Category Archives: Communication

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.

Is It “Mean Spirited”?

I had once been praying that Tom and another person would keep their commitment to get together. One morning, Tom told me that he was getting together with that person. What I should have said is something like, “Great! Have a good time.” What I did say was, “Ok. I was wondering if you were going to.” Tom calmly replied, “That was mean spirited.” I said, “I didn’t mean to be mean spirited. I just wondered.”


But then the Lord showed me that Tom was right, because my comment reflected a critical spirit. (I felt he should follow through on his commitment and didn’t think he would.) I asked Tom to forgive me, and he did. But I believe the Lord put those words in Tom’s mouth because they really got my attention. It only took about two minutes for me to go through this process, but it looked like this: First, I saw that my comment was not up-lifting, which meant it was a negative comment. Then I saw that a critical spirit was behind my comment. A critical attitude is, indeed, mean spirited. God, by contrast, looks at people through the eyes of patient compassion, understanding our frailties. The words “mean spirited” jolted me out of my apathy about critical thoughts. I saw how ugly they are. Who am I to judge anyone else when I fall so far short of perfection myself?


Now, there’s a difference between being critical and recognizing evil. It would be a statement of truth to say that Hitler’s actions toward the Jewish people were evil and wrong. But the Hitlers in life also need prayer. Jesus could change even a heart like that if the person wanted Him to.


However, in terms of my daily life, I need to be on guard against a critical spirit because I certainly don’t want to be “mean spirited!” I want to see others through the eyes of compassion, as Jesus does. May He continually help me to do so!

When to Keep It Light

Men grow close by doing activities together. Over time, these common experiences and mutual interests result in a sense of bonding. There is little negativity and few complaints. Conversation is light hearted.

I have had to learn how to enter into this aspect of a man’s world.

I tend to be a mediator and a problem solver. Such characteristics can be a strength or a weakness, depending upon my timing and application.

The time for deep discussion and problem solving is best done when Tom is well rested and emotionally ready for such a discussion, not when we’re enjoying a recreational or relaxing activity together.

Our trips to Lake Arrowhead are one example. We both view it as a way to get away from the daily routine, telephones, television, internet, and the general distractions of life. But we learned that our expectations of those times away were a little different. In Tom’s mind, they were times of total emotional rest, doing things like boating, reading, fishing, gardening or little projects around the house. While I also enjoy doing those things with him (some more than others), and I enjoy the emotional break from the daily routine, I also thought of it as a time away from distractions where we could have in-depth, uninterrupted conversations.

Our expectations clashed one morning as we were having breakfast by the lake our first day up there. The scenery was lovely and peaceful. Tom was in vacation mode. Then I brought up a subject that was not pleasant for him. I dropped it when I saw that he wasn’t in the mood to discuss it, but it broke the spell of his vacation mind set.

The following day, we discussed our differing expectations and came up with a solution to reconcile the two. We decided we would begin by just enjoying activities together. If I had something serious I wanted to discuss, I’d let Tom know and we’d plan a time to discuss it prior to returning to Costa Mesa.

As with so many things, timing is everything. I’m still learning to be more sensitive in this area. I believe its a life-long learning process, but the Lord and I are working on it!

Pray About Your Counsel

It is important not to give unsolicited advice to adults. It is also important to be careful about the counsel we give even when someone does ask for our opinion.


I was reading about Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.” (101 Hymn Stories by Kenneth W. Osbeck) This particular hymn is now considered by many people to be the finest of the 6500 hymns Charles Wesley wrote, but it didn’t become popular until after his death, perhaps because, when he presented it to his brother, John, for approval, it was rejected as being too sentimental. God was big enough to over ride John’s opinion of it, but how sad that Charles never knew that.


Charles apparently respected his brother’s opinions, but it’s unfortunate that John was wrong, in this case. We must be very careful and prayerful about what we say, especially to people who respect us! I know I don’t want to give bad advice or hinder God’s work in someone’s life!


John could have been honest about his opinion, but also encourage Charles to pray about it and get other people’s opinions. I’m learning that, unless I’m properly quoting Scripture, it’s best to make it clear that what I’m saying is just my personal opinion and state that I could be wrong!


When my adult, special needs son, voices his frustrations and asks my opinion, I’m learning to say things like: “What do you want to do about it?” or “Is there something you want me to do?” (instead of immediately jumping into problem-solving mode). It’s the same with my friends. Instead of telling them what I would do, I’m learning to encourage them to seek the Lord and discover for themselves what’s best for them.

I will conclude with this excellent advice from the Bible (James 1:19, NIV):

“…Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak…” I feel that applies even when our intentions are to be helpful!

