What exasperated adult dealing with children has not demanded, “Look at me, WHY DID YOU DO THAT?” The response: downcast eyes, no answer or at best a mumble, “I don’t know.” Although the adult may feel smug about having gotten his/her point across (the act was stupid or totally out of place), the child leaves feeling humiliated, defenseless and incompetent. Evidently not an effective communication method!
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The most important thing in any relationship is not what you get but what you give.” Although communication is a two-way street, knowing what not to say can be as important as knowing what to say. This is true for both young people and adults. Without appropriate communication skills, interactions break down and conflicts are inevitable.
In a previous article, I identified five levels of communication (chit chat, facts, opinions, feelings, and open communication) – all good at the appropriate time. The ultimate goal of course, is to reach the “feelings” level with fellow humans and “open communication” with our Lord. But sometimes we just can’t seem to get there; in fact our communication seems to go nowhere or even goes into reverse. Could it be we are erecting communication blockers without even knowing it?
Communication blockers are verbal or non-verbal messages that stymies the other person’s ability to dialogue easily. Like in our opening illustration, the child is unable to give a reason for his/her inappropriate behaviour and therefore says nothing. But that is only one type of communication blocker. Dr. Rey Carr, Peer Counsellor at the University of Victoria lists seven others, though the list is by no means exhaustive.
- Ordering or Commanding. “You must…” “You have to…” May produce fear or resistance and can promote rebellion and retaliation.
- Warning or Threatening. “If you don’t…” “You’d better or…” May produce fear or submissiveness, but also invites anger and resentment.
- Moralizing or Preaching. “You should…” “You ought to…” Creates obligation or guilt feelings. May promote defensiveness and communicates lack of trust.
- Advising or Giving Solutions. “What I would do…” “Why don’t you…” Implies incompetence and creates dependency or resistance.
- Persuading with logic or Arguing. “Here is why you are wrong,” “The facts are…” Provokes defensiveness and counter arguments, prompts “turn-off,” and blocks listening, and generates feelings of inferiority and inadequacy.
- Judging, Criticizing, and Blaming. “You are so immature…” “You are lazy…” Implies incompetence, stupidity, and poor judgment, generates fear, and provokes retaliation.
- Name-calling or Ridiculing. “Crybaby!” “Okay, Mr. Smarty!” Generates feelings of unworthiness, lowers self-esteem, and provokes verbal or physical retaliation.
Does this mean these statements should never be found in our communication repertoire? Yes and no! It is never appropriate to criticize, blame, ridicule, or engage in name-calling. Those are always “off limits.” On the other hand there are times when an order must be given, a warning issued, or facts presented. So there are times when these statements are appropriate. The point remains though; these statements generally do not promote open dialogue. They are facts and opinions at best.
Words are not the only communication blockers. Tone of voice and body language can easily generate open discussion or stifle dialogue. Even though the words may be appropriate, tone and body language can betray the true intention. Rolling the eyes indicates you simply don’t care. Sighing or frequently looking at your watch signals that the other’s communication is not really worth your time.
Effective communication is important for building good interpersonal relationships, whether family, colleagues, or friends. But there is yet another reason to consider. As Christians, we are to communicate God’s message of love, and the only avenues open to us is through body language (which includes acts of kindness), tone of voice and words. However, if the three do not harmonize we send mixed messages and cause confusion. I’m amazed to read that sinners and “publicans” – those considered the “crust of the earth,” were attracted to the pure and holy Jesus, yet these same type of people usually feel repulsed by Jesus’ “followers.” Something seems wrong here.
Here is my thought. Could it be – is it possible – that just maybe our messages contain too many communication blockers! What do you think?