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Seeking To Understand…

I’m a vocabulary and communication snob. I admit it. No, I do not always use the right words when writing, (that’s why I have Grammarly) but, a writer’s toolbox demands vocabular diversity!

The sound of fingernails on a chalkboard is pleasant in comparison to speaking with a person who “is like, you know, like wanting like you know, to explain like how to do something.”

Sweet Jesus…help me!

I think the reason why our culture is so bereft of meaningful vocabulary is due to the fact that education has given way to idiomatic verbosity..and if you don’t know what I am talking about, you should, “like, figure it out!”

I’m a big believer in the Stephen Covey principle “Seek First to Understand, Then To Be Understood.”

I listen, seeking to understand what the person speaking is trying to communicate…but they don’t always say what they mean. They try, but due to lack of effort or intentionality…they are not good communicators.

Instead of selecting words from the rich vocabulary set on our table, humans have, instead, opted for “fast food phrases” that leave the hearer as hungry for communication as they were when they first began listening…and far more confused. I’m not saying we have to be walking Webster’s dictionaries…but being a good communicator takes intentionality.

ALWAYS REMEMBER…EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION REQUIRES COURTESY AND…RESPECT FOR OTHERS.

It isn’t just vocabulary either. It’s the way we fail to show courtesy when talking with others…especially these days with mobile devices.

In their article “25 Signs You May Be A Bad Communicator” the website – bydivinedesignforwomen.com writes the following: (AND THIS WAS WRITTEN BY A WOMEN’s BLOG BUT PERTAINS TO BOTH GENDERS.)

Part of intentional living is intentional communication!”

Think about that for a moment. Why is it so hard, sometimes, to communicate with others? One reason is that we focus too much on being UNDERSTOOD. We’re working so hard at trying to get our point across that we forget that one of the most important aspects of effective communication, and an aspect of selfless love, is first SEEKING TO UNDERSTAND.

When the focus is on ourselves, we can tend to create communication barriers. Here are some of the big ones:

1. Interrupting

We all do it. And it’s annoying when others do it to us. It’s disrespectful and sends the message that we care more about what we have to say than what we need to hear.

2. Lack of eye contact

In Western culture, lack of eye contact can indicate a number of things: avoidance, distraction, anxiety or nervousness, lack of interest, deception or insecurity. In some cultures, however, it’s actually impolite to look people in the eye, especially if the other person is older. With all those possible meanings, how can one possibly know what your lack of eye contact means? How many misunderstandings could have been avoided if you’d just looked at the person who’s talking to you?

3. Unengaged or negative body language

What speaks louder to you? A person’s words (verbal), the way she says those words (vocal), or what she does while she’s speaking or listening (nonverbal)? Research shows that if your message is unclear, then others will pay more attention to what you aren’t saying. Your body conveys emotion. It says whether you’re engaged or disengaged from the conversation and whether the other person should bother, or not.

4. Distractions

What’s more important to you than the person who’s trying to communicate with you? That’s what he or she is wondering if you aren’t paying attention! Put down the phone, turn the TV off, set the book down. If this person matters to you, then show it.

5. Multitasking

Though technically this is also a form of distraction, it deserves its own category because as women we are busy! We are juggling many roles and responsibilities throughout the day and have often become master multitaskers out of necessity. That doesn’t necessarily bode well for good communication, however. Effective, intentional communication means stopping everything else and focusing—giving 100% to your child, spouse, friend, (co-workers) etc.

6. Poor listening skills

There’s a difference between waiting until it’s your turn to talk, and ACTIVELY LISTENING to what is being said. Active listening is done with the intent of letting the other person know you want to understand. You do this by repeating back what you’ve heard, to make sure you’ve understood it accurately. You can’t do this if you’re too busy forming your response and biding your time until you can interject.

7. Making assumptions

How many times have you thought you just knew what the other person was really trying to say or do? Only to find out you were dead wrong. Clarify, clarify, and clarify some more.

8. Implying motives

Much like making assumptions, believing you understand the why behind what someone says or does is dangerous. You may think you know because of previous interactions with this person. But often it’s your own past experiences in similar situations that cause you to attach incorrect motives or intentions. The more hurt and disappointment you’ve experienced, the more you tend to generalize those experiences to new ones.

9. Overly emotional

It’s okay to be emotional when you’re communicating and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. God created you with emotions. But if you let your emotions overwhelm you when you’re trying to express yourself, then your message potentially gets lost. The other person only hears your frustration, anger or hurt. You also need to consider the person you’re communicating with. What’s his or her tolerance level for emotional expression? Does that person shut down when your emotions escalate? When you start crying or yelling? If so, you may need to consider waiting until your emotions feel less intense before trying to convey something important.

10. Too self-absorbed

It’s hard to be empathetic and understanding when you’re focused on your own wants and needs. Think about the people in your life who are great communicators. Is it their ability to articulate well, or their willingness to understand where you’re coming from?

It’s both!

11. Not asking enough (or the right) questions

Asking questions, the right questions, is the key to great communication. It keeps you from assuming. It helps you learn things, important things, about the person you’re communicating with. It has the potential to deepen your bond.

But you have to ask the right questions. Canned questions or platitudes won’t get you anywhere, like:

“How are you?”

“How are you feeling?”

“Hang in there. It will be okay.”

“Everything happens for a reason.”

A platitude is a simple, meaningless or trite saying. We hear and use them all the time, and we’re conditioned to respond in similar fashion. Using these statements does not convey deep interest. However, asking questions that evoke deeper reflection does. Good, sincere questions show that you’re curious about the other person. They help you to actively engage, build empathy and clarify. These kind of questions are open-ended. Examples include:

What was the highlight of your day?

