The Propaganda Challenge
We’re in a major election year. I have to be careful about my focus so that I don’t dread it and get frustrated by it. For me, the first thing I hate is the propaganda. Both sides use it. You can expect it to be there anytime there are messages that are deliberately inflammatory.
Nastiness and Strained Friendships
Propaganda is only the beginning of what I don’t look forward to. I don’t look forward to the nastiness that will surely come. Friendships will be strained as people argue over points that they may or may not fully understand. Of course, it will likely be at its worst on social media.
Communication Struggles in Society
I deal with this in a more focused way on a daily basis. Almost every couple that comes to me for counseling has communications at the root of their problems. It’s no surprise really; our society doesn’t have or teach good communication skills.
Biblical Wisdom on Communication
The Bible, of course, has the answer. James 1:19-20 says “But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” Nor does the anger of man convince anyone of anything quite frankly.
As I study the scriptures more and more, I find instructive passages like this seem to be ordered very deliberately. They lead with the most important point first. We must be quick to hear. Instead of hearing the whole message, we hear something that triggers us, then we are quick to respond with defensiveness which starts the process of escalation.
The Power of Being Heard
The first thing I teach couples (and wish I could teach society) is that everyone needs to feel heard. I need to know that you not only heard the words I said but placed value on them even if you don’t agree. We all need to know we’ve been heard.
Being heard with compassion is a de-escalator! The tension drops dramatically when a person knows that the other person heard them. Again, agreeing has nothing to do with it. But showing the other person that you value them enough to hear them changes everything.
I have an exercise that I teach to couples that makes a dramatic difference in their lives. In essence, they are each to come with something benign. The first person speaks for one to two minutes. While the first person is speaking, the second person is listening very deliberately. As they are listening, they are trying to find that nugget that will tell them something about the other person or what is most important to them.
Then the second person reiterates. This is NOT repeating! “So, what I heard was….” We don’t know if the words that were spoken mean the same thing to both people. But if I tell you what I heard in my own words, then we’re more likely to know whether I understood you or not.
Now, the second person speaks, and the first person listens and reiterates. Listening all the way through and responding with compassion are key!
Real-Life Application of Communication Skills
When we move these skills into real life, what results is real communication and understanding. There’s more room for differing opinions because we never escalate. Then, of course, there is the magic that if we are really listening, we might learn something.
I encourage you to be quick to listen. If you are willing, I also encourage you to find someone who is willing to do the exercise with you. I’ve found after teaching it to hundreds of couples that they need to do the exercise five or more times per week to get anything out of it. Of course, you can practice the skills on your own. In all of your random conversations throughout the week, try listening and reiterating what seemed to be the biggest point to the other person.
Imagine how many problems we could solve in this world if we would all learn to be quick to listen!