A few weeks ago, I acted like a typical high “I” and made an on-the-spot invitation for friends to visit us during a time that MK and I had set apart for only the two of us to be alone and recover. I realized that I had acted impulsively and hoped no one would notice. However, MK brought it up later when we were alone. It hurt her. She told me that it bothered her, and then she was quiet for the remainder of the ride home. I noticed it and should have addressed it then. Instead, I let us ride home in silence. I apologized, but it wasn’t really heard. We talked it through the next day, and I apologized again. I think she finally heard it.
As I said, communication is a wonderful and very complex process. It is much more than one person saying something and the other person hearing it. Seldom is what we share exactly what we are feeling or thinking. That is, the words that we say are rarely the same words going on in our heads. This is because:
- We say what we think the other person wants to hear.
- We say what we feel is appropriate for the moment.
- We say 90% of what we want to say and never share the whole truth.
- We are concerned for the other person, so we couch our words in phrases the other can receive.
- Maybe our emotions are high, and therefore, we intentionally don’t respond out of these emotions.
- We are insecure and struggle to admit it in the conversation.
In fact, if a person didn’t do some of these things, they would be perceived as a-social. We would see them as unable to communicate effectively.
I do this all the time. I simply don’t say what I am feeling/thinking without running it through my EQ grid. This is healthy. Just because I feel or think something doesn’t mean it is right or even that it should be shared in the moment. I think through the context and then share what I think/feel is most appropriate. But this isn’t usually verbatim with what is going on inside my head.
The same is true for the hearer. Seldom do they hear what the speaker intends because of what is going on inside their own head. This is because:
- They already think/feel one way, which influences what or how they hear the words.
- They are insecure, and what is shared is felt as a threat.
- They are not listening because they are mentally engaged elsewhere.
- They are thinking of what to say in response before hearing the whole message.
- Their prior history with this person skews what they hear from them.
Obviously, the list from both the speaker/hearer could go on much further. It becomes apparent why communication is complex. It isn’t a surprise that we often don’t hear what is intended. It is a miracle that healthy communication takes place at all!
Mark 10.35-40 tells us:
35Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” 36“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. 37They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” 38“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” 39“We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”Mark 10.35-40
James and John had no clue of the implications of their request. Jesus tells them such. Jesus withholds some information because he knows they couldn’t bear it at this point. He also knows in time, they will understand and fully grasp what they ask. Their lives were given in service to their master, and they both died suffering for their Savior.
We all withhold some things, but unlike Jesus, it is usually because we are afraid of how the person may react or how it may impact us. We are told in Ephesians to speak the truth in love. I learned to speak the truth long before I learned to speak it with love. I am still learning to hear the truth with love.
Healthy communication requires both the truth and love on both the speaker and the hearer’s part.