What are you most looking forward to?

What is this moment/situation/life teaching you right now?

What was that like for you?

What are you most afraid of/most looking forward to in this situation?

If you could change anything right now, what would it be?

What’s really going on right now in your world?

What’s the biggest challenge for you right now?

12. Focusing on the person instead of the behavior

We all have bad days, when we’re less than stellar at expressing ourselves or conveying interest in others. So, knowing that, it’s better to put aside the judgment that so quickly jumps into our minds when people fall short. He not saying hello to you does not mean he doesn’t like you anymore. Her responding impatiently or dispassionately to your latest idea does not mean she’s not interested. It means that neither is using their best communication skills in that moment, for whatever reason. Try using your best to clarify what’s really going on.

13. Keeping score

Women are especially bad at this. We remember past wrongs and we drag them into every difficult conversation and hammer our loved ones with them. It’s as though our recollection of everything that’s ever happened somehow makes us right. If a conversation has to be about winning, you’ve already lost.

14. Expecting mind reading

“He should know.”

I hear this a lot from women. And each time my answer is the same. “How can he know unless you tell him?” Expecting someone to guess at what you’re thinking and feeling is foolish. It doesn’t matter how long a person has known you. It doesn’t matter how many conversations you’ve had. People are not mind readers, no matter how intuitive they may be. They may have a sense of what’s going on, they may not. But until you actually tell them they can’t be sure.

15. Asking for permission

Sometimes the way we communicate indicates a type of subservience or powerlessness that is not healthy. This can be especially true in relationships where you perceive someone to be in charge. That might be your parent, your husband, your boss. Examples would be:

“Would it be okay if I…?”

“Can I…?

“How do you feel about me…

These types of questions set us up to be told “No.” If something is important to you and you want to convey that, then you need to stop asking for permission. That doesn’t mean, of course, that the other person doesn’t have the ability to still deny you what you want. But how you communicate what you want/desire/need is crucial.

Try, instead, explaining the reason behind why it’s important to you, how you (and others) will benefit from it, how you intend to do it, find time for it, pay for it, etc. Come prepared for possible objections with potential solutions.

16. Harsh words

Healthy communication should have zero tolerance for name calling, demeaning or condescending accusations or foul language. That means you don’t get to talk that way and you need to convey that it’s not okay for him or her to talk to you that way either.

17. Dishonesty

This can take many forms. It can be outright lying. It can be saying one thing and meaning another. It can be lying about what you’re really thinking and feeling. Perhaps it’s because you don’t want to hurt another person’s feelings, or find it difficult to express yourself, or don’t like to talk about difficult things. All are damaging to the health of a relationship.

18. Avoidance

Sometimes we hold back from saying what we really feel because we don’t want conflict. But all we’re really doing is putting off the inevitable. The things we’re stuffing down right now will find their way out eventually.

19. Unrealistic expectations

Are you expecting the impossible? Is the person you have expectations of incapable of giving you what you want or need? If so, it doesn’t matter how much you ask, it won’t happen.

20. Making them responsible for your happiness

If you are dependent on others for your happiness, other than God, you put unrealistic pressure on them. You also set yourself up for disappointment and hurt.

21. Not saying the good stuff out loud

How many opportunities, to compliment someone, encourage someone, tell someone why you love them, have you missed? This isn’t the time to say “That’s not my love language.” So what? Godly love isn’t about what comes naturally for you. It’s about stretching yourself beyond your nature to be more like Christ.

“This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

22. Shutting down

Effective communication can be hard work. Sometimes it may feel easier, and less painful, to say nothing—to hold it all inside. But the easy way is not the healthiest. So, take a break if you need to—to sort out your emotions, figure out what you want to say, why, and how you’re going to say it. Then, come back and try again.

23. Using “universal” statements

Have you ever seen an animal backed into a corner and under attack? That’s how it feels to be on the receiving end of statements like:

“You never…”

“You always…”

“You do this every time…”

“Everyone agrees that you…”

“Why don’t you ever…?”

“How come you never…?”

“Why do you always…?”

Instead, focus on communicating using this format:

I feel/felt… (hurt, upset, confused, misunderstood etc.)

When you… (describe the behavior)

Because… (describe what that behavior meant to you and why)

And so… (describe what change(s) you’re looking for, and what will happen as a result if that change doesn’t occur, i.e. natural or logical consequences)

24. Invalidate feelings

Never, ever tell someone (or let someone tell you) how to feel, or to stop feeling a certain way. None of us has the right to do that.

25. Using “But”

You know what I hear when people say “Yeah, but…”, “I’m sorry, but…” or “Don’t take this personally, but…”? I hear “I agree with you, but I don’t,” “I’m sorry, but I’m not” and “Don’t take this personally, but I’m about to say something that you will likely take personally.”

What do you hear when people say “but” to you?

Being intentional, even in communication, takes constant effort. But the fruit that your relationship will bear if you do work at consistently will be evident. That fruit bears a remarkable similarity to the fruit that God’s Spirit dwelling in us produces (Galatians 5:22-23). If you long for that kind of fruit in your life, as I do, then putting in the time and effort that good communication requires is absolutely worth it!

1 thought on “Seeking To Understand…

  1. Wow! Your post left me speechless. I cringe when I hear people overuse the words, like and right. I know it is wrong, but I can’t help but begin to count the number of times they say it in our brief conversation. I want to let them know the count at the end, so maybe they can do better next time. Like, I wonder what their faces would look like, right?

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