George Bernard Shaw once said, “The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Who among us doesn’t have a personal story to illustrate that? I believe good communication is like a good campfire. It needs constant tending and refueling. Let’s think together about how we can tend the fires in our own homes.
1. Value Communication
“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21) Communication is the lifeblood of human relationships. Communication nurtures closeness, respect and trust. Yet it gets so hard. This may be because we grew up watching unhealthy communication habits like stuffing feelings, shouting, interrupting, rambling or bickering. We are to remind ourselves that we don’t have to choose the same habits. Every day, we have freedom and power given to us by God to practice healthy communication.
2. Appreciate differences
Many of us have different communication styles from those around us. We are not exact duplicates of each other when it comes to style. Recognizing these differences and accepting them drains away unrealistic expectations. There are those who want to get to the punch line quickly and then there are those who prefer to enjoy the path on the way to the destination. Some like to take turns in conversation like hitting a ping pong ball back and forth. Others prefer to think out loud with long monologues. Some really want to express their feelings, others are content to just lay out facts. We can’t expect others in our family to appreciate our style if we don’t respect theirs.
3. Acknowledge stress
We underestimate the way stress distorts communication. When we have anxiety or fear it colors everything we say right down to the tone we use in asking, “Please pass the milk.” It’s not a good time to open up a deeper conversation when family is getting ready to go to school and work in the morning. The stress of needing to get out the door will quickly overwhelm any meaningful communication.
4. Be careful with anger
Expressing anger in families is most often done in unhealthy ways. Accusation, shouting, and threats all short-circuit conversation. Expressing anger is important for anger is a way of saying I really care about our relationship and I want us to work on it. A healthy way to express anger is to use “I” statements: “When you _________, I feel ________. I want to plan a time that we can talk about this.”
5. Build your skill
Many of us have never taken the time to proactively build our skills in listening and sharing with family. We react emotionally or out of self-focus. A classic book on communication for families is Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it. If you’ve read it a long time ago, perhaps it’s time to re-read it. As the Proverb leads us, we ought to cherish our communication so that we may eat its rich fruit in our households and neighborhoods. True communication is more than understanding another person’s words, it happens when each person understands the feelings behind the words.