The Art of Communication
The art of communication, I believe, has been lost through the years. Communication is so much more than just talking. It involves not just listening, but hearing what others are really trying to tell us.
Think about the last time someone really took the time to listen to you. How did it make you feel knowing you were truly heard. Then think about the last time you sat down to talk with someone and they were only passively listening. In other words, as you were talking the other person was more interested in what was on their phone, computer or what others were doing or saying around them. How did that make you feel? If you are anything like me, you probably felt like you were not important.
Everything we know or do in life is learned behavior and our parents are supposed to be the most influential teachers in our lives. Like myself, I have worked with hundreds of people who even though they might have been estranged from their parents for years, it was their parents that most influenced their lives; both in a positive and negative way. And in many cases it’s not what they were “telling” us to do it was there actions.
In my own life my mother and stepfather, who were born again Christians, raised me in a fear based home. Both my mother and stepfather used screaming, damning words, and physical abuse as a way of getting their point across. I was always told what I needed to do before they even knew what I was struggling with. Then the times they did listen to me, they only told me, “I had no right to feel the way I felt.” Who do you think you are anyway? My feelings were always denied and I mean always.
I never wanted my children to dislike me the way I disliked my parents. I never wanted to treat my wife disrespectfully. Yet, as I grew older I began to treat my wife and children with disrespect. Disrespect in the way I talked to them, told them what they needed to do without hearing what was really going on in their lives. When I felt I was not being heard, I would raise my voice in an attempt to be heard, only to scare my wife and kids and push them farther away from me.
The true art of communication involves listening and not just listening, but hearing what the other person is truly saying. Hearing their pain or joy. It’s important to listen intuitively, listening for key phrases or voice tone changes as well as body posture. Often times a person’s body language or voice tone tells more than their actual words. It’s important not to tell people what they need to do as we really only know what works for us. Instead simply ask powerful questions and if needed, make suggestions.
I have found that by asking powerful open-ended question such as; How do you think God intends for you to handle this situation? Could you tell me a little more about this experience?; How might your actions have contributed to the situation?; and What does your response to this say about who you are or what you’re called to do? The person will find his or her own answers. They just need a little guidance and direction. What works for me, what I need, does not always work for others. The one question I always ask up front is – What do you want me to do for you? This is a question that Jesus would actually ask as evident in Luke 18:41 “What do you want me to do for you?”
I have found it important to make a time, whenever possible, to talk with people so my attention can be solely focused on that person. When I make a commitment to sit down and talk with someone, that time is solely his or hers. The computer goes away, the phone goes away and the television is turned off. If someone needs to talk with me immediately, I walk away from crowds and give them my full attention. One of mentors once told me – Be the father to your children that you always wanted growing up.” I carry that over to all of my affairs. I always wanted someone to listen to me; so today I take the time to listen to others.
Why should we listen? There are several reasons and I have listed just a few of them – It communicates honor, love and acceptance; It is a sacrificial gift to another; and it gives time for Holy Spirit wisdom and discernment. I also believe there are three levels of listening:
Level 1: What does this mean to me? “Non-listening or passive listening.”
Level 2: What does this mean to them? “Active listening.”
Level 3: What does this mean to God? “Spiritual listening.”
It is only in levels two and three that transformational conversations begin.
Over the last twelve years I have transformed my old dysfunctional and unproductive communication skills into very functional and productive skills. My mentors and teachers first demonstrated these new communications skills to me in the way they guided me out of my pain. However, I had to be willing and have an open mind in order to change. I had to take risk and learn to trust that my mentors and teachers were not there to hurt me, but to help me.
Today I work with the broken and for many of them in order to start their healing process they just need to be heard without judgment. In order to change, they needed to see the love of Jesus demonstrated through me. Words are meaningless without action. When I ask someone how he or she is, I really care. They are not just empty words. Today my new communication skills have helped many men, women and children make profound and life long changes. Just because I learned certain behaviors from my parents and peers does not mean they are necessarily right. They might have worked for a long time, but when they quit working, I had to find a better way to communicate.