We have all been there before. Someone (or perhaps even it is us) is trying to communicate something very important but the delivery of the message is conducted in such a way that it immediately causes the hearer to throw up walls, tune them out, or flat out reject the message. It doesn’t matter if what is being communicated is true, important, or eternally impacting…the delivery is simply abysmal and causing more harm than it is helping.
Communication is a complex thing. Communication isn’t simply someone sounding off into the void without an audience, but requires at least two members to the party to effectively exist.
In the moment of communication there are several components at work (this list is by no means comprehensive, but a simple outwork of basic communication):
There is good communication and there is bad communication.
Bad communication is something we are all really good at if we are honest with ourselves. It comes natural. I suppose we could write it off to our fallen human nature, or just that we are a product of our environment of poor communication.
Good communication, on the other hand, is something we really have to work at. For most of us it doesn’t come natural. For most of us, it is a real chore to communicate in an effective way that gets the message across without shutting people down. Especially when what we are trying to communicate is of eternal importance.
Out of the 10 things listed above there is only one thing that cannot be controlled by the speaker, and that is how someone receives what you are communicating, or simply put: the receiver.
If you are anything like me, knowing this is frustrating because we may feel we have done everything in our power to communicate effectively, and yet the receiver still somehow manages to misinterpret what we said or somehow turns it negatively toward themselves and then ultimately back at you.
As a communicator, however, we have to realize that we cannot control this. As much as we want to control this, we will never be able to. There is some freedom when we finally come to terms with this and accept it as the reality, no matter how hard we may want to change that.
Knowing this, however, is not a license for us to communicate any old way we wish and resign ourselves to thinking how we communicate no longer matters.
Of the ten things listed above, there are actually nine things that you as a communicator can control.
For example, the words (1) we speak and the tone (2) in which we speak them is crucial. If I were to say, “I love you” to someone but my tone was angry sounding, it would probably not communicate “I love you” effectively. If I say, “I need to talk to you about something” and my tone sounds quite serious or put out, this may create some concern for the other individual as they begin to run scenarios through their head of what you’re going to say before you even say it.
Likewise, our body language (3) and posture (4) speak almost as loud (if not louder) than our words. If I am trying to confront an important topic and when I am speaking with someone my arms are crossed, and I constantly roll my eyes, this is probably communicating to the other person that I don’t really care about what I’m saying and that I really don’t care about them.
How we choose to deliver (6) our message is also important. As mentioned above, if we deliver our message through visuals, we need to ensure that our visuals are communicating accurately our message and not creating a distraction or communicating a very different message.
If we are using equipment to help us deliver our message, we need to consider how that equipment may separate us from our audience. For example, it is no secret that Christians confronting things like abortion, gay marriage, or other hot topics of the day often get labeled as the “bullhorn” guy (or girl). The reason being is that the bullhorn (or megaphone) is seen as something used by protesters or angry people. I’m not saying bullhorns are bad, but we may need to consider how this piece of equipment may be impacting our ability to communicate our message.
If the written word is our method of delivery for our message, then we have to understand that the written word lacks tone, body language, and posture. So it can become easy for our words to be misunderstood when we do not carefully choose our words.
Words aren’t always used. We may choose to use visuals (9) as well. If you’ve ever been in a classroom setting you may find a teacher who uses pictures and diagrams to help communicate the point they are making to the classroom. Sometimes our visuals are helpful. Sometimes our visuals can become a distraction or communicate exactly the opposite of what we are trying say.
Something that often goes overlooked is the environment (10). Our message may indeed need to be heard, but where we choose to deliver that message is important. For example, if I want to confront someone close to me (e.g. a family member) about an affair they are involved in that I am aware of, it’s probably not ideal to do that at the Thanksgiving table surrounded by all of the family members. It’s probably best handled in a private setting.
Even though motive (5) is number 5 in the list, this is probably the most important of all of the components of communication. Motive is our reason behind what we are saying and doing. We may think we have pure motives, but more often than not, our feelings betray us and our motive is really out of order. For example, I’m writing this blog article because I’ve seen repeated social media posts that I felt were examples of poor communication. If my motive is simply to expose the people and not confront the communication itself, then I have made it a personal attack against a person rather than a positive and hopefully helpful critique of communication.
Taking all of these components into consideration, the mishandling of just one of these components can cause our message to fall upon deaf ears. It may already fall on deaf ears because our audience may not want to hear it, but there may be members of that audience who were open to the message but how we handled the communication really turned them off. This is what we want to avoid.
I’ll put it simple…this should be important to us as believers because God communicated in His Word to us that how we treat others is important. The treatment of others is not just in what we do, but in what we say and how we say it.
You’ve probably read it before, but 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 has become a bit of a “life verse” for me as these 3 verses have challenged me like no other when it comes to my words and my action. Here is what Paul tell’s the Corinthian Church regarding their words and their actions:
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NLT
Think about what Paul is saying…we can have supernatural gifts, and unlimited knowledge, and faith that moves mountains…but if any of these things are used outside of a motive of love for others, then it is a literal waste of time and we come across as a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
In other words, without love…with out communicating with the receiver in mind…we become obnoxious. And, sadly, a lot of Christians today are merely obnoxious clanging cymbals and gongs. They confront today’s hot topics but do it in such a way that immediately shuts down dialogue. They do it in such a way that comes across arrogantly. Some, I’ve seen, are even proud of this. They seem to think that people are rejecting the message and that they are fulfilling what Jesus said when he said “They have not rejected you but me”…when in reality I think the majority of the time it is the messenger that they are rejecting.
I know this from first hand experience. Because that used to be me. People would respond so ugly toward me, and would get so defensive with me, and so much more…and I would just say, “Well, clearly they cannot handle the truth.” But the reality was, I couldn’t handle loving them. I thought speaking the truth was enough. And then I really looked at Paul’s words there in 1 Corinthians and the Holy Spirit struck my heart.
They were responding that way because I had no love in me. I possessed the truth, but I possessed no love for them. I almost viewed them as my own enemy. What a distorted view I had of the whole situation, huh?
Over the last couple of years I have gone through a bit of an evolution as I have had to confront these things about myself and really examine my heart. I didn’t like what I saw, but thankfully the Holy Spirit has been empowering me to make the necessary changes to communicate better and to love people better.
I still believe the things I did back then, but how I communicate has changed. And it needs to change for a lot of other believers too…if they would just shut up long enough to take a long hard look in the mirror.
I don’t believe their behavior is entirely their fault. When you get in the trenches and you’re fighting every battle that comes your way, you become somewhat calloused. In fact, you can become so numb to the reality of things that you assume that if people aren’t fighting the battles like you’re fighting them, then they must be doing it wrong and then suddenly those who would your allies are now your enemies.
It’s almost like a spiritual form of PTSD!
If any of what I have described above sounds like you, and you want to find a way forward, I am more than happy to talk to you! Please drop me a line. Also, there is a podcast kicking off in September called “The Angry Christian Podcast” that will be exploring the topics of anger with a group of friends from all walks of life, and it might be worth while to drop in and listen for a while.
However you choose to confront these things in yourself, let us take these words from the Apostle Paul to heart:
Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).