­One step to better relationships

Published 11:25 am Saturday, October 4, 2014

by Andrew Book

As a pastor, I have many different roles in the community that we call “church.” I am a teacher, a public speaker, an administrator, a planner, a visionary and more. I also have the role of serving as the front-line counselor for many people in the church. I am a big fan of professional counseling and always recommend people see a counselor rather than their pastor for major counseling, but often the first conversations are often with me.

Many of the conversations I have are conversations about relationships. Maybe it is a couple preparing to get married, a wife and husband who are struggling with their marriage, or a family dealing with conflict across generations. Regardless of which kind of relationship we are talking about, the first area of life we need to look at is the way we communicate with one another.

Having good communication does not always mean you will have a good relationship, but I have never seen a healthy relationship that does not have good communication. So, in this space, I want to offer a few very basic techniques for communicating well.

Technique 1: Listen.

Communication is a two-way street, and if you are not willing to begin by listening, you will not be able to communicate. Listening goes beyond simply hearing a person. Listening is hearing with attention and a desire to understand. It is hard to listen when your focus is divided between the game on your phone, the show on TV, and the person you are hoping to communicate with. So, if you want to communicate, put the distractions aside and focus on what the other person is saying. Look them in the eyes and listen without trying to come up with the answer. Simply listen and try to understand. You will have plenty of time to respond once they are done — and you will probably find someone who is much more interested in listening to you.

Technique 2: Talk face-to-face

We often think that communication is simply about stringing the correct combination of words together, but according to a study by Dr. Albert Mehrabian, only 7 percent of our communication regarding feelings and emotions happens through the words themselves. Thirty-eight percent comes through the way we say those words. Furthermore, Mehrabin found that fully 55 percent of our communication about emotions and feelings comes through our gestures, facial expressions and other non-verbal methods of communication. This means if you are communicating in a way that only allows words (such as texting or emailing), there is a high likelihood for some sort of misunderstanding. Talking on the phone gives a better chance for communication, because you can hear how the words are spoken. However, talking in person, when you are looking at each other, gives you the best chance to be understood. For me, this means that every potentially difficult conversation needs to happen face to face. If someone sends me a note about something they are upset or concerned about, I will reply seeking a time to get together and talk about it. Communication happens best face-to-face.

Technique 3: Be direct and honest

There are many times when we are nervous about being direct, and so we dance around what we need to talk about — and end up communicating nothing. Or, maybe, in place of an honest confrontation, we simply sling sarcastic or passive-aggressive darts at the other person. If your goal is to make someone upset, those techniques may work. But if you truly want to communicate, you must be direct and honest (while you are listening and talking face-to-face).

If you and the people you are trying to communicate with will give these simple techniques a try, you will probably be surprised at the results. You will understand one another better. When you disagree you will know why. You will have the tools to resolve conflicts and deepen your relationship. Whether you choose to take your relationships deeper depends on your next steps.

It is remarkable how central community and relationships are to faith as presented in scripture. When we read about Jesus’ ministry, we never see a single disciple sent to do anything alone or a person who is called to live their faith in isolation from other people. Relationships are central to faith, and communication is an important part of that.

At Courtland United Methodist Church, we are working our way through a series on “Life Together” during Sunday morning worship. We are also gathering for a simple supper of soup and fresh bread every Thursday at 6:30 p.m. simply so we can sit down, look each other in the face, and communicate. If you need some practice communicating, come join us!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or andrew@courtlandumcva.org