The High Cost of Miscommunication—Part 2: Repair and Maintenance
In the previous post, we looked at how miscommunication can wreck our relationships. Here, we’re going to consider how to reverse the downward spiral of offense and disengagement by restoring (or establishing) accurate and positive-outcome communication:
First, begin with mutual respect. Decide that other people deserve our attention, care, and consideration. Even if we can’t agree with their position or opinion, they matter. We are all made in God’s image, and as such, we have intrinsic value. If we pick up a Stradivarius violin, we’re going to handle it carefully and even reverently, because of who made it. How much more should we treat what the Lord has made! (Gen. 1:26-27—“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
Second, engage in active listening. This does not mean nodding our heads and making listening sounds (“uh huh”, “yeah”,…) at rhythmic intervals. Most people can do this while their minds have traveled to remote regions. Active listening means focusing on both the verbal and non-verbal messages, and responding accordingly. Prov. 18:13 reminds us that “To answer before listening, that is folly and shame.” Why? Because without active listening, we don’t know what we’re really responding to, so how can we respond correctly?
Third, check and see if any prejudice filters exist that would distort our interpretation of what they’re saying or communicating non-verbally. We often misunderstand what someone means based on what we expect them to think, feel, and say. For example, if I hear and believe that “Jack” is always out to take advantage of people, I’ll assume that whatever he says is selfish and scheming. But we shouldn’t listen to, let alone validate gossip. Also, we need to evaluate a person’s words based on what they’re saying, not on what we expect them to say. Don’t mistake prejudice for discernment. Prejudice pronounces others guilty until proven innocent. Discernment allows others to speak for themselves and be innocent until proven guilty. As Mat. 7:1 says, “Judge not, that you not be judged”—including pre-judging.
Fourth (similar to #3), don’t project someone from our past onto the person with us now. The people we interact with currently may remind us of the bullies, abusive authority figures, and betrayers we knew before, but they are not those people, and they have different messages they want to communicate. When we let them be who they really are, we can experience healing from any hurt we suffered from people “like” them before.
Fifth, when sending a verbal or non-verbal message, make it as clear and undistorted as possible. Then check to see if the receiver really “got” its intended content. Lack of this produces the “telephone” effect— funny for that game, but frustrating when someone wants to get a point across. Likewise, when receiving a message, ask clarification questions to make sure you really understood correctly.
Sixth, communicate from an attitude of humility. Pride makes us unteachable and unwilling to listen to others, because we think we’re wiser and know better than they do. But, as Prov. 12:15 (GNT) puts it: “Stupid people always think they are right. Wise people listen to advice.”(!)
Seventh, be gentle. Say things the way you’d like to hear them. “A gentle answer turns away wrath.” – Prov. 16:1. Quarrels get quashed this way. Which is good, since “The start of an argument is like a water leak— so stop it before real trouble breaks out.” Prov. 17:14) We can avoid a lot of trouble and heartache on all sides by following this advice.
Finally, recognize that we often get it wrong when it comes to communication, both sending and receiving. Acknowledge when that happens and apologize for any distress that caused. We need feel no shame in admitting our responsibility for a broken connection.
Hopefully these tools will have our interpersonal communication functioning at maximum effectiveness, repairing relationships and providing them with high-quality maintenance! This definitely makes more sense than losing friends and having to try and find new ones!