Category Archives: Communication

Sharing Dreams

In our early years of marriage, Tom and I had many dreams that we were excited to discuss, and some of them turned into big adventures, such as our decision to move from Long Beach, CA to a small town of about 250 people in up-state N.Y. just to experience something very different. We lived there for 6 years, then returned to California.

 

Now fast forward to 2016. Our children were grown, we had two grandchildren (with more on the way), and Tom was retired. We had settled into a comfortable routine with periodic travel adventures. But something had started to happen that was not good. We were not as excited about discussing our dreams with each other mainly because, when we did, we’d often experience a lack of interest in our partner. The Lord is helping us to re-learn how to listen respectfully and with open minds to each other’s ideas.

 

The only way to discover which dreams are from God is to look into them together and see where we end up. This requires respectful, receptive listening on the part of the partner who may not be initially excited by their spouse’s idea. And the one with the dream needs to be patient with the hesitant partner. Instead of shutting down, we need to prayerfully discuss the ideas and do the necessary research or perhaps simply take a step of faith that we have agreed on and see where that takes us.

 

The Bible tells us to treat others the way we’d like to be treated. Since I like Tom to listen respectfully to my ideas, I need to do the same for him. This opens the door to good communication.

Be Careful of Your Words!

A friend of mine once told me that I had typed the word “sex” instead of “six” in one of my blog posts. I had a good laugh over his comment about keeping my posts G rated, but it got me thinking.

 

Both my husband and I had proof read the blog post, but we failed to catch that mistake. I’ve heard that the brain often sees what it anticipates, rather than what’s actually there. I remember taking an on-line test proving that I could figure out what was being said despite many missing or incorrect letters.

 

Habits often put our brains into auto-pilot and we may not perceive how our words or actions come across to others. Just as one little letter changed the meaning of my paragraph, so one little word or action can affect the course of a conversation. Sometimes mere inflection can change the meaning. For example: “Will you please help me with this?” (a humble request). “Will you please help me with this!” (an annoyed, frustrated demand).

 

Published writers have editors for good reasons. Do we have trustworthy editors who will let us know when we don’t come across lovingly? Do we humbly listen to them and make corrections?

 

I’m so thankful for honest friends who lovingly bring my mistakes to my attention! I pray that I’ll always listen with a humble heart and make the necessary adjustments.

 

 

 

Quick to Listen and Slow to Speak

The Bible tells us to be “…quick to listen and slow to speak…” (James 1:19).

 

In an excellent sermon I once heard, the pastor said we can know what’s in our heart by what comes out of our mouth. Jesus also said that, of course, but it really struck a chord with me at that moment. Ever since then, I have been listening to what comes out of my mouth and I have not always been pleased with what that revealed about my heart! I still see too much selfishness and pride.

 

Let me share a couple of examples. At a gathering, which included a celebration of one of our daughter’s birthdays, someone suggested that each person in the room share what they admired about our daughter. As her mother, I was certainly blessed to hear what all those people said! The next day, I learned who the person was who had suggested that. As I was telling him what a blessing it was, he shared that he had seen that done at another party recently. Here comes the bad part: I interrupted him to mention that we had done that for our son’s 21st birthday years ago. Thankfully, he seemed not to notice my comment and proceeded to share that, in a world of frequent put-downs, it’s nice to have times of affirmation. I heartily agreed.

I had immediately felt convicted of rudely interrupting him, but later, I realized that pride had spoken. There was no need for me to bring up what we had done. Humility keeps its focus on the other person and seeks to build them up. So, in one short sentence, I had revealed my selfishness and pride!

Another example took place one morning during breakfast. My husband started to share something, and instead of just politely listening, I mentioned that I had already read an email about that. The conversation turned to other things, and then a little later, he started to mention another bit of information, which suddenly reminded me that I had an email waiting about that. So, alas, I blurted out that I had sent someone an email about that and had noticed that he had replied, but I hadn’t yet read it. When I saw the look on my husband’s face, I asked him to forgive me for interrupting him.

Needless to say, my husband wasn’t in any hurry to share anything else. If I want him to share openly about deeper things, I first need to learn how to listen attentively and respectfully to the smaller things. So, what was obviously lurking in my heart? Pride and selfishness, again! -Sigh- Humility would have no need to point out to him that I already knew about what he was sharing. It would just bask in the joy of hearing what he had to say! Humility is always other focused. Pride is self-focused, wanting the attention for itself.

At other times, I’m tempted to interrupt when I don’t like what the other person is saying. My pride and selfishness are thinking about my needs, not the needs of the speaker. A very helpful Scripture is Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (The emphasis is mine.) If I am going to say anything beneficial, I first need to have a clear understanding of the other person’s position! I need to humbly acknowledge that they also have feelings and opinions that are just as important as mine.

I also need to beware of saying negative things about one person to another. There is no good reason for doing that. If I have a grievance against someone, I should first go directly to them and see if we can resolve it. If we can’t, then we may need to get help. If I notice an area a person needs prayer on, I should just discuss it with the Lord, seek His guidance on what He would have me do, and then wait for clear guidance. He may only want me to pray for them. Do my words reveal a compassionate heart, or a critical, judgmental one?

