Communication is a skill, an art and a holy activity. Good communication mirrors the essence of God, who is an eternal exchange (communication) of love among three persons.
The Word of God (the Bible!) says: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). God chose to create us with His word and to communicate his love to us in his Son, who came to redeem us. And his Son gives us the grace to change our own (wounded) communication patterns and styles - no matter how old we are - because it’s part of being a good human being.
God cares about how we communicate! Good communication - talking and listening better - is key for progress right now in our families and in the public sphere. The invitation to you, the reader: Become a better communicator, and ask God to help you.
Here are some “do’s” and “don’ts” for good, holy communication.
- “Do” #1: Active listening. Before jumping in or responding with your own thoughts in a conversation, make a commitment to understanding the other person, first. Active listening means that we verbally, calmly, kindly, repeat back to the other person what we heard them say and how they feel about it.
This skill forces us to slow down, stay focused and literally stay thinking and acting in the right area of our brains. It looks like this: “What I heard you say was ____, is that about right?” Only when first speaker feels understood should we move on, starting with the question, “I have a few thoughts, may I share them?”
- “Do” #2: Validate good points or feelings heard. This looks like this, “Oh, that’s a good point,” or “Oh, I can see how you feel that way. I’m sorry that you had that experience” or “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
We often try to “fix” situations, when often the “fix” the person needs is empathy and compassion. Validating the merits of another’s position takes maturity and helps us stay focused on the issues, not people.
- “Do” #3: Take a time out for yourself, if needed. If you feel yourself speaking tensely, loudly, shaking or feeling defensive, put yourself in the penalty box! Really say, “I need to take a break, I need to clear my head. I’ll be back in 5 minutes.”
The key to this skill is that you articulate you’re taking a break, and when you will return - otherwise the other person will feel like you are avoiding conflict. This simple skill will keep us, again, in our “right” minds - the logical part of our brains.
It’s not helpful to tell someone they need a time-out, but you can pause the conversation if the other person starts to lose control of their emotions: “I can tell you’re really passionate about this. Let’s come back to this in a while.”
- “Don’t” #1: Never, ever, attack the other person, or imply he or she is stupid for thinking as they do. Rather, assume the other person is intelligent and good-willed. It’s not helpful to say, “Don’t you think …” or “How could you ever think that” or “That’s just dumb.” Or, more common, “Don’t be so intolerant or bigoted or ____.”
These types of accusations reveal close-mindedness in the person saying them. Rather, be curious about a person’s position. Try to understand the starting points, the middle points and the conclusions. Give them the respect and kindness that you would like.
The skill of “non-attack” is becoming more rare, and it also means that we resist calling someone “evil,” staying focused instead on identifying actions or behaviors as harmful, dangerous or unholy. No name-calling!
- Don’t #2: Don’t do bad habits. Interrupting, talking over someone, dismissive or unwelcoming non-verbal frowns/arms crossed/etc., going on and on without giving someone else a chance to tell you what he or she heard - these are all unhealthy habits of communication.
Do you see any in yourself? Good non-verbal listening habits have an acronym: S.E.E.N.: smiling gently, eye contact, eyebrows slightly raised, and nodding to show you are receiving the words said.
May all of us continue to grow in these skills, and may they be a blessing to our relationships, families and work. By practicing them and working on them, we will also be a blessing to our country.
Father Timothy Lange is pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Hackensack and St. Agnes Catholic Church in Walker.