Making Connections

by James Rudy Gray

Many of the problems we encounter as counselors deal with communication issues. Books have been written on the different philosophies, styles, strategies, and techniques of interpersonal communication. In spite of all the apparent advances we have made in understanding communication, the problem of miscommunication still persists. 

James Dobson has observed that nearly all miscommunication is the result of differing assumptions. The tendency to assume we know what the other person means or feels is strong and so often inaccurate. 

Listening is the most important part of good interpersonal communication. When we help people develop better communication skills, we cannot forsake this critical element. Most people have had some type of training in how to write or speak but very, very few have ever had any training in how to listen. Sending a message is important, but receiving a message is more important. James 1:19 reminds us that we must be "quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger." 

We should listen with our eyes as well as our ears. The prophets of the Old Testament sometimes used object lessons as they delivered messages from God. When Jesus taught, He often used visual images that would etch the image of the truth He was teaching into the minds of His hearers. As He taught about worry, for instance, He referred to the sparrows and the lilies of the field (wildflowers). 

The words we speak are believed to amount to 7 percent of communication, delivery (inflection, tone, etc.) is apprised at 38 percent, and body language or non-verbals amount to 55 percent. This is too often overlooked. It is easy to misread body language, but it is more harmful to simply overlook it altogether.

Linear communication is one-way communication where a sender sends a message without any feeback, dialogue, conversation, questions, etc. Circular communication is when we clarify meanings by asking questions. Circular communication avoids the pitfall of blind assumptions.

Our circulatory system pumps over 1,800 gallons of blood through 62,000 miles of blood vessels daily. As long as there are no blockages, we are generally healthy. However, if there is a blockage, we are in danger. Similarly, circular communication is more readily able to detect when there is a blockage in our relating and take the steps to identify what needs to be done to correct it. 

Even when we think we are practicing good listening skills, there is always the tendency to speak before we have fully heard something. Proverbs 18:13, warns us, "He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him." 

Appropriate touch is a powerful form of communication. It can signal concern, affirmation, sympathy, etc. It makes a concrete connection with another person. Some people are more affection than others, and personal space and comfortable emotional distance become important factors. However, when we can simply touch another person appropriately, we can make a connection that words may fail to make at that particular time.

Silence is a form of powerful negative communication. Listening is so strategic in good communication, but we cannot escape the reality of connecting with words. Words are important. They are symbols of thought. That is why we need to help our clients learn to ask the people they are connected to in their lives what they mean when they share something. Words can encourage or discourage help build up or tear down. Proverbs 18:21 reminds us that "death and life are in the power of the tongue."

It has been estimated that there are about 600,000 words in the English language. The most 500 frequently used words have a total of 14,000 definitions. From a strictly mathematical standpoint, we have about one chance in 28 of choosing identical meanings for our most frequently used words. The same word can carry a different meaning emotionally in different people. Listening effectively, practicing circular communication, and devoting time and attention to accurately understanding what another person means and what we mean is essential in good communication.

Communication is dynamic and growing. It is not static. Like maturity, it is something we never fully master but are always striving to improve. Good communication speaks the truth in love and listens with love. It takes the time to be as certain as possible of what the other person means and then responds as clearly as possible. Good communication is hard work, but work that can be done. The result is more rewarding relationships and less misunderstanding.

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