The Golden Rule In Communication (Part 1)
It is often said that plants grow the most when they go through storms. I have heard that during strong storms, plants will stretch their roots further and deeper into the earth, and that after the storm passes, the plant will be stronger and more able to endure other storms. I have found this to be true in human life as well. Some years ago, through no fault of my own, I was forced into a terrible situation. During this time I learned many valuable lessons in life, and I grew more than I had ever grown before.
One valuable lesson I learned was the importance of communication. During this time, I became friends with a "communication expert," though he himself would not like that title. Dr. Binghaman from Los Angeles, California taught me much, and many of these thoughts have come directly from him.
While some of the practical issues are from him, they have a solid foundation in the Word of God. It is my prayer that this information will help you as much as it has helped me. And I pray you will grow in your relationships, and that in all situations you will be able to communicate with those you love.
Most Christians are familiar with what is known as "the Golden Rule”:
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them... (Matthew 7:12)
Simply stated, we are to treat others the way we would like others to treat us.
Getting along with people is not always easy. Yet we understand that we should try to treat all men with respect. When dealing with one another, whether it be our spouse, coworkers, or friends, we must learn to communicate with people in a way that would be pleasing to God.
Over the next few months, our goal is to use this blog for a specific and Godly purpose. We hope to use this blog to help us all to learn to communicate, understand, and learn to grow with one another. These articles will at times be very "scripture heavy," and at other times they will be very practical. Of course both types are needed for us to learn to properly apply the message that God intends. This is how we will be able to learn how to communicate with one another.
In order to understand one another, there are a few biblical principles we should keep in mind. Today we will discuss the importance of listening, as it relates to communication. In every event that we find ourselves, and in every single conversation, the golden rule always applies.
And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise (Luke 6:31). Or as it is sometimes worded: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Before you quickly respond in the heat of the moment, remember that you are talking to someone who has a soul. Someone who, by your words and actions, may be won to Christ, or forever put off to Him. So treat him as you would want to be treated. Listen to his side.
Have you ever spoken out of turn? Have you ever been so frustrated that you said something that you later wish you could take back? Unfortunately it can’t be taken back. So be very, very careful what you say. In fact, the very first thing that we should challenge ourselves to do this week is listen.
James 1:19-20 tells us to be swift to hear, and slow to speak, and that when we speak out of anger we often do so in unrighteousness. So this week, we will just start with this first step in communication: Listen.
Everyone likes to talk and be listened to. But when there is conflict, it is crucial that both parties actually listen to one another. Too many times we just want to talk and get our point across—the problem is that they do too. As long as both parties think this way, nothing will be resolved.
First, we must all do as God says, and listen.
It is very difficult to do, but you must learn to hold those wild frothing horses back. It will be tempting to just allow anger to take over and immediately speak your mind. However, you must not. If you want to learn to communicate with someone, you must learn to control your tongue. You must learn to actually listen to the other person's perspective. So, you must learn to control the urge to speak your mind.
Second, put on a calm face. No one likes to talk to someone who looks like they’ve been sucking on sour lemons. You don’t necessarily have to smile, but put on a face that is calm. Make sure you let them know (by your face) that you are actually listening, calmly listening, to what they are saying.
Third, look your friend directly in the eyes. Don’t pay attention to the stuff going on around you. Don’t roll your eyes back and forth in your head. Don’t look down in what appears to be disgust or even "humility." Look them in the eye. Make sure that they know that for that time, while they are speaking, you are focused on them.
Fourth, do not interrupt. Listening is just that, listening. No part of listening includes interrupting. Interrupting people when they are talking is both disrespectful and very irritating.
Actually listen! Don’t just pretend to listen, biding your time till it is your turn to speak again, then blurting out whatever junk is in your mind, as if he or she had not just been speaking. You actually need to listen. If you plan on resolving any conflict, you must listen to the other side in order to understand the conflict and to work it out.
This last part of listening is crucial. Once the other person has completed their discourse (which in all honesty, should not be more than 2 or 3 minutes long), then you need to validate what they are saying.
Validating what they have said is very important. It lets them know that you truly have been listening.
When it is your turn to speak (or if your partner is going on for too long, say over 5 minutes), then you may take your turn. When you begin to speak, say something like “Let me see if I have heard you correctly, you believe “A” and “B” and “C”; is this right? Whatever your friend's most passionate point is, begin by saying that you understand that point.
Now, it may not make any sense. It might be (in your opinion) the worst idea in the world. But, be that as it may, you cannot just dismiss it as if it were nothing. You should acknowledge it, and you should respect the fact that this idea is actually what the other person thinks.
We need to get over the illusion that we are always right! Some of the most miserable and lonely people in the world today are that way because they never have learned to accept the idea that maybe they are wrong about some things.
Even if you are right about a certain scenario, does that mean you cannot listen to what someone else has to say? When it comes to earthly relationships, we need to learn to compromise on some things. I’m not saying we should compromise on Biblical issues. That is not the point of these articles. But the fact is, if you walk through this life with no willingness to compromise on anything, you will end up as a lonely and unpleasant individual.
