Alas, it was not to be, because the problem was not really Paul. It was his mother—me! I was not communicating properly. What had worked for my other two children could not be relied on to work for Paul, who had a different temperament. It was time to take action—on me. I added much prayer as well as "communication" to my university studies. And the first thing I discovered was that communication is not just a topic to be studied for a semester or two. No, it's a life-long process.
From the moment we are born, we communicate. Babies cry to communicate their hunger, loneliness, fear, or discomfort. And they continue to communicate right on into childhood, youth, and adulthood. It never stops.
* Never a solo effort.
* A transaction that involves both giving and receiving between two or more people.
* Not just words. When I speak to you, only 7percent of my message is communicated by my actual words; 38 percent is communicated through the tone of my voice, and 55 percent is communicated through body language.
When I stop talking to my husband, children, family, or friends, I may appear silent, but I am still communicating. Those who know me well can tell by my silence if I'm angry, sulking, or just plain hurting. My body language will betray me every time.
If you ask me a question but I avoid the answer and chatter on about something else, I am communicating the fact that perhaps I don't want to answer the question.
How often have you, after a discussion, wished you "hadn't said it quite like that," or maybe you wished that you had thought of saying such-and-such at the time? How many of us keep wailing, "I'm just not a good communicator," "I'm too shy," or "I can't be bothered"?
Just how does one communicate "correctly"? If we are all individuals—with variations not only in looks but in personalities as well—how can any one way of communicating be “correct” for everyone? Realize that communication is actually based on several principles that, when learned, can do much to enhance our relationships and our lives.
Here is one simple set of guidelines that I discovered several years ago. I've called it "Communicating the CHEAT's Way."
The CHEAT's way? Yes. Looked at as an acronym, it comes out this way.
Commitment—We have to be committed to the person. We must practice listening to, reflecting on, and trying to understand the other person's point of view.
Honesty—Essential for communication. Not the kind of honesty that says, "That hat is really ugly," but the kind of honesty that says how I feel and takes responsibility for my feelings instead of blaming the other person.
Empathy—Not sympathy. Empathy is a commitment to understanding how you think and feel and reflecting on what you have said to me, rather than standing there with my mouth open, waiting to interrupt.
Alertness—Really paying attention to what you are saying and listening to your feelings, not just your words. It is watching for the entire message, i.e., words, tone, and body language.
Trusting—Controlling my own need to reply, waiting until I have fully understood what you are saying. That's the quickest way to build trust in a relationship.
And then, discover the magic of the "T" word by looking at the two sentences below. Which one is more conducive to open communication, and which one is more likely to lead to a big argument?
"You make me so mad every time you come home late; the dinner gets spoiled, and it's all your fault."
"I feel worried and angry when you don't tell me that you will be late for dinner, and I would really appreciate knowing when you will be late."
You see, what determines the success of any communication is not only what the message does to the listener but what the listener does with the message. Think about your communication over the next few days. Take note of how often you finish a conversation and are left feeling cheated, puzzled, hurt, or maybe just wondering what happened.
For example, you come home from work and your mother or wife yells, "Wipe your feet!"
What she means is: “Let’s keep the floor nice and clean.”
What you hear: “Nag, nag, nag!”
This is just one example of how important it is to understand not only the words but also their meaning. Then, if we're not sure what is meant, we need to calmly ask for clarification. How many hurt and angry feelings would be spared by this simple method of checking the facts!
Do I hear you saying, "It's too late to change"? What if the apostle Peter had uttered those words when he became aware of his denial of Christ? He could have said, “Oh, it's too late. I've already said it.” But he didn't. Instead, he repented, confessed his wrongdoing, asked for forgiveness, accepted it, and then went on to be a speaker (communicator) for Jesus as he had never been before.
Look at the life of the apostle Paul. What a transformation took place in his life when God got his attention in a dramatic way on the road to Damascus. Saul, tough-minded and zealous in his persecutions of the Jews, underwent a transformation not only of his heart but also his life. Saul became Paul, a spokesman for Jesus in the highest places on earth. I don't remember reading anywhere that he said, "It's too late to change." No, he also repented, confessed, then asked for and accepted God's forgiveness. And the books he penned in Scripture are a testimony to his improved communication skills and total life-changing experiences.
In Scripture we find principles for communicating. If I truly want to have better communication with you, my unconditional love will be obvious through my words, my body language, and my tone of voice.
James 3:8 (NASB) tells us clearly, “No man can tame the tongue.” How true it is! I discovered that when I tried to communicate my message in my own way to my son. Handing the problem tongue over to God, then practicing the guidance He places in our path, produces faster results than anything you or I could ever do in our own strength.
When John the Baptist heard that Jesus had begun His ministry, his principle was, “He must increase and I must decrease!” (John 3:30, NASB). That's another good attitude to have in our search for more meaningful communication.
As the words of an unknown author put it:
“If we settle for less than we can be
(In our own strength and not God's),
We spend the rest of our lives justifying it.”