We were created to communicate. Our Creator wants us to communicate well. Poor patterns of communication are major factors in relational disharmony and destruction.
Communication between two people is certainly a pretty complex issue. For instance, what I said in a given situation might not be what I really meant. Furthermore, what I heard in a given situation might be neither what you said nor what you meant. Wholesome communication requires clarity on both sides. I have to really say what I mean, not just think I said it. You have to hear what I really said, not just what you think I said. Consider the various combinations in the list below:
– – – ME… versus… YOU
What I actually said… What you heard
What I think I said… What you think I said
What I actually meant by what I said… What you think I meant.
We should all be alert to signs of miscommunication. When it appears that someone else has misunderstood us, we should try to clear up the misunderstanding without defensiveness or aggressiveness. Just say, “It seems like you heard something different from what I was trying to say. What did you hear?” The response to this question could open the door to real understanding.
I want to share three essential ingredients to wholesome communication. If you desire wholesome communication with another, all three of these things must be present. This is not multiple choice, nor is it two out of three. Miss one of these ingredients and you are likely to experience miscommunication.
The first ingredient is this: we must say the right thing. We can’t just say something; it must be the right thing. The right thing might be the presentation of a relevant piece of truth, the validation of a truth the other has presented, a confession of wrongdoing, an apology, the expression of forgiveness, or something else specifically called for in the specific situation. An irrelevant truth may well be true, but not the thing needed at the time. Attempts at self-justification or blame-shifting are poor, albeit popular, substitutes for a confession and apology. We need to say the right thing.
The second ingredient is this: we must say the right thing the right way. For instance, many people will say, “I’m sorry”, but they say it in a way that sounds insincere. Consider the following said in a sarcastic manner, “Okay, I’m sorry. Now, are you happy? “. The sarcasm heard will nullify the power of otherwise healing words. Sometimes we need to have a little emotional distance from a circumstance in order to say what needs to be said in the right way. If you confronted someone else’s behavior in a mean manner or offered an apology laced with defensiveness, you can still go back and do it right. Say something like, “When I apologized for not picking up your clothes at the cleaners, I know I didn’t do that very well. I am sincerely sorry I forgot that. I know you counted on me and I let you down. I hope you will forgive me for forgetting and also for not talking to you about it in a good way.”
Finally, we have to speak at the right time. Proverbs 27:14 says, “If a man loudly blesses his neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse.” Notice, what was intended as a blessing, what would at another time be a blessing, was “taken as a curse.” And this was so because of poor timing. Right timing needs to be defined not just in our own terms, but also in the other’s opinion. A great time for me might be a terrible time for you. Find a time when you and the other person are not distracted, reasonably alert, energized and willing to talk. Yes, I know that for some people the only “right time” to discuss conflict laden issues is “later“. This just means that you must work harder to find a right time. In a calm and kind way, stress that communicating about the given issue is really important, that it won’t go away. You might ask what the other person’s reservations are. Perhaps they will say, “It will just lead to you yelling at me and putting me down.” You might then, respond by promising not to yell or put him/her down. Then give the other person permission to stop the communication between you if you start yelling or speaking in a demeaning way.
You will improve communication between you and others, if you will take these three matters to heart and consider them as you prepare to communicate. Make sure you are saying that thing that needs to be said. Make sure you say it in the right way. Then, wait as long as necessary – if necessary – to have an appropriate time to say it. In places where communication involves emotionally charged content, I highly encourage you to communicate first with God – that is pray about all three of these components. Ask God to help you know what needs to be said and how it should be said. Then, ask Him to provide the time and give you eyes to see it and courage to seize it.
We were created with the capacity to communicate, but we were given a will as well. We must choose to communicate. We must choose to communicate well. And that means, sometimes we must choose a difficult option.