It is common to hear psychologists and counselors state that the primary obstacle to healthy and wholesome relationships is poor communication. It would be hard to argue with that premise, especially when one remembers that communication is more than the use of words. This must a fabric in the mosaic of human DNA as the New Testament regularly mentions toxic speech practices and subsequent damage. Read James and you’ll have a sudden urge to use mouthwash; and he was writing to Christians! Of course, if your mother washed your mouth out with soap you already know that bad language has consequences. That happened to me so many times that I regularly blew bubbles when I coughed or sneezed. If you’ve ever been hurt by words you know firsthand the power of the tongue. Chances are you have also inflicted damage upon someone else with careless talk. Sadly, words go in both directions with ease. Words may seem to be free and easy but in reality they are neither.
Kathlyn and Gay Hendricks are psychologists who have published seventeen books on communication and relationships. The following is a distillation of their seven keys to great communication:
1. Listen generously (like James wrote, “be quick to listen and slow to talk”)
2. Speak unarguably (use statements of fact rather than assigning blame)
3. Appreciation (there needs to be a 5-1 ratio of appreciation to complaint)
4. Turn complaints into requests
5. Admit that you may also be part of the problem
6. Pick your battles wisely
7. Never invalidate someone’s feelings just because you don’t share them.
It’s hard to argue that listening more and speaking less is a plus; or with seeking the positives in people rather than taking the easy option of pointing out their shortcomings; but the biggest lesson might be in not invalidating someone’s feelings. A feeling is what it is and refuting its reality won’t make it magically disappear. A kind word of appreciative affirmation might do the trick, however. So if you ever reach a communication quandary, ask WWJD (What Would James Do)?
The answer will be simple: shut up and listen; always be nice; don’t complain; and if all else fails, shut up and listen. Sounds like a plan to me.
Michael McCullar is Executive Pastor at Johns Creek Baptist.