So the first step in communicating is learning to listen, to actually listen to what the other person is saying, to validate what they are saying, and to realize that it is possible that you are in the wrong about this particular subject.
This week, let us work diligently on learning to listen. The next time a conflict comes up in our homes, jobs, schools or wherever, let us make a real effort to hold those wild frothing horses back, put on a calm face, keep eye contact, not interrupt, then repeat what they said, (validating) to make sure that we have understood their position correctly.
Is this not how you would like to be listened to? Is this not what applying the Golden Rule to listening would produce? Perhaps we could try it this week, putting it into our lives and practicing it. Soon you will be good enough at listening that conflicts will be much, much less emotional and uncontrolled. This is how proper communication from loving hearts will prevail.
The Importance of Validation
My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:18)
How can we as Christians learn to love, actually love, if we do not even know how to communicate with one another? We mentioned that one very important key in learning to communicate is to validate what the other person has said. Some questions naturally arise when we think about validating what someone else has said. Does "validation" mean that I am agreeing with what they are saying? Does my validating them mean I approve of their position?
First of all, validation is important because this is where you have the power to create war or peace in your relationship. It is a universal desire of human beings to be understood. Each one of us want others to understand us. However, this is not necessarily the same as wanting to be agreed with, though we may want that as well.
My friend Matthew and I were having a disagreement over a certain passage in the Old Testament. He told me his view, and I listened. I then told him my view, while he listened. Then, when we had finished, we said, “Well, I can see your side and it does make some sense, so I guess we will have to wait till we get to Heaven to find out.”
Neither of us believed that what we were discussing was so important that we would lose our salvation if we did not agree. But we both understood, and validated the other’s position. Validation is so important because it allows the other person to know that you really do understand where they are coming from.
Dr. Steven Binghaman said to me: “The single most important thing to do when it is now your turn to speak is to first validate what you have just heard the other say. You can never validate someone too much and you will be amazed at how effectively validating someone will reduce their anger and frustration. In turn, if you are doing a good job of validating, the other person will be far more inclined to validate your thoughts, feelings, and opinions...”
But what about the question: Does validating imply agreement?
Validation is not synonymous with agreement, though few things in life feel better than being told that we are right. Validating is simply letting the other person know that you don't think they are crazy for thinking and feeling the way they do, even if you see things differently. It is a way of respecting each other's viewpoints.
When we think of the Golden Rule (Luke 6:31), we must ask, "Do I like for my thoughts to be validated?" I know I do. I don’t mind if a person disagrees with me; I don’t even mind if many people disagree with me, as long as they actually understand why I believe what I do.
The same should be true as pertaining to all people and ideas. As long as we want to be understood and validated, why shouldn’t we also validate others' thoughts and ideas? Again, this does not mean you necessarily agree. This just means you can understand what they are saying and where they are coming from.
Some examples of how we might validate are: "I can see why you'd feel that way about it; I just feel differently than you.” Suppose a married couple is arguing over how to spend the family's money. It would be natural (and wrong) to simply say: “This is my money, so I will do with it what I want.” Actually, the Bible would very much disagree with that idea.
But even if it didn’t, it would be more wise and respectful to say something like: "I know that it's really important to you that we do it as inexpensively as possible, and since it’s money that you worked hard for, I can see why that would be important. Can you understand that quality is of equal importance to me?" No one is being emotional, or out of control. It's just two people logically trying to work out how to spend money.
- Validate, Validate, Validate!
- Repeat back what you believe the other person has just said to you, e.g. "So if I understand you correctly, you're saying..." This lets the other person know whether the message they sent was the message you received. It can prevent miscommunications and misunderstandings that can really derail an argument.
- Agree with as much of their argument as you can, then you may disagree with other points.
- Don't begin your response with "Yeah, but...” This tells the other person that what they just told you didn't register at all. And, of course, they will just repeat themselves a little more emphatically.
- Don't begin your response by totally negating what was just said, e.g. "That's crazy!" or "You don't know what you're talking about!" Rather, try something like "I'm sure you have your reasons for seeing it the way you do, so can you help me see them?”
- Don't begin your response by totally ignoring what was just said. Responding with your own agenda when the other has just finished talking, without first acknowledging what was just said is a very invalidating thing to do. Do you really think the other person is now going to give your thoughts and opinions the attention and consideration you want?
When a person validates your words, it actually helps the conflict to de-escalate. It allows the other party to feel like you are really listening.Even though you might not agree, at least they know that you are trying to help to solve the problem.
"Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you" can be very difficult. These are some simple steps to consider as we try to learn to communicate with one another.
May we all, whether it be with one another in the church, or our homes, or our jobs or schools, learn to treat people with Godly respect, and learn to love as Christ desires, and to treat each other with kindness as we communicate with others.