing that young children use questions only to seek information is to completely misunderstand and misread them. To prove the point, listen to the same sort of conversation we considered a moment ago where it is the father who is preparing food and he typically thinks that the boy is looking for information:
BOY: What you doing daddy?
DAD: Peeling a potato.
BOY: What’s a potato daddy?
DAD: It’s a white vegetable with a skin that grows in the ground in certain places and climates. Since we cannot grow them right here, we buy them from the supermarket. Remember the supermarket? That was the place where you had the almighty tantrum and destroyed an entire display of beans – beans being the little squishy tomatoey things that you have on toast. Remember beans? Those orangey things you freely distributed around the dining room last week. And we’re still finding them. Remember toast? It is the piece of bread that you think is a frisbee and you throw at the dog. Anyway, back to potatoes – they are good for you and today I am going to mash them. Oh, I know – what does ‘mash’ mean? It means that when they are fully cooked I am going to bash them up and make them white, soft and fluffy – just like your gran’s hair. And before you ask, no we are not going to mash your gran’s hair today, and no your gran is not coming here either. Now, where was I? What was your question again son?
BOY: Nothing dad.
DAD: Well, if you ever want to know anything son, just ask me.
It would never happen like that, would it? Not likely!
Dad only heard the words of the toddler’s mouth and not the real question. The real question was: ‘Can I have your attention dad?’ The toddler’s heart’s desire was to be treated as valuable and therefore receive his father’s time and attention.
Why is all this important? Because so many adults do exactly the same things with each other. They hear words but ignore hearts. They go for the easy option of merely giving information instead of truly engaging with the person.
Questions carefully used can evoke a response far beyond the meaning of the words. Questions are a powerful tool, and they need to be used wisely and carefully.
Here then is a very important principle: People may often reveal very significant things about themselves and their circumstances when they are answering questions that are carefully and wisely put to them.
The trouble is that so few people use questions carefully and wisely, and even fewer people are careful and wise in receiving the response of the person they asked the question of. But questions are such an important – if basic – tool that we need to develop our skills in asking and hearing if we are to get closer to people and have meaningful relationships. Here are some thoughts to hold along with questions.
• Listen to a person, but not just their words. How long do they take to reply to a question? How freely do they take part in open conversation? Is their language critical of others? Are they on a soapbox (metaphorically speaking)? And so on.
• Watch the person. Where do they stand in relation to others? Do they face people or turn away? Are they close to people or a distance away? Do they follow people around or lead others around? And so on.
• Greet the person when and how it is appropriate to do so. Try and be creative in greeting people. Try and sound like you mean it, too.
• Ask appropriate questions carefully and wisely. The most appropriate questions are non-threatening and follow on from what the other person is saying.
• Hear the words they speak and watch what they do – but sense their heart also in how they respond. Judge their mood and feelings, and decide on your next words carefully and wisely in the light of what you feel about them.
• If in doubt – shut up. Even a fool who keeps quiet is considered wise.
Questions are a vitally important and underrated tool in helping you to establish and develop relationships, and it is vitally important to use words and questions carefully and wisely. Questions used well are very useful in helping to get closer to other people. Questions used carefully and wisely show that you are interested in the person you are asking the questions of and that you are not merely seeking information. Questions used carefully and wisely show that you care. But remember – if you ask a question, always give the person time to answer.
If your questions are touching a person’s heart, it may take them a little while to respond – they may not even respond at all on that occasion, but they may do so later. Listening is a vitally important tool that needs to be used alongside questions, so don’t be afraid of silences after you have asked questions! Train yourself by keeping on asking questions in your own heart and mind. Discipline yourself by questions too. Be constantly asking yourself questions like:
* How will this person react to what I am about to say or do?
* How can I say things in a non-threatening way?
* How can I show that I care?
And so on. Constantly monitor your own words and deeds by asking yourself questions. And don’t be surprised if you get an answer….