In Genesis, Adam and Eve enjoyed open discourse with God until sin entered their souls and they hid themselves from him. Ever since the fall “hiding” has been a common trait in human relationships. Everyone employs a defense mechanism of “self-preservation” which began in our early childhood. Ever notice how shamelessly honest two-year olds are about everything? But that changes when their honesty creates problems with others. So they hide their thoughts and feelings to avoid the backlash. By the time we become adults, we carry baggage from past relationships that had shaped our style of communication; a style in which misunderstandings occur, relationships breakdown, and offenses are created.
Two basic ingredients are needed for good communication at levels 4 and 5 mentioned last week. They are time and honesty. Something many leaders avoid on account of their busy schedules.
It takes time to build safe relationships. You have to make such friendship a priority with another person for it to build into something meaningful. This is especially important during the courtship period of future spouses, and afterward in marriage. Because of our sin nature, safe relationships require constant attention and work. It isn’t automatic. It takes time to develop and maintain. If you’re married, you must prioritize time with your spouse and your children, providing time for your undivided attention. There needs to be a sharing of information and ideas beyond Level 2 facts with those you’re closest to. You need to share your thoughts and feelings, too. To do this, create an atmosphere for time. Making time with family can be an essential part of your day and the investment has long-range blessings down the road. God spent time with Adam and Eve in the garden. Jesus spent time with his disciples. How much time do you spend with the most important people in your life?
The second basic ingredient to build safe relationships is honesty. The scripture in 1 John 1:5-7 says:
God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.”
This passage shows that fellowship is directly related to not hiding, but being completely open and honest. Real understanding between close friends will always break down when we withhold truth from each other. Fear of truth, guilt and hidden sins are all contributing factors to poor communication.
Honest communication carries two essential components. The first is effectively sending the message. Make sure the listener accurately interprets what you’ve shared with them. If you’re talking, be sure he or she doesn’t interrupt you before you’ve made yourself clear. Have them repeat what they think they heard and then, if needed, readjust your statement for greater clarification. If the listener misunderstands, keep cool and don’t react to the misunderstanding. Simply readjust your statement until they do. Remember, the other person doesn’t have to agree with you, only to understand accurately what you’ve said.
The second part of honesty in your communication is having good listening skills. James says in his epistle, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak.”1 It’s our tendency to not
1 James 1:19
give others our undivided attention when they’re sharing their thoughts, ideas, or feelings. This might be due to the fact that we hear several times faster than someone can speak, so our minds wander or jump ahead to interrupt them with our conclusions. Solomon warned against this when he said, “The person who answers before listening—that is their folly and shame.”2 This is why people tend to go to pastors, priests or professional counselors rather than their spouse or biased, opinionated friends. They want to talk with people who endeavor to understand them. Teenagers especially will do this. They’ll go to their friends before they go to their parents or an adult. Why? Because they feel safer with their friends who will listen. Because some parents haven’t shown themselves to be good listeners. Instead they react like judges, handing down a verdict. Poor listening on our part convinces the one who’s talking to us that we don’t care and are merely tolerating the time we’re spending with him or her. It especially shows up when your responses are superficial, clichéd or trivial.
When you as a leader learn how to listen intently, respond wisely and communicate effectively, you’ll be a person who is sought out for counsel. When was the last time your associates, friends, spouse, children, or acquaintances saw you as a safe person who would listen, understand and care? Jesus was a master at this, and our greatest example for artful communication.
2 Proverbs 18:13