When I was at university I took several counseling courses which introduced me to the “dirty dozen” of communication roadblocks. These included things like:
- criticising (negatively evaluating the other person’s behaviour or motivation)
- moralising (telling the other person what they should do)
- excessive questioning of the other person using closed questions (questions that allow only a yes or no response)
- advising (giving the other person the “solution”)
- logical argument (attempting to convince the other person by using logic but without considering the emotional factors that are important to that person).
And this is just a few of the roadblocks! We learned that communication roadblocks are more likely to increase the emotional distance between people and hinder heart to heart connection. We got to role play and practice what true active listening looks and sounds like. We each promised ourselves that we would never roadblock anyone we communicated with ever again!
To my dismay once I came home from these intensive residential schools my good intentions were forgotten as I soon slipped subconsciously back into “roadblocking” often, especially with those closest to me…my family! Now that I was aware of these roadblocks to good communication it was a harsh reality to ask myself “how long have I been doing this for?” Despite the head knowledge, the reality was that ingrained patterns of communication are just that, ingrained, and take hard work and intentionality to “undo.” In fact it takes an average of sixty six days for a new habit to become automatic!
I came across a quote on my Facebook feed which says “The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.”
I think we’re all guilty of this!
It’s especially problematic to try and communicate on an emotive topic via text, email, or social media. When facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice are removed from the equation all that is left is the written words and the other person’s perception. The reader may put emphasis on certain words or phrases and come up with a completely different meaning to that which was intended! Believe me, I’ve had that happen!
What we say and how we say it are important to God. Otherwise He wouldn’t warn us that “The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.” (Proverbs 18:21) or “You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” (James 1:19) Even if we just all lived by that one last verse how much conflict would be avoided? Wow, God really knows how to communicate the truth, and His truth (if applied to our lives), will always bring life.
They say familiarity breeds contempt, but I think it’s more apt to say proximity breeds familiarity!
The privilege of proximity in relationships, whether it’s with family or with friends, means that we are close enough to see, hear, and experience not just the good, but also the bad and the ugly in each other. When we get offended or a loved one doesn’t meet our expectations, it’s way too easy to then use that proximal knowledge of their “bad and ugly” as a weapon against them, whether by our words, or by our actions.
Jesus puts it bluntly:
“…why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”Matthew 7:3-5 (NKJV)
With that kind of teaching not only being preached but also being lived before their very eyes in the perfection of Jesus, I’ve often wondered what the communication was like between Jesus’ disciples?
For the first three years they lived closely together, following in Jesus’ footsteps and watching and learning from Him. In those ancient times following a rabbi or “teacher” was common practice and the disciples were students who listened and watched and imitated so as to become like their teacher. We do see little hints of conflict between the disciples in the gospel accounts, (for example Mark 9:33-37) so there was probably a lot more conflict going on behind the scenes that wasn’t recorded! The communication styles of the disciples must have tried Jesus’ patience on more than one occasion! Yet He continued to model how to speak and act in truth and love, a perfect example of “keeping your love on” despite how annoyed, or upset, or offensive others could be!
After Jesus returned to heaven the disciples were transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit and by everything they had witnessed and experienced as followers of Jesus. God, being a communicative being, used these men to communicate His truths to us through the writing of the epistles. Christian or not, if we want to get rid of roadblocks in the way we communicate with others, we’d avoid a lot of conflict if we would put into practice just some of these teachings!
“Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.” (James 3:2 NLT)
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1 NIV)
When it all gets boiled down, we can’t control how other people communicate with us.
But we CAN control how we communicate with others.
I certainly don’t get it right a lot of the time, but I’m determined to remove roadblocks and take the highway of communicating with love and respect! How about you?