How can heart to heart communication happen so that all involved can understand others better?
How should the interpersonal interactions be conducted so that friendship could be deepened?
Let me start with a joke:
Well, an Alcoholic Anonymous Center adopted a special strategy to illustrate the harm of alcohol to human body. On the classroom table, three cups were put there. One with an earthworm, the other one with water, and another one with strong liquor inside.
The instructor put one earthworm into each cup that already had water and liquor.
Three minutes after the attendees watched with much intensity, the earthworm was still kicking and bouncing in the one with water, but the earthworm in the liquor struggled for a few wiggles and gave up its ghost.
The instructor then asked: “What did you learn from this experiment?”
A long silence permeated the room.
Finally, one student broke the silence and offered: If we drink liquor consistently, then no worms would survive in our stomach!”
If a simple illustration as the“Earthworm and Liquor” can result in such great gap of perspectives, how much harder it would be to attempt to comprehend the exact intention of a communicator!
The Art of Listening
When we read of “communication”, the first thought that cross our mind is “the Art of Speech”. However, “the Art of Listening” is just as important. Those who are good at speech are usually good listeners, too. To summarize, a successful communicator is not only good at speaking, but also good at listening.
In the Book of James, the author says: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak …and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” (James 1:19, 21)
The Old Testament also mentioned: “He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame.”(Proverbs 18:13)
The key of a good listening skill lies in having a global picture of the whole story or event. To attain the goal, one must be attentive and engaged. The skill of listening involves at least five dimensions:
1. Participation in the act of listening: Listen intently, and observe the facial expression and interject appropriate questions at proper moments, so that the speaker would sense that you are paying attention to what he/she says.
2. To empathize with the speaker’s experience: Paying due respect to the other person’s feelings, and respond with some words of understanding, like “It sounds like quite important thing.” or “I can sense how much this means to you.”
3. Invite the input from the other person: “Would you please elaborate a bit on what you said…”, “I would appreciate your perspective on this matter” etc. Of course, when the subject is being digressed, you could also gently remind: “I am sorry, but could we get back to the original topic?”
4. Summarize the communication: If the other person already talked for quite some time, you could try to give it a summary, asking him/her if that captures the essence of the communication.
5. Allow some space for communication: To avoid the awkwardness of silence, you could offer some suggestions to open up the interactions. For example, “You look quite unhappy today. Is there anything that has disturbed you?” Do employ the “what” but avoid the “why” type of questions.
Listening is at once simple and complicated. The Old Testament has one example of a poor communication. When King Solomon’s throne was passed down to Jeroboam, the leaders from the twelve tribes all came to pay homage to the new king, asking to alleviate the levy. However, this young and arrogant king did not know the principle of “dissolving hostile atmosphere into harmony, making friends out of enemies”, and flippantly replied: “My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.'”(1 Kings 12:10-11) Since then, the Kingdom was split into Northern and Southern Kingdom, with ongoing civil wars, draining the reserves in the Kingdom and so the whole nation was declining in power.
Another positive example of good communication in the Bible happened between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Jesus not only listened with care what this woman said, but also discerned her heart cry.
Analysis of Communication
Communication is more than just dialogues. It is the relationship-building between hearts.
One high priority in the art of communication is to discern the body language of the communicators.
Communication is composed of two main types, namely, direct communication, and indirect communication. These two types can be used hand in hand.
In business management, communication can happen using oral communication, written communication, and electronic communication. The venue of communication can be either formal or informal. The direction of communication can be upward, downward or horizontal. In addition, communication can be one-way or two-way depending if the communication gets responses.
Dr. Eric Berne, Psychiatrist and Creator of Transactional Analysis in “Games People Play-- a basic handbook of transactional analysis”, he offers three types of communication:
1. Complementary Transactions, also called Paralleled Communication, has the quality of straightforwardness and openness in the exchanges between communicators.
2. Crossed Transactions, also called Diagonal Communication, is evasive, withdrawing and shifting topics in the process of communication.
3. Ulterior Transactions, also called Inner Communication or Hidden Communication, uses seemingly acceptable ways of expression to cover-up the hidden, insinuations beyond the superficial message.
Methods of Communication
Good communication should be clear, expressive, with attentive listening and two-way exchanges to reach understanding and synergy. The words and tones used all are essential to the success of good communication.
The methods of communication include both “verbal” and “non-verbal” communications.
I. Verbal Communication:
Language can be both rational or emotional in nature, expressing both the thoughts and emotions with desired languages that would justify the communicators’ inner-world.
Words that can communicate emotions are: thrilled, happy, lonely, disappointed, sad, angry, bored, nervous, surprised…etc.
Words that can communication expectations are: I want, I desire, hope, desire, expect, yearn, like, dream, aspire…etc.
Effective Verbal Communication is composed of “clarifying” and “listening”.
1、Clarifying: Asking questions to make sure that the listener understands exactly what the initiator of the communication is trying to point out.
