Communication is the essence of good relationships. When we communicate well with others we feel empowered and respected. When communication breaks down relationships become strained and sources of stress rather than enjoyment. In fact one of the number one difficulties couples admit to having in their relationships is poor communication.
Scripture has a lot to say about communication and how we use our words. In the book of James it talks about how such a small part of our bodies (our tongue) has such power and can do tremendous destruction. In the book of Ephesians it gives instructions on how we are to only speak words that will build people up or in other ways be beneficial to them. In fact all through out scripture we are given instructions regarding how to communicate. Still many of us struggle when we are “in the moment” of a heated or uncomfortable conversation. Let’s examine a few of the types of dangerous ways in which we communicate that sabotage our relationships and what we can do about them.
NEGATIVE INTERPRETATION: is when you evaluate another persons actions, thoughts, feelings or intentions negatively without checking the facts.
What to do if you’re the one doing it: Check the facts! You do not have the ability to read the mind or know the feelings of other individuals. It is up to them to tell you what they are thinking and feeling.
What to do if you think it is being done to you: One thing you can do if you believe that someone may be misunderstanding you is to ask them to repeat what they are hearing you say. Another thing you can do is restate, specifically and concisely what you are thinking or feeling and the reasons behind those thoughts and feelings.
BLAMING, SHAMING, DEFENSIVENESS: is when you turn the focus in a negative way on to the other person.
What to do if you’re the one doing it: This can be really hard because typically when you are the one doing it you are feeling guilty, ashamed, frustrated or attacked and this is your way of getting out of the conversation. When you feel this way it is really hard to listen to what the other person is saying. You may need to take a break from the conversation while you evaluate what your underlying feelings are and the reasons why you feel like you do. When you do re-engage in the conversation try to really listen to what the other person is saying without commenting on WHY you did or didn’t do or say something.
What if it is being done to you: Typically this is done as a means of derailing the conversation and getting it off track so the other person will not feel pressure. If you are the target of the the blame and shame you will need to continue to stick to the topic at hand (even if you sound like a broken record), identify specific feelings and behaviors, and avoid generalizations. It may be helpful to stick to very specific facts and I statements. For example: “I feel overwhelmed when I see the sink full of dishes.”
WITHDRAWL: (also known as stone-walling) is when a person shuts down and refuses to engage in the conversation.
What to do if you’re the one doing it: Try to determine why it is that you are shutting down. Do you feel attacked? Do you believe that the other person is not listening to you or hearing you? Do you believe that it is an argument that always gets talked about and never gets solved? Do you feel like you are in a no win situation? Once you have identified your thoughts and feelings you can then try to engage in the conversation using the ‘speaker-listener’ technique or request a ‘time out’ to collect your thoughts and resume the conversation at a later time.
What if it is being done to you: You can identify the behavior and take on the listener role in order to try to understand the other person’s point of view and move the conversation forward. If you are unable to move the conversation forward you can ask for a ‘time out’ in an effort to allow tensions cool down and resume the conversation at a later time.
INVALIDATION: is what we think of as classic teenage behavior…think rolling the eyes, using sweeping generalizations such as always and never, sarcasm, mimicking, etc. Basically it is anything (verbal or body language) that seeks to devalue the other person.
What to do if you’re the one doing it: Try to be aware of your body language, especially your face! Use words that are accurate and clearly describe and reflect specifically what is going on. Avoid generalizations. Acknowledge when you engage in an invalidating response, apologize, and try again to listen respectfully or speak.
What if it is being done to you: Respectfully acknowledge the behavior and request that it stop. If the behavior continues let them know that you will not continue in the discussion until they can treat you respectfully.
ESCALATION: includes yelling, screaming, cussing, name calling, belittling, intimidating, and threatening. Once either person is engaging in escalation it is unlikely that any healthy progress will be made in the communication. Additionally, if escalation is allowed to continue without being stopped to can lead can to emotional and/or physical abuse.
What to do if you’re the one doing it: As soon as you notice you are escalating take a break from the discussion to regain your composure. During your break from the conversation make sure you engage in activities that will cool your anger. Some good examples are: exercise, breathing techniques, meditation, or journaling. After you have cooled down you may realize you need to apologize or maybe you become aware that you may not have completely understood the other person’s point of view. If either of these are the case, apologize first and then take the role of the listener and try again to understand what the other person was trying to communicate.
What if it is being done to you: If you are in a conversation and the other person is escalating you can try to inform the other person that you will not continue the conversation if they continue with the escalating behavior. For example: “I will not continue with this conversation if you are going to call me names.” If the behavior continues stop the conversation and remove yourself from the area. You can re-engage once you and the other person have had some time to cool off. If the behavior has continued to the point where you are in a physically dangerous situation or the person will not allow you to leave the discussion you may need to seek additional help from legal authorities or from other professionals?
Which of the communication styles above is your “go to” when you are angry, hurt, or frustrated? Let me challenge you to work on changing that. Here are a couple of ideas: 1.) Ask someone who is close to you which one of the styles they have experienced you using and have them share how it made them feel. Do this without rationalizing, explaining or defending your behavior. Your only job is to listen to their feedback. 2.) Prepare ahead of time for conversations that you know may be challenging. Visualize yourself engaging in the conversation in a healthy manner. Practice words that will move the conversation rather than stop the conversation. Be intent on LISTENING to and REALLY HEARING what the other person is trying to communicate. 3.) Catch yourself in the act of engaging in that behavior and intentionally stop and try to re-engage in the conversation in a healthier manner.
I really truly want my words to be used as a means of encouraging and inspiring others. Teach me how to communicate well. Teach me to not put up barriers when communicating with others. Open my eyes and ears so that I might see the ways I allow my words and actions to interfere with communication. Also, help me to draw out others so that when they communicate with me they feel safe sharing with me knowing that I am really trying to hear and understand them. Bless my communication so that it might be pleasing to you and respectful to others.
In Jesus Name- Amen
We put a small piece of metal in the mouth of a horse to make it obey us. We can control the whole animal with it. And how about ships? They are very big. They are driven along by strong winds. But they are steered by a very small rudder. It makes them go where the captain wants to go. In the same way, the tongue is a small part of a person’s body. But it talks big. Think about how a small spark can set a big forest on fire. James 3:3-5
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29