“Open mouth. Insert foot.” Have you ever found yourself accomplishing these directions? I have. Directions require a step by step process for correct completion. If I don’t open my mouth I can’t put my foot in. Yet opening my mouth may be necessary.
In a culture where texting trumps talking, much of our interfacing is not face to face. Based on the understanding that eighty percent of communication is nonverbal, our social media society stunts the growth of communication skills. Is it any wonder we struggle with meaningful conversation?
The key in good communication; follow God’s directions. “He who answers a matter before he hears it is folly and shame to him.” Proverbs 18:13 shows the first step we take in transforming our tongue.
1. Listen! If you have not read my previous blog What to do with Unwanted Words: 5 Rules for Listening, please stop, go back, and start from the beginning because this is part two of a five part blog.
Next we need to listen to our own words before we speak. What tone will we use? What words should we choose?
Then while we are speaking let’s listen with our eyes. Is the listener tuned in or fading out? Does her face reflect reception or rejection, agreement or offense? Make eye contact. Watch body language. Eyes do make good ears. Lip readers listen with their eyes all the time!
2. Speak Less; God gave us two ears and one mouth so we should listen twice as much as we talk, right? Whoever wrote this equation left out two important factors; mouths shut, ears don’t. We should always listen and speak sparingly because, “In a multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise,” Proverbs 10:19. To some this comes easy; the rest of us require considerable tongue biting.
Tongue biting hurts. Yet the pain caused by frothing at the mouth exceeds it exponentially. Trust me on this. In the realm of too much talk I supplant Paul as chief of sinners. Thankfully God can teach old dogs new tricks! By His grace I am learning to speak less and listen more.
The following rules come from Ephesians 4:25-32.
3. Speak Truth; Honestly?! She “always” does that or “never” does this? Exaggerations make great comedy but dishonest conversation. Absolutes tend to inflame arguments not resolve them.
Another common form of dishonest speech is polite replies. If we go to church and tell people we are fine when we are not how can they pray for us? Who will help us bear our burdens? And most importantly, how does that model authentic fellowship to young believers?
4. Attack Problems Not People; When we are angry with some one that emotion produces adrenaline. God designed anger that way so we would have extra energy to resolve problems. God cautions us not to misuse that energy by sinning.
“You lied to me!” attacks the person. I accused them of being a liar. Now they’re defensive.
“I under stood you to say______. When you didn’t follow through I felt deceived. Is that what you meant or did I misunderstand you?”
This explains a problem. It may be the problem was a misunderstanding. If there was intentional deceit, they are now accountable to ask for forgiveness. It’s a win, win without verbal sin!
When we’re confronted in anger only “a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger,” Proverbs 15:1. One day when I was trying to resolve an issue over medical billing. I called the collection agency to express the frustration I had because of never receiving a bill from my doctor before it went to collections. My angry tone stirred up the woman on the other end who responded in kind. I took a deep breath, remembered the proverbial advice, apologized for my tone and continued in a more pleasant fashion. When I spoke softly she toned down too. What we call yelling the Bible calls clamor.
Don’t stew. Angry clamor is sin but so is neglecting a problem. Bitterness is equally sinful. When we’re on fire we’re told to stop, drop, and roll. Anger can burn too. So in the heat let’s stop, drop, and pray. Ask God how we can attack the real problem constructively. Let’s remember people are not the problem; sin is. It may be theirs. It may be ours. We need God’s wisdom to discern the truth.
5. Build Up! Give encouragement and lots of sincere praise but also be willing to rebuke. When we see sin destroying someone’s life we must speak up. Discussing it with other people is gossip. To selfishly get something off my chest gives away a piece off my mind I can’t afford to lose. To put people in their place is to usurp God’s place. Love is the only pure motive in necessary edification. If I can’t speak to build them up or admonish for their good and God’s glory then I shouldn’t speak.
Tongue taming is hard work. When we do it well God gets the glory and His body grows healthy. So let’s embrace God’s rules for communication by casting out our cultural politeness and political correctness.
Join me the next three Fridays as I shock you with three Biblical examples of great communication.
Lord, You are the God who speaks. Please teach our tongues the law of kindness. Help us follow Your directions as we speak. Amen!