Does It Benefit Them?

Years ago, I had Ephesians 4:29 (NIV) posted above my kitchen sink:

“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 italics are mine.)


I continue to learn that even good intentions mean nothing if the recipient of my words does not benefit from them. I’m going to share some mistakes I’ve made and what I learned from them, with the help of the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment.


The overall lesson I’m learning is that if I truly trust God, and have His compassion in my heart, I’ll avoid a lot of mistakes! I’m continually re-learning that I need to rely on the power of prayer and say a lot less!


Lesson #1: Ask myself: How will my comment come across to the listener?

One night, I was at the dinner table with daughter Kristy’s family. We had been talking about the hot sauce and her husband handed a piece of bread with sauce on it to their two- year- old son. My over-protectiveness kicked in and I said, “I hope you aren’t giving him the hot sauce.” I was only thinking of my grandchild. I wasn’t considering how that would come across to my son-in-law. But the Lord showed me how that could sound like a critical remark to a parent–as if I wasn’t trusting his judgment. And the worst that could have happened, even if it had been the hot sauce (which it wasn’t) is that we would have had an unhappy two -year -old for a while. I should have kept my mouth shut.


Lesson #2: Don’t give unsolicited advice or suggestions to adults.

This is most tempting to me with the people I love most (ie; immediate family and close friends). If they want my opinion, they’ll ask.

(Exception: There may be times when it is appropriate to say: “Would you like to hear my thoughts on that?” But if they say “No,” then it’s best to keep quiet.)


Here’s an example of what not to do: One night, my daughter Kristy put some toothpaste on an electric toothbrush and it looked like she was handing it to her two- year -old. I said, “You might want to put it in her mouth before turning it on.” I instantly realized I should have kept quiet and quickly commented on how pretty the toothbrush was. My daughter already knew to do that and even if she hadn’t, the worst that would have happened was that some toothpaste would have splattered on them. I know how annoying it can be to have someone suggest something I’ve already thought of, although I usually just thank them, knowing their intentions were to be helpful.


God is my role model. He waits for us to ask, and He allows us to make mistakes. He even allows us to suffer the consequences of our mistakes–but He redeems them, if we allow Him to, by teaching us valuable lessons through them. I need to truly trust that God loves people far more than I do and that He knows what He’s doing. When I do, it’s a lot easier to keep quiet and rely on the power of prayer and I feel at peace (instead of anxious). When I spent a month living with daughter Kristy’s family in Turkey during their move there, I committed many of their decisions to prayer and saw God guide them without a word from me! Amazing!


Lesson #3: Be sensitive to the needs and moods of others in the timing of my requests for help. If I’m not careful, I can get so focused on what I need that I fail to consider the needs of the other person. If they’re stressed or exhausted or have a lot on their plate, that isn’t the time to ask for favors. Instead, be patient, pray, and wait. Trust God to meet my needs in His timing (which will take into consideration everyone’s needs.)


Lesson #4: Stay out of other peoples relationships/conversations/decisions unless invited in. (As a mom, I need to remember that my adult children are able to speak for themselves.) Even if I’m invited in, it’s better to ask questions about what they think and how they feel, instead of giving my suggestions. I don’t want to be in a position of taking sides.


Here’s an example of an uninvited comment: One day my daughter Kristy and her husband were discussing what he should wear. He had asked her opinion. I knew a lot of his clothes were packed away and made the comment that I thought his outfit was fine. Jonathan wisely chose to please his wife and went to change clothes. This reminded me not to enter into other people’s conversations uninvited and definitely don’t come between a husband and wife.


Lesson#5: Be sensitive to the other person’s feelings in deciding whether or not to share something unpleasant. I once made a mistake in this area because, instead of trusting God and relying on prayer, I sent an email to someone about an event that had occurred with the intention of alerting them to potential danger. The Lord convicted me of my lack of faith and my insensitivity. With my husband, also, I’ve had to learn to be more sensitive to his needs in deciding when to share certain things or ask for his help.


Lesson #6: When someone is hurting, just listen and pray. That’s not the time to offer suggestions or look for solutions. They just need a sympathetic ear. When I love someone, I tend to try to help them by looking for solutions to their problems. But that’s not my role. God has the solutions and He’ll reveal them in time. In the hurting times, all that’s needed is a sympathetic ear. I know how much I appreciate the fact that God allows me to vent to Him, and then waits for me to seek His guidance.


So, with the Lord’s help, I will pray before I speak and ask God to show me whether or not my words would benefit the listener. If not, then I should keep quiet!