Read the sentence below, repeatedly. In fact, each time, emphasize a different word in the sentence until you’ve tried all six versions. Ready? Go:
“I didn’t say you were ugly.”
What different meanings did you get out of this one sentence?
Likewise, what causes your words to get misinterpreted? What helps people “get” what you’re saying? How do you respond when others misunderstand what you say? How does your response change when it involves others close to you?
We all want to be understood. The fact is, if we ever want to accomplish anything together, we need to be understood. But sometimes our words and our actions get misinterpreted. And sometimes we really haven’t fully communicated what’s in our heads and hearts, even when we think we have. Just because we’ve played something back in our own heads dozens of times, it doesn’t always mean the person standing in front of us has grasped, or even heard, it once.
So let’s examine what good communication looks like, and how we can do it better. Let’s start with a couple examples of leaders communicating to their co-workers in the faith, and then break them down a little more.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace. For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand. And I hope that, as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:3-14, NIV).
• What are some things Paul’s communicating to the Corinthian church here?
• What doesn’t he express here that he clearly could have, and why do you think he doesn’t?
• How did knowing it was God’s message affect what Paul was saying?
• How would our own speech change if we were more conscious about representing God?
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:11-15).
• What things do we enjoy telling our friends? Why don’t we share those things as much with other people?
• If we’re all Jesus’ friends, what keeps us from sharing with other Christians—Jesus’ other friends—what Jesus has shared with us?
Shane Claiborne, in his book The Irresistible Revolution, observes: “People are drawn toward folks who have it all together, or who look like they do. People are also drawn toward folks who know they don’t have it all together and are not willing to fake it.” So which one do you tend to fall under, and why? A few more questions to consider:
• In what ways does fear stop us from communicating with others—even (or maybe especially) other Christians—who need to know what we’re not sharing? How do we show a lack of love when we hold back?
• What things do we often do instead of communicating openly?
• When should we hold back information or feelings, even when it involves something important?
• What situation are you facing right now that requires you to get out of your comfort zone—say it: past your fear—and communicate with someone more openly and directly?
Be open with God, about what you’re facing right now—and honestly listen for His instruction about what your next steps might be. Ask God to open you up, and to open up the lines of communication with those you’re struggling to get through to right now. And may God bless you as you obey His voice and use your own.