As a young pastor in a new church assignment I was in a dilemma – how to deal with my wounded pride? Do I accept the (what I thought) unfair criticism or set the guy straight?
Riding in the car with one of my church elders, the conversation turned to church work. Being only slightly older than I, we had become friends, and in the course of our dialogue he reiterated the positive aspects of my ministry: the needed changes taking place, good preaching, meaningful visitation and generally a smooth running church. Then he added, “You and I are friends. May I share the one thing we’re struggling with?” Obviously only one answer is correct, so he proceeded tactfully, “We struggle with your lack of communication.” Silence!
My first impulse was to retaliate but fortunately asked instead, “What do you mean? Tell me more.” He did. I listened. And at the end of my tenure he assured me the church saw growth in my communication skills.
Communication experts tell us our tone of voice communicates 38 percent of what we mean and body language communicates 55 percent while our words really convey only 7 percent. Contrary to what we might think, 93 percent of our communication is subconscious. How important it is then that all three avenues harmonize; otherwise we send mixed messages!
I discovered later there are five levels of communication; each more intimate than the one before. As we build relationships with others, whether spousal and family, friends and community, or even with God, each level has its function. To skip a level as one builds relationships not only feels awkward, but may actually become a communication blocker. Depending how deep you want your relationship to be, communication can be maintained at any one of the levels.
The basic level is “chit chat.” Chit-chat is non-threatening, usually consisting of idle chatter. Commenting on the weather, sports or any other irrelevant topic are typical examples of chit-chat. Yet it’s important. The message is clear – I’m open to being friendly.
The next level is facts. Communicating at the facts level is also relatively safe and non-threatening since facts can be proven and are indisputable. Telling someone I was in Florida in February is a fact that can be proven. Citing accurate meaningful facts is valuable in that it builds credibility and trust.
Opinions or Judgments
Moving beyond the facts level, we come to the “opinions or judgments” level. At this level we become more vulnerable since we express opinions which possibly can be challenged and argued, depending on individual experiences. In some instances, opinions are built on logic, using facts to back the rational. Each morning during my walk I hear crows noisily congregate in the neighbour’s spruce trees. In my opinion, crows are noisy dumb birds especially in the early morning (wouldn’t you agree?). Opinions may also be based on personal preferences, tastes, likes or dislikes. I may express how a piece of classical music moved me to tears, only to discover my friend was bored to tears. Expressing opinions reveals personality and the uniqueness of each individual, and can become the spice of conversations.
The fourth level, feelings, is opening the heart to the other, and this makes one exceptionally vulnerable. The trust factor is on the line and true human friendship is built – or destroyed. As a friend reveals his/her inner soul and that revelation is kept intact, faith grows and hurts heal. Conversely, betray confidence and the relationship is dashed – probably forever. Conversations may continue, but usually only at one of the lower safer levels.
The fifth and final level is known as “open communication,” usually reserved for the heart-to-heart conversation with God and God alone. Into this level, no human has the right to intrude. Here the deepest secrets and desires are disclosed. Sins can and should be freely confessed as the soul wrestles with God. Engaging in such openness is two-way communication, both expressing and listening with the heart.
As my “elder” friend spoke, I’m thankful I listened. His message was clear. Body language, tone of voice and words all conveyed the same message. And in the end I was blessed. If such communication takes place among humans, how much more with God! Guaranteed, we’ll always come away refreshed, encouraged and invigorated. Jesus is our best Friend. He will never betray us, but will always forgive and grant us peace.