Reacting or Responding?
How To Be A Better Communicator
Ever have those conversations that end in an argument? Have you ever gone to someone for advice or counsel to address a particular issue or weigh options to help you better make a decision, only to walk away regretting even asking for help? What about the times that you said something that was not well received by the listener? Yeah, me too, my friend.
Seriously, communication, why do you have to be so difficult at times?
After my own flawed and failed attempts at communicating with a loved one or two in the past, I’ve gathered a couple of little nuggets that I want to share that I hope help you avoid those phone calls that end with an abrupt hang-up and tears or anger. Let’s face it, we are not all experts at communication, and even the so-called experts have emotions that I’m sure occasionally get the best of them and leave them with open mouth, insert foot syndrome. We have so many factors that play into how we communicate or don’t communicate. Take into consideration your family history and upbringing, traumas, hurts, personal experiences, failures, insecurities, fears, and even current circle of friends and people you seek out for wisdom and guidance, and then try and find a way to be on the same page with someone else with all those same things. It sounds like either a great learning ground or a complete recipe for disaster. Let’s be optimistic and just view it as the former, shall we?
Now, I’m most certainly not going to claim that I’m the world’s most outstanding communicator. If I were, I wouldn’t have felt like a complete failure on multiple occasions. So, here’s what I do know, and I’m learning, take it, or leave it.
One of the essential things in healthy communication is not talking; it’s LISTENING and not just listening so you can hurry on and speak, but intentionally and actively listening to understand. It’s putting away your phone, making eye contact, not splitting focus, facing the person speaking, maybe even taking notes. I know for a fact that when my sister is trying to have a serious conversation with me or even just asking for feedback, nothing irritates her more than not having my undivided attention. I know this because I am the same way, and she and I both either snap at the unfocused person or shut down entirely and discontinue the conversation.
LISTEN TO HEAR THE PERSON, NOT SO THAT YOU CAN FORMULATE YOUR RESPONSE.
Listening well is loving well. Distracted listeners only hear the words and either miss the heart of the person or worse, they barely hear anything at all leaving them with lame responses like, “Uh huh’s” and “Ok’s” because they haven’t received enough information to formulate a full thought on the matter. You can’t offer someone sound wisdom or counsel if they ask for it when you are distracted or not attentive.
Now, let’s say you were listening, but what you heard caused you to react a certain way. I find situations like this even more challenging. Good communicators Respond, they don’t React.
There is a huge difference! Reactions are usually quick and can be aggressive, which means there was not much thought. A response is more thought out and comes across as non-aggressive/non- threatening, and is delivered calmly, usually encouraging a healthier discussion instead of its reactive counterpart, which provokes raised emotions and heightened tension. In this scenario, nothing get's accomplished. Reactions tend to bulldoze the other party and only wish to convey selfish desires. Responses consider the other party’s emotions and are only delivered after there is better understanding or knowledge.
If we look to scripture, the word says: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19
Colossians 4:6 in the Message translations says: "Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out".
If we are truly aiming to be communicators that love others, it would be wise to take these two verses to heart and use them as our gauges when seeking to communicate effectively and healthily. It is possible to learn how to communicate in such a way that ushers in growth and healing. Let’s aim to be people committed to doing just that.