Success Starts Early - Communication
I heard a story about the commanding officer on a naval ship who was awakened one night to be informed that a light was spotted in the path of their vessel during the night. Irritated at being pulled out of a deep sleep, he went to the communications area on board and sent a message that whoever was ahead should alter their course. A response soon came back suggesting his own ship needed to steer to avoid a collision. The officer, quickly becoming angry, sent another message that his ship was one of the most heavily-armed vessels in the navy. A message came back, "That may be true, but this is a lighthouse." Obviously that information changed the dynamics of the conversation quickly. Hopefully the ship's officer did the smart thing by adjusting his course, and maybe he learned an important lesson about communication while he was at it.
Most people believe that they are good communicators. In a way, they are correct - everyone is constantly sending out messages that are being read loud and clear. Unfortunately, it's not always the message that was intended. Effective communication is more challenging to develop and involves several skills, including speaking, listening, actions, and intentions. Skills differ from talents in that they are learned and developed, not simply an ability someone is born with while someone else is left out. If you've ever struggled to communicate precisely how you want, don't let that be a discouragement. Be aware that improving your efficiency in this one area will reap benefits in nearly every facet of life.
This brief post cannot cover the vast multitude of communication styles, let alone tell you how to fix every problem that may arise. I would like to provide a few tips that may be helpful, however.
- First, be aware that active, intentional listening is rarely ever utilized too much. Watch the person you're speaking with, absorb and interpret what they're telling you, and never be in a rush to respond unless someone's life depends on it. Like our sailor friend discovered, his message was not the most important one!
- Second, as we discussed a few weeks ago when comparing responses and reactions, you may regret a harsh word but you'll probably never beat yourself up for being too kind. From the Biblical passage that tells us that "a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1) to the idiom that you always catch more flies with honey than vinegar, the wisest minds know that emotional words can cause more harm than good. It's a simple lesson to learn, but harder to consistently apply.
- Third, no matter how clearly you think you communicated, it may help to verify what your audience understood. Take the time to ask follow-up questions rather than assuming everything went well.
- Fourth, develop enough self-awareness to realize if you're sabotaging your message. Body language (for instance, folding your arms), nervous habits (glancing at a phone or watch), or even hygiene (bad breath) can easily distract others. And keep in mind the saying I used to be told all the time: "What you do speaks so loud, I can't hear what you say."
Communication is vitally important in every relationship, whether it's at home, church, office, or store. None of us will ever be perfect so we can all do a little bit every day to improve just a bit. The Bible sums it up perfectly in Colossians 4:6, "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person."
Write out a short imaginary conversation about a topic that has the potential to get emotional. Try to mentally picture realistic responses to various different statements. Without watering down your intended message, how can you refine your words to avoid a heated exchange?
Check out John Maxwell's book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect for some excellent teaching and helpful tips on this topic.