2、Listening: Listen with proactive participation and express in affirmation every so often to insure smooth two-way communication.
Includes: Action, gesture, facial expression, eye-contact, ways one breathes, and can be divided to three types:
1、 Kinesics: Body language including postures, movement of body, facial expression. Nodding signifying agreement, upper body incline suggests assuring attitude, smiling implies welcome.
2、 Sub-lingual factors: measures of speech, including volume, pitch, frequency, and speed of speech, and giggling, sighing, weeping, coughing, yawning etc. “Yes” “I see” suggests agreement, and encourages the flow of communication.
3、 Surroundings: the usage of space and the perception, like day or night, temperature, and humidity, furniture and décor, light and noise etc.
Effective Methods for Communication
The process of communication can be either proactive or reactive in nature. The color of emotion plays an important factor in the flow of communication. Herein we are listing three types of combination for “Communication + Emotional Color”:
1、 “Striking a chord between the two”: The two sides have positive understanding , this is the ideal type of communication, encouraging the interactions.
2、 “Misunderstanding and conflicting type”: Prejudices and assumptions have already distorted the perceptions of both parties before communication. Different levels of conflicting emotions are latent at the point of communication. To avoid partial distortion of the communication, the initiator of the communication needs to tactfully use measures that would ease the tension to avoid impasse or dead silence. Poor communication would potentially irritate or worsen the already existing prejudice.
3、 “Resistant and confrontational type”: From the standpoint of the Behavior Science, this is the most non-conducive type of communication. “Reactive communicator” usually resists and is non-compliant to the rules that would result in positive communication, resulting in combustive explosions of emotions. Out of the instinct for self- defense, the conflicting sides can become polarized in attitude and forms partisan or cliques if the communication is not handled well.
Four Types of Communication
Psychologists have categorized the common human communications into four basic types:
1. Social communication: a superficial, non-personal communication, that speaks non-essential topics that would not arouse any personal reactions. The most often topics are “What a nice weather we have today.” “How have you been?” or “ We have a meeting this afternoon.” Etc. Factual in nature and does not involve any personal opinion and emotion.
2. Manipulative communication: an overpowering and domineering style of communication seeking to convince or impose one’s thought to another. The communicator tends to adopt commanding tones and gestures, even combative or complaining at times to get the point across, while the listener tends to react with cutting words to pick out the flaws of the communicator’s language. For example: “What a loser. You never can get anywhere!”
3. Explorative communication: focuses on discovering and exploring for more resources, employing methods to bring out more answers, therefore, is also called “Private Inspector communication”; For example, “Do you have other suggestion to this project?” “ Are there things you did not clarify yet?”
4. Focused communication: attentive listening, proactive response, temporarily laying down one’s own thinking to put oneself in another person’s shoes to seek understanding of the message of the communicator; This is a deeper level of communication and reaches the goal of mutual respect and understanding.
Finally, there is one more kind of communication, and the most important kind, which is “Life Communication.”
Christians sometime would bare their souls to communicate what Jesus has accomplished through His grace in their lives at the expense of exposing their own inner weaknesses and vulnerabilities. This is the deepest kind of communication, the focus of which is on the content rather than the method.
However, we should never underestimate the value of the art of communication. Proper applications can contribute to more understanding, respect and love toward others. When facing thorny issues, a positive communication might enhance personal relationship and enrich lives.
Christians believe in “fellowship of the saints”. This is to bring out the best inner qualities of individuals. The Bible has laid bare the strengths and weaknesses of great saints and the transparency of the fellowship between the Holy Spirit and the saints is the most touching and contagious kind of communication.
Chinese poets’ famous quotes “the eastward river of no return” and “mountain in profile, turns to a peak with a varied angle” and the philosopher’s sigh of “fleeing time disappears like the ever-running river” all depict the inner world that resonates thousands of years later.
David the Psalmist’s utterance “But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.”(Psalm 131:2) caused my melancholic nature to envy the inner fountain of his serenity.
God is love, and He is the fountain of love. God created men with the desire for a loving relationship. This is the ultimate purpose why you and I were created.
I know so well that God desires to have communication with His people. In the 9th album of Streams of Praise in June, 2004, “Touching My Inner-Most Being” in “Deeply in Love with You” expresses my deepest yearning for God:
The greatest thing in all my life is to long for you, and seek you along
With my whole heart and my whole mind, I want to love you with my whole heart, to worship you till the whole earth is filled with your glory.
Loving you , Jesus, I love you more than everything in life.
O, how I love you, Jesus
Crying your hearts out to Jesus, expressing your inner thanksgiving and affection to him, and you will have the peace and joy of fellowship with the Holy Spirit, and the rain of spring showering in your life with His everlasting love.
I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.”(Psalm 131:2)
He who answers before listening that is his folly and his shame. (Proverbs 18:13)
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, … and humbly accept the word planted in you (James 1:19,21)