So, how can I improve in this area? Pray and give God time to cleanse my heart before I speak! Ask Him to give me a heart of compassion that genuinely cares about the needs of the other person as much as I care about my own. Sometimes I wish I could just hold my hand over my mouth while I’m listening, until I feel my heart is right! But, since that would be rather distracting to the other person, it’s best just to ask the Lord to keep His hand on my mouth until my heart is in alignment with His!

Don’t Compare!

I once received a good reminder through my son: don’t compare one person to another.

 

Shon was frustrated as he was working on the skill of being able to get from his bed into his wheelchair, and from his wheelchair to his bed independently. In an attempt to encourage him, I made the mistake of saying that if author and speaker Nick Vujicic can accomplish all that he has without arms and legs, Shon can accomplish this. He promptly told me not to compare him to Nick, then I immediately admitted that he was right and apologized.

 

I’m so thankful God doesn’t compare me to anyone else! (Satan does, and I do it to myself, often seeing how far short I fall compared to other people I admire.) God just meets me at my level, shows compassion for my fears and frustrations, and gently encourages me to trust Him and just do my best. Then He strengthens and guides me one baby step at a time.

 

Another type of comparison that is not helpful is when I tell someone about my suffering and they say, “I understand,” and then launch into a description of how they have suffered more. (I have also been guilty of doing this to others.) One of the things I love about Jesus is that, when I complain, He just listens and let’s me vent. Then, when I’m done venting, He’s there to encourage and guide me. There are seasons for everything, including venting (or what I call pity parties). It isn’t harmful to have one now and then, as long as we don’t remain stuck in them. It’s like having a good cry, and then washing your face and moving on, with God’s help. God just keeps assuring me, “I’m here for you.” I want to be more like Jesus in how I relate to people.

 

 

Reflective Listening Beats Advice

By nature, I’m a problem solver. This can be good, but it can also be a hindrance, at times. I’m learning that its best to guide a person toward discovering their own solutions to their problems instead of offering my solutions.

 

In the past, when someone complained to me about their situation, I would shift into problem-solving mode. My motive was good. I cared about their misery and wanted to help them. Eventually, I realized that they were depending on me for guidance instead of the Lord. So, I had to change my approach. Even when they ask for my opinion, now, I’m cautious about giving it. Instead, I try to ask questions about how they’re feeling and thinking.

 

Reflective listening just re-states what they’re saying. If someone is complaining about a roommate, for example, I might say, “So, what I hear you saying is that when they…you feel… its affect on you is…” Then I might ask questions like: “What have you tried to do about it? Did it work? Why not? What do you think the solution is? Why is that difficult for you?”

 

The problem with giving advice is:

  1. I could be wrong.
  2. They may not be ready to hear the solution.
  3. If they follow my advice and things don’t turn out the way they wanted, they might blame me, and our relationship could suffer as a result.

 

God knows best how to work with a person on their fears, insecurities, false beliefs, etc. There’s no quick fix when it comes to working through those things. Peace of mind comes when we find the solution that our conscience is comfortable with. I can’t be, and don’t want to be, someone else’s conscience. My role is to pray for them, listen to them, and gently guide them toward their own conclusions.

 

 

Wait Until They Ask!

The Lord has been teaching me not to give unsolicited advice or help, but I recently gained a deeper insight into this from something I read in The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns, M.D. He gave three questions for us to ask ourselves when we want to help someone. One of those is: Is the person really asking for my help?

 

I have a tendency to shift into problem-solving mode when someone complains about something. I have been very guilty of this with our adult disabled son. But I’m learning that many times all he’s looking for is an empathetic ear. I learned from my reading that if the person is not really asking for help, my attempts may feel intrusive and controlling to them, not helpful.

 

Another area where I’ve been guilty of offering unasked-for help is with my husband. One day, Tom was working on a stream pump in our yard. I asked how it was going, then I asked if he’d like me to call the repairman. Tom said, “Let me try to fix it first.” I said “OK.” As I came indoors, the thought came to me that my offer probably made Tom feel like he was inadequate in my eyes. That was not how I was feeling–I respect him regardless of whether or not he can repair something–but I could see how it might have come across that way to him. (When I asked him later, he confirmed that my insight had been correct.) After awhile, Tom asked me to look for the repairman’s card. Then I was being helpful when I found it!

 

It is OK to ask if there is anything I can do to help, but then I must wait for them to tell me what they want. If I truly want to be helpful, I must wait until I understand how I can be!

 

 

 

 

Helping Vs. Mothering

What is the difference between helping and mothering when interacting with mentally competent adults?

