Posted by: mikenicholsblog | May 12, 2013

the person right in front of you

It has happened to all of us.  We’ve been speaking (maybe even passionately) to someone who, without a doubt, was not listening.  You could tell by their eyes that your words were falling on deaf ears.  Undoubtedly, you have also been on the receiving end of a conversation and had no idea what the speaker was saying.  We can all make excuses for not listening. We were distracted, really tired, in a hurry, the speaker was giving too many details … the list goes on and on. At the core of our poor listening, there is a subtle selfishness — I am more important than you.  Those words may seem harsh, but I truly believe that when the people in our lives speak, they deserve to be heard.  I heard someone say once, “When I speak, all anyone hears is blah, blah, blah!” You, like me, have probably felt that way, and sadly, have also probably listened that way.  Listening can be boiled down to one word … focus!

Writing about this subject without admitting my failures would be inappropriate.  I’m pretty driven and focused on what I have to accomplish at work and in life.  When I am not careful, my agenda will dictate my thinking, and I can easily lose concentration on what others may be saying to me.  I would never want to say it this way, but that is the subtle form of selfishness I mentioned above;  I am more important than you, or my time is too important to stop and listen to you. I am very conscious that I can slip into that mode easily, and so I am very aware of my need to live in the present.  Without much effort you may find that you also become less than a good listener.

In my personal growth journey, recently I ran across some pages that were ripped from an article. They have really helped me frame the way I should listen, and be present with others in a profound way.  If you will take the following words and internalize them, your listening skills will improve, and others will feel that you are really focusing on them and care about their needs.  The words I am quoting were written in the Cedarville TORCH magazine in 2011. They can be attributed to a great author, Dr. Richard Swenson.

The focus of Christ’s ministry was always the person standing in front of Him. The person standing in front of me is an obstacle I ‘m trying to get over, under, around, or through because I’m late for whatever is down the road.  Jesus did not cure every case of leprosy in Israel. If you could just look at it or touch it and heal it, wouldn’t you hold a clinic until 3 a. m. every morning? Wouldn’t you give the disciples only an hour of sleep and keep running from village to village? Jesus didn’t do that; He knew there would be more leprosy tomorrow. How completely contrary that is to my whole mentality.
(boldface added for emphasis)

His focus was always the person standing in front of Him … Hmmm!  Although I don’t have an exact example to give you, I believe with all my heart that Christ dealt with people that way.  It is my opinion that His attention and care was directed toward the needs of those (individually or as a group) who were in front of Him at any moment.   Living with this kind of focus is a rarity in our fast paced, check my cell phone, read my texts, get to the next meeting world.  Therefore we hear half statements, draw wrong conclusions, offend those we love, and selfishly infer – I am more important than you. I’ll say it again. Listening can be boiled down to one word … focus!

A popular mantra in the 1990’s was WWJD (What Would Jesus Do).  I can tell you one thing He would do, because I believe He did it.  He would focus on the person right in front of Him.  So should I, and so should you!  Today, you will stand in front of someone who is speaking to you.  Will your eyes drift, will your hand reach for a phone, or will your mind wander to another place?  You know what Jesus did, and what He wants you to do. Listen with laser focus and show them the care that Christ would have definitely shown you.  I haven’t mastered it yet, but I’m growing.  Grow with me!



  1. Great article and a good reminder – thank oyu for illustration and ap;plication.

  2. Excellent – My wife and I recently talked about our focus on each other as we speak to one another. We discovered that we drifted in and out of focus as we communicated, allowing for the everyday distractions to grasp us.

    We made a very conscious decision to show one another grace when this happens and to give a reminder that, “I would like your attention on this” as we spoke. Not an excuse, but this habit of “un-focus” was learned over a life time and grace along with reminding is sometimes necessary to break this habit.


  3. Mike – A great message! We all need “his” kind of focus.

    I had a personal “rule” while working that I would never answer the phone while talking to someone in my office (pre-cellphone days) and most folks could not believe that I didn’t take the call. I also remember how upset I got when in someone else’s office and they did take the call. Made me feel really low or at the bottom of their priority list. Thanks for your reminder that we need to “focus” on what is really important!.


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