Quality Communication


What is it about communication that is so difficult? The local church I attend is pretty bad at it. And its not just one person. Its all of us. Particularly me. I’m awful at it. For me, communication is a dangerous thing. I rarely seek to communicate unless I am emotionally invested in an idea, and usually I only want to participate in the discussion if I’m upset. I’m the same way at work, always have been.

I reckon there are some parts of community that I just don’t get. And I’ve been racking my brain on this communication thing. Its draining. We feel like we make things perfectly clear, even to the point of using words and language that we feel is crystal, yet still people come away with the wrong idea. Or they completely miss it. What’s really bad is, usually, we don’t think we failed on our end. "I made that as clear as I can. If they didn’t understand it, oh well." But is that the truth? Are we never wrong in our approach?

A personal example is Sarah and I. We’re actually pretty good at the communication thing for the most part. But every now and then, something gets read wrong. Now, when Sarah thinks I said something that I know I didn’t, we have a problem. Often times, the problem is not her though. Its me, and my reaction to the misunderstanding: "Why would you assume that? Did I say that?" etc, etc, etc. The problem arises when I react to her understanding rather than clarifying, or listening to her to make sure I didn’t say the wrong thing. It becomes personal, and I behave as though she misunderstood me on purpose. Really? Why do I do this? Honestly, I don’t know. But I’m working on it. This is a private example though. How does one deal with this same type of ordeal on a community level?

I started thinking about Biblical communication. I mean, does God’s word teach how to communicate effectively? Initially I thought, "Duh, it IS communication: God’s communication with us." So I thought some more, and I began to really feel as though I was missing something. Like the Bible held the secret to quality communication (instead of emotional bickering, or prideful challenging, or insensitive criticisms) and I was simply missing the greater message.

The story of the offensive altar in Joshua came to mind. Pretty standard example: people assume something without really asking, find out they’re wrong, and everything pans out in the end. Sounded like most great miscommunications. "Hey, did you hear what they did? That’s it. We’re going to war…oh wait, you mean? It didn’t mean that? Oh, my bad."

Then, for some reason I started thinking about the justifications. "See? People have always miscommunicated. Its just the way things are. 4000 years ago, people sucked at communication. Why did you think it would be different today?" I really thought about that. Can we compare ourselves to a story like the one in Joshua set in ancient Palestine? We have Blackberry phones, and MySpace, and facebook, and twitter, and texting, and emails, and podcasts, and unlimited mobile-to-mobile calling, and etc, etc, etc. We have structured our technology around the notion that people need to communicate more. We should all be communication gurus! "Yeah, but its just in people’s natures to misunderstand. No one can help it." Really?

There’s a story in the Bible that I think says otherwise. I had never thought about it from this perspective before, and this thought may be heretical or impractical or whatever. But right now, its got me thinking. In the Book of Jonah, this guy (who has some problems following orders) finds himself walking through the city of Nineveh, preaching about the city’s imminent destruction. He delivers an 8 word message, and 120,000 people repent! Now, that’s a pretty cool story in and of itself, but that’s not what caught my mind’s eye. After just one day of preaching, a city three days walk in size repents as one body. The king issues and edict, and people were already on it before that, and everyone gets the message.

120,000 people. 8 words. 1 day.

No communication problems.

So how is it that a body of people, say 100 in size, can’t communicate effectively about who is volunteering at 8:30 on Sundays instead of at 10:00?

I don’t have an answer to this. I can see the problem, but I don’t know how to help it. I do know this though, that while it is very frustrating, I have no room to complain or challenge anything because I am a part of the problem. I am not innocent.

In order to help communication, I must communicate better. I have to learn how to approach the people around me without walls up. I must learn to speak to them in a manner that does not raise their walls. And while learning all of this, I must maintain honesty. Perhaps this is an overcomplication. Or, perhaps I am really that disjointed from the community around me.

Oh well. Back to the drawing board.


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