One of the most commonly given reasons for family breakdown and breakup is communication. We all complain about it in our families — “X never listens/talks to me!” — but we often don’t seem to know what to do. For the next few weeks in this blog space I’d like to talk about some sound, Biblical rules for communication. These rules of communication will apply to more than just families — in case you’re single — they also apply to churches, friends, and even enemies. So let’s start with…
Rule 1, Listen and let the other person finish talking
Communication is about way more than just talking. It’s also about listening. It’s often hard to remember this, when we are in the midst of a heated discussion. Com’on now, we all know what we tend to do in such “discussions”: 1) we want to make sure that we get in our side of the argument and we want to persuade the other person, and 2) while the other person is speaking we are either a) thinking about what we want to answer to their side of the issue or b) (even less helpful) we are interrupting. But God’s wisdom says listen.
The wise king Solomon taught, “He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him.” Proverbs 18:13. Listen. You may have been in the frustrating position of starting to say something and a spouse of child has answered sharply to what they thought you were going to say—and they were wrong. That’s why it’s folly and shame. That’s not communicating. Real communicators always grant to others the courtesy of listening.
What is listening? It’s not about just hearing the noise being made. Listening is about really hearing what’s being said. It’s not about multitasking a withering rejoinder. It’s not about only hearing the first 3 or 4 words. It’s about giving someone our full attention and focus. It’s about hearing their words and meanings and intentions—not your boss’ from today or your parents’, when you were 15. Are you really listening to what’s being said?
And listening actually takes a little time. This is captured in what James said about listening, “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;” James 1:19. Please notice the “slow to speak and slow to anger” part. In other words, good listening requires a bit of self-control, reining in our impulse to “get our side out there”. Are you slow to speak?
Someone has well said that it is more important to understand than to be understood. While we all want to be understood, when we understand the other person, we are far more likely to be able to answer their complaint and find a real solution. Do you seek more to be understood or to understand?
Now, of course, the other side of this is that if you are the one talking, don’t dominate the conversation. Nothing will turn a sincere listener off quicker than a lengthy monologue. Few people listen to a rant. You don’t have to completely vent your entire spleen at one time. It’s only fair to take turns; and it will give your listener a chance to really listen and understand you—and communicate with you, too. Sometimes when people complain most about poor communication in their home, they’re really saying, “Nobody’s listening to me.” Do you do more talking than listening?
Are you a good communicator? Are you a good listener? Even when you’re in an argument? Let’s all be better communicators.