 

Mothering is either giving unsolicited advice or insulting their intelligence by stating the obvious. Having spent years raising children and telling them what to do or not do, I have found it takes a lot of prayer and conscious effort to break that habit once they’re adults. I must remember that if adults want my advice, they’ll ask for it. If they don’t ask, I should keep quiet, or at least ask if they want my in-put before I give it. Sometimes, I’m also guilty of making totally unnecessary (and potentially insulting) statements or questions like, “Will you be taking the sparklers outside?” (No responsible adult would light a sparkler in the house.)

 

Helping is doing something the other adult appreciates.

With my husband, I have found it helpful to ask specific questions. For example, we have been told that on the days he gets infusions, he should drink lots of water so that the veins are easier to get into. When Tom told me that it took them three tries to get the IV in (he hadn’t been drinking enough water) I later asked, “Would you like me to remind you to drink water on infusion days, or do you prefer to handle that yourself?” (I was giving him a choice, rather than telling him what to do.) He said he would like the reminders.

 

So, in summary, if we want our statements and questions to be appreciated by the other person, we need to avoid coming across as telling them what to do. Treat them like the competent adults that they are. And if they make mistakes, as we all do, trust that they’ll learn from them.

Include the Quiet Ones

I was once reminded of something I should know, since I’m basically shy myself. Namely, try to invite the less talkative people into conversations.

 

Generally speaking, I’m fairly quiet. The exception to that is when I’m discussing something I’m excited about. In those moments, I sometimes fail to be sensitive to the quieter people who are present.

 

My husband, Tom, and I were meeting with another couple to discuss the possibility of them coming to speak at our church. I later learned that Tom felt excluded from that part of the conversation (even though he had participated in the conversation when we were just getting to know each other). I asked him if it would be helpful if, in the future, when I notice he isn’t saying much, to invite him into the conversation by asking his opinion. He said yes.

 

Some people have no trouble entering into a conversation (at times, even to the point of rudely interrupting someone). But with the less assertive types, we need to be sensitive to their presence and make sure they feel included.

Ask, Don’t Assume

It is good to ask what people mean when something is unclear, instead of guessing or assuming we know. In Leviticus 11:17-20, Moses was upset with his brother Aaron, thinking he had sinned, but he was wise enough to go directly to Aaron and ask why he had acted that way. When he heard Aaron’s righteous motive, Moses was satisfied.

There have been many instances where I have wondered why Tom did something. I’m learning to ask, and I’m discovering that his reasons are often very different than what I thought. We shouldn’t assume our spouse thinks like we do. When they offend us, we should try to find out what caused them to react the way they did. Let’s say, for example, that our spouse says: “We need to stop going there.” We shouldn’t assume they’re trying to take control. Instead, we might ask: “Why do you feel that way?” or “Why do you think so?” Many times, when we say things that sound controlling, there’s an underlying fear or concern that caused us to make that comment. What were really saying is: “That situation is upsetting to me and I don’t want to go there, anymore.” If we can draw out our spouse’s feelings and discover what caused them to make that comment, well be in a better position to help them. I know I appreciate it when Tom asks me what my reasons were for my response. Often his interpretation of my behavior is very different than what I was intending or thinking.

The same thing applies if our spouse does not seem receptive to an idea we’re presenting. Instead of getting upset that they don’t seem thrilled with our idea, we should try to find out why they aren’t thrilled about it.

If our spouse offends us by offering to help in a way that doesn’t feel respectful to us, we should give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that their intentions were to be helpful and thank them for their concern. Then we can lovingly suggest a better way to help us.

In summary, we should clarify, ask questions, and offer loving suggestions. We can’t work on resolving issues until we have a clear understanding of the other person’s perspective and intentions.

 

 

Speak Up or Keep Quiet?

Good communication requires sensitivity, humility, courage, and patience. While the following example was taken from our marriage, the principles apply to any close relationship.

One thing my husband, Tom, and I had to learn to do was to (loving and respectfully) speak up when the other person did something that hurt our feelings. We’re both very non-confrontational people, so we’d tend to say nothing. The problem is, if the other person isn’t aware of the offense, they aren’t going to change, and nothing will be resolved. Also, if we harbor resentment in our hearts, that will drive a wedge in the relationship.

So, when someone offends us unintentionally, gently bring it to their attention. For example, whenever we were in crowded places, like a mall or an amusement park, Tom would tend to charge ahead, leaving me behind. I felt ignored and unprotected. Usually, I managed to keep up with him, but one time, in a mall in Istanbul, I lost him. In a panic, I started calling out his name. A man pointed to the escalator and there was Tom, headed up.

One day, after this behavior occurred in an amusement park, I told Tom I knew he didn’t intend to hurt my feelings, but I explained how I felt and suggested that we hold hands and not let go to walk around people and objects but, instead, just exercise patience and stay together. I only mentioned the most recent example, not similar past mistakes. Since people tend to feel defensive when confronted with their mistakes, no matter how lovingly it is done, it’s best to stick to the example at hand. I also waited until we were alone, and he was in a pleasant state of mind. He agreed to my proposed solution.

When should we keep quiet? When we already know, from past discussions, that the other person isn’t willing to change a particular behavior. In those cases, it’s best just to pray for them and decide how we’re going to cope with that behavior.