Communication breakdown isn’t just a great Led Zeppelin song (though it is that), it’s also a really unfortunate situation. Not only are our relationships on the line, but as Christians we run the risk of misrepresenting God. That’s no small matter. With the state of social media nowadays, it’s easier to do that than ever.
I know someone who has broken off many friendships in her life based on singular incidents in which she felt judged or ignored. Regardless of whether or not her perceptions were accurate, it is sobering to realize that something we’ve said could cut off all communication with another person or even ruin our witness. Think, for example, how easy it is to unfriend or unfollow someone because we disagree with them.
Effective communication isn’t just a valuable skill online, it can make the difference between a healthy marriage and divorce, between a next best friend and an ex-best friend. It’s something we must take seriously.
So how do we navigate this emotional minefield of communication when it is more complicated than ever?
We need to take the initiative and not expect others to do so. In a society that promotes independence over communal lifestyles, one of the negative side effects is isolation—a disconnection from those around us. If we don’t take charge of the situation, who will? We are the Lord’s appointed representatives (2 Corinthians 5:20), so it’s our responsibility to reach out to the people in our lives. That means getting personal.
A simple hello in the morning is not going to create a bond between you and your neighbor. Asking meaningful questions will show that you care. Sure, sometimes people are shy or don’t know how to respond, and sometimes they just want to be left alone. Don’t expect everyone to warm up to you immediately. But if you put the invitation out there and give it time, you might be surprised at who responds. Plant a seed and see what grows.
Keep it positive.
How do other people perceive you? Are you friendly and inviting or grumpy and intimidating? A 20-foot-high wall with mounted guns attitude doesn’t win any friends and it doesn’t invite community or allow other people to ask the reason for your hope (1 Peter 3:15).
Ask for honest (and constructive) opinions from friends you trust. Do they think you are a good communicator and why? We expect to have job performance reviews to make us better employees, but we could really use some personal performance reviews. Make it easy for people to approach you by adopting a spirit of kindness and humility (Ephesians 4:31-32). Think welcome mat, not obstacle course.
No one can control the flow of time, but almost anyone can control how they spend it. We ought to spend time on what we value—and we ought to value others. The Bible is abundantly clear on the need to place others before ourselves (Philippians 2:3).
Furthermore, if we truly believe in eternal life, then people certainly hold more value over temporal things like lawns, movies, school, work and that sweet new ride you just bought. We should prioritize our time by spending most of it on the things that last, knowing that the best treasures are those stored in heaven. (Matthew 6:19-20)
Mean what you say (and vice versa).
We must choose our words with caution and intent, knowing that a single word may convey a wide range of meaning. We should uphold conversations with clarity. Avoid using terms and phrases that you don’t actually understand. Conversely, if you aren’t OK with the things your buddy says, let him know. Cater to your crowd. Even the apostle Paul used different approaches in order to reach as many as possible for the sake of the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
However, we must beware of becoming performers, in which our words are merely an act for the approval of our audience. Become the captain of your words with truth as your compass and love your destination. (Ephesians 4:15) Are you also taking time to hear others out? James 1:19 tells us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak.”
Communication is a two-way street, and if you are the one who does most of the talking, you might as well make good friends with your mirror.
Learn and adapt.
We live in an age when new methods of communication are constantly becoming available. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of text messages sent annually has rocketed from 18.7 billion in 2006 to 110.4 billion in 2008.
Facebook reports that people log a collective 700 billion minutes per month on the social network site. Although our means of communication may change, our motives should remain the same. Whether instant messaging someone right across the room or Skyping someone on the other side of the planet, we are called to be salt and light. (Matthew 5:13-16)