In almost every relational conflict that I encounter I hear these words: “We just can’t seem to communicate.” There are tons of research and surveys out there that tell us communication is the number one struggle in relationships. Most of the time we refer to communication in the context of marriage; however, communication struggles exist among friends, co-workers, extended family members, supervisor-employee relations, leaders and staff, and any other relationship that you can think of.
Why is communication so hard?
Communicating what we want to say is not the hard part. People often think the problem is not being able to get their point across. Here’s another common phrase: “I can’t get him/her to understand.” The problem is rarely found in finding ways to say what we want to say. Most of us communicate very clearly. When was the last time you had difficulty ordering a meal ‘exactly’ the way you wanted it in a restaurant or drive-thru? Not too difficult to do, right? That’s because saying what we want to say is usually not the problem. (Caveat: One point to take note of here, however, is the way we say it: tone of voice, body language, words we use, and attitude.)
Communication problems generally occur not because we don’t know how to talk, but because we don’t know how to listen well. How do I listen well? The key to listening well is to discern the need of the other person in the present moment. One of the most profound verses regarding communication is found in Ephesians 4:29:
“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”
The first part of this verse goes without a whole lot of explanation. An unwholesome word is one that tears down, criticizes and bullies the other person. Just don’t do it!
Once we discern the need of the moment, then we will be able to choose the words that build up and supply the need. There can be various needs in the moment when it comes to communication that can go deep into the human emotion and psyche. But generally speaking, there are three needs that exist in every exchange of communication particularly regarding conflict. Here’s another hint: You will never discern a person’s deeper needs until these three are met.
Three needs that are present in every effort to communicate.
1. The need to be heard. Everyone wants and needs to be heard. When we listen with open ears so that we can clearly hear what is being said then we are on our way to listening well. We are not meeting others need to be heard when we interrupt, change the subject, or tune out.
2. The need to be understood. We’re not listening simply to hear the words that are being said. When we listen well, we listen for understanding. That means active listening. Active listening asks questions to clarify the meaning of what you think you just heard. One way to do that is to say, “what I hear you saying is…….Is that right?” We must demonstrate that we are really trying to understand how a person feels. Everyone wants and needs to be accurately understood.
3. The need to be validated. The easiest way to sabotage a conversation, discussion or disagreement is to NOT validate how a person feels. A person has the right to feel the way they feel. Whether or not those feelings are based on perception or misinterpretation is irrelevant at the moment. Feelings are real and should be validated as such. You can validate feelings by saying something like, “I can see you are angry and I want to help resolve that with you.” “I know you are disappointed and I’m sorry for my part in this.” Everyone wants and needs to be validated in how they feel.
When we learn to listen well, our focus is on meeting the other person’s needs in the moment. Those needs start with being heard, understood and validated. From there, your communication will be able to go deeper and get to the heart of the matter. Your relationships will be enhanced because your communication will become productive.
Keep REACHING FORWARD for God’s best in all of your relationships.