Roadblocks to Communication
… “let your yes be yes, and your no be no; anything beyond this is of evil.” Matthew 5: 37
Communicating takes two people. Most communication problems involve two people not “tuned in” to each other. There are literally tons of books describing how to communicate better, more effectively, more efficiently, etc., etc., etc. Everything from advice to pray and study the Bible more to identifying “root” causes such as how social institutions have molded us, or perhaps we were potty trained wrong, or the one I am sure describes me, the “you aren’t in touch with your feelings” reason. However, the solutions to most of our communication problems are really pretty simple. Most people make some basic mistakes or build “roadblocks to communication” when they talk.
Failure to Communicate Begins in the Starting Blocks
The first roadblock to communication is not saying what you mean. Most of us are overly concerned with how what we say will be received and as a result we sugar-coat our message. In simple terms, to lessen the impact of something that needs to be said, we refer to our message in the future tense. Straightforward, unadorned, clear communication is so rare in our culture that when you hear it, it is very powerful. Power in a message comes from speaking in the present tense. It is said that Aristotle commented, “It is this simplicity that makes the uneducated more effective than the educated when addressing an audience.”
If the message is difficult, say, say it simply and say it quickly. That works with bad news as well as good news. ” No” and “Yes” are powerful because they are simple.
Being Insensitive to Listeners
The second roadblock to communication comes when we take the first roadblock too far. We misunderstand how the person(s) to who we are communicating feels and thinks and thereby destroy good communication by insensitivity. For many years now I have told audiences that regardless of the validity, timeliness, necessity, etc. of your message, those you are communicating with will more readily remember how you made them feel than your message. We are guilty of making assumptions that get us into trouble. For instance, we assume that they are just like us. This is particularly hazardous in communications between genders. And don’t assume that your spouse or friends think or feel or process words the way you do. Here is a principle that will help us all: There is a direct correlation between how much you value a person and the effectiveness of communication directed to that person.
It is said that Tolstoy was approached by a beggar who asked for money and Tolstoy replied, “Brother, I don’t have any money, so I can’t give you anything.” The beggar replied, “But you have already given me a gift, you have called me ‘brother,’ and that is a great gift.” If I know that someone values me, I will probably understand what they are saying to me even if it isn’t said well.
Sending Mixed Signals
The third roadblock to good communication is a failure to recognize that “you are the message.” Charles Spurgeon, would often tell his students, “When you talk about heaven, let your facial expression reflect joy and excitement.” What he was saying is that communication involves more than just words. If you are not enthusiastic about your message, no one else is going to be enthusiastic about it either. The same holds true regarding authenticity and authority. If you don’t speak with authority, most folks will assume that you don’t know what you are talking about. If you have “shifty eyes” and refuse to look at people to whom you communicate, they are going to think you are lying.
The point is this: Who you are, how you talk, and the way you look make up the “stuff” of communication. If you overlook that, you will find that communication simply will not take place. One more point, don’t take yourself too seriously. By recognizing the uniqueness of those you speak to, and stating your respect for them personally you establish their importance as partners in this exchange.
The fourth roadblock to communication is being so concerned with yourself or your material that you don’t pay attention to what is being said by the other person. This “trap” comes when we focus on our message to the exclusion of the “impact” the message can make on the person we are attempting to communicate with. Being more concerned with our delivery of material or data than we are with the person we are addressing sends the message that we are not there for their benefit. Our message and delivery must focus on the “discoveries” to be made by those we address.
Failing to Define Terms
The fifth roadblock to communication is failing to define terms. This “trap” happens when we disregard the cultural differences between ourselves and those we are trying to communicate with. We use terminology and words that do not express the same meaning outside the walls of our cultural references. Compound that with the use of any theologically inspired adaptations to American English and it is no wonder that sometimes we seem to be speaking a foreign language. Taking time to understand the culture of the person you are communicating with and our own cultural bias will go a long way to improving communication.
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