Once the captain regains his composure, he utters in a southern drawl, "What we've got here is failure to communicate."
Maybe you know exactly what I am talking about as you have experienced a breakdown in communication. It could be that you assumed that a coworker was going to complete a task, and when it did not happen, relational tensions resulted in a blow up. Or perhaps you have felt hostility that escalated toward a spouse or significant other during a late night exchange. I know for myself that I have to fight against my tendency to rely on assumptions in my many and varied conversations.
There is hope, however. Let me take you back to the football game. Fortunately, the returners that I mentioned realized what had happened and made an adjustment to pick the ball up and advance it. This represents the idea that we all can make changes — small alterations in our communication patterns to lessen communication failures and achieve a growing connection in our talk.
What sort of modifications could we make in our communication to make our lives more harmonious? In the Bible, in James 1:19, we read, "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires." A helpful adjustment that we can all make in our communication with others is to employ helpful rules of engagement.
First of all, in the passage above it says, "Be quick to listen." We are instructed here in a sense to "hold our tongues" and to do the more difficult thing and "open our hearts and minds to listen." Stephen Covey, in his famous book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," lists this idea as his number five habit: "Seek first to understand and then be understood." What makes it so difficult to listen for understanding is the idea that many of us are listening to reply or even listening to refute. It is critical that we listen to grasp what those around us mean in their communication and also what they are feeling. Something cool happens when we know and feel that we have been understood.
Secondly, be "slow to speak." Now here is a danger, when we speak quickly and put off listening, we can start the crazy cycle. Sometimes a crazy cycle starts because what is appropriate to discuss at a given moment has not been thought out. Here is what it says in Proverbs 10:19, "When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise." Trying to pare down what you want to say is wise and can save a lot of pain. Now an activity that does involve speaking that can help aid the listening process is the skill of asking questions. Taking the time to think through some insightful questions to help your significant others express what they are thinking and how they feel is a great way to use your tongue.
Lastly, there is a third rule of engagement, "be slow to become angry." Do not let anger or out of control emotion disrupt the listening process "because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires." When hostility and strong feelings of annoyance enter into the communication process, it dissolves the empathy necessary to "listen for understanding." In many cases, it is better to step back from the discussion and resume it once these negative feelings have subsided.
What about you? How is your communication? Are you willing to utilize these rules of engagement to put you on a higher level with those you love, with those you come into contact with?
Just think what would happen if each of us grabbed a hold of God's way for communicating. It would change our families, our workplaces, and in many great ways, our whole community. And there would be a lot less "failure to communicate!"
Norm Byers is the lead pastor of Genesis Church. Genesis meets at 9:30 a.m. at North Central Michigan College and 11 a.m. at Boyne City Elementary. For more information visit www.genesiswired.com or comment on Twitter @NormByers.