The prophet Amos speaks some striking words: “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” (Am. 3:3). You get the picture: in order for two people to walk together, they first have to come together and be willing to share the same path and destination. Otherwise, they won’t keep walking together in the same direction, in harmony and peace. This is a picture of what is needed, first of all, in relationship with God, but also in relationship with family, loved ones and friends. If there is a good relationship, if there is a walking together in peace and communion, you can be sure two are in agreement with one another. And if they are in agreement with each other, they have learned to communicate with one another. Communication is the most important means by which a relationship is initiated and maintained. What are hindrances and helps to good communication?
Hindrances to good communication
There are several hindrances to communication:
1. First, there is interruption. The Bible speaks of this. For instance, “He that answereth a matter before he heareth, it is folly and shame unto him” (Prov. 18:13). We can interrupt, and not let the other finish. When this constantly happens, good communication grinds to a standstill.
2. A second hindrance is inattentiveness. That is why James will write: “Let every man be swift to hear” (1:19). Not listening carefully requires a father to say: “My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings” (Prov. 4:22).
3. Third, generalizations are a hindrance to communication. We might use sweeping generalizations: “You never do this” or “you always do that.” Often this hurts, and it is not even true. This is why Paul says: “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth to his neighbour” (Eph. 4:25). We do well to guard against such generalizations.
4. Fourth, another hindrance is blame-shifting. It is what Adam and Eve did after they sinned (Gen. 3:12). Pride blinds us to our own sin, and it looks for someone else to blame. But we are responsible for our own emotions, words, actions and reactions (Jam. 1:15).
5. A fifth hindrance to good communication is record-keeping. A pastor met a woman in counseling. When he asked what she wanted to see him for, she tossed onto his desk a bound book of notes she had been keeping for years. “This is our problem,” she said. The counselor began to peruse it, and soon discovered that this woman had been keeping a 13-year account of the ways in which her husband had failed her. She had not let one of his short-comings be forgotten. True, there are times when we need to seek forgiveness from one another. But record-keeping is not the way. Love, according to Paul, does not keep a record of wrongs (1 Cor. 13:5).
6. A sixth hindrance is anger. Sometimes people say: “I get angry quickly, but get over it right away.” Or they say: “I believe in calling a spade a spade,” or “I speak my mind.” But it is hard to imagine anyone who would enjoy living at the foot of an active volcano, having hot lava poured over him on a regular basis. Who likes living with a person who cannot control his temper, someone who is easily irritated? James says: “… let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of God worketh not the righteousness of God” (1:19-20).
7. A seventh treatment to good communication is the silent treatment. We may clam up for one or other reason. True, there are times when silence is golden. “He that hath knowledge spareth his words” (Proverbs 17:27). And while we should not be argumentative, loud and boisterous, it does not help to give people a stony silence. Sulking, pouting, walking away or retreating is not the answer to disagreements. Rather, they need to be calmly, respectfully and fully discussed.
These are some of the hindrances that block the way to walking, talking and growing together. Let us also see what helps there are for good communication with family and friends.
Helps to good communication
1. First, seek a spirit of openness. A good relationship requires openness. Relationships suffer when there is no openness. Paul experienced this with the Corinthian church. Let me paraphrase what Paul says in simple terms: “we have been open and honest…. You are the ones less than open and honest” (2 Cor. 6:11-12). I cannot really know what you are thinking. I might have a guess. I might be able to see something of what you are thinking, but not why. Openness means you share your thoughts and feelings, your disappointments and triumphs, your fears and desires, your joys and sorrows. A relationship can sour with just a small little misunderstanding. Therefore we need to be open. Now, I do not mean that we need to say everything we are thinking. A Christian is someone who sets a watch before his lips and keeps the door of his mouth (Ps. 141:3). What principles should guide us then?
- Is it true? Ephesians 4:15: “Speaking the truth in love.” Do I have the facts?
- Is it profitable? Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”
- Is this the proper time to say it or would it be better for me to wait? Proverbs 15:23: “A word spoken in due season, how good it is.”
- Is my attitude right? 1 Corinthians 16:15: “Let all your things be done with charity.” Am I speaking the truth in love? (Ephesians 4:15).
2. Secondly, seek a spirit of attentiveness. Good communication requires also careful, attentive listening. This requires several things from the listener:
- Give your full attention. There is little worse in conversation than to be talking to someone who is not really listening at all: someone who is yawning, whose attention drifts off elsewhere, perhaps onto the screen, or the iPhone is pulled out and the e-mails are read… all while the one who is being addressed in conversation is nodding his head. We need to give one another our full attention. Children love it. No one outgrows our desire for it.
- Give uninterrupted attention. Does this need explaining? Don’t interrupt (Prov. 18:13).
- Give attention with eye contact. Good listening means giving the other person your undivided attention. When possible, stop what you are doing to concentrate on what the other person is saying. Job 6:28: “Now therefore… look upon me.”
- Give attention with understanding. Good listening means making sure you really understand what the other person is saying or thinking. If needed, ask for clarification.
3. The third help in communication requires that we seek the spirit of meekness. Meekness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:23; Matthew 5:5) whereby you deal gently with others. If Paul says that we must be gentle toward all men (1 Timothy 2:24) how much more to those in the closest of relationships (family or friends)? How sad when we are marked by kindness and humility at work and by pride and arrogance at home. It is fitting that we confess our faults one to another and pray for one another (James 5:16).
How good it is when there is love in our families and with our friends (Psalm 133:1). A teacher was telling the children the story of the temple being built, and of God coming to live there, and how good this was. She wanted to know if the children understood, so she asked: “Boys and girls, where does God live?” One boy answered: “He lives by us at home, because it is always so nice at home.” Seek such a place (Luke 24:29).
This article was first published in the Youth Messenger, Fall 2015, under the title, “Communication with Family, Loved Ones, and Friends.”