Written By Crystal Tang, Singapore
Have you had a friendship or relationship sour because of poor communication? Perhaps a boss did not tell you something in advance but eventually blamed you for not completing an assignment on time. Or, some project group mates did not tell you that they needed help—until the deadline came. Or maybe you had good friends or loved ones who were hurt as a result of a misunderstanding over a simple text message.
As a counsellor working with youth and families, I often have to help family members deal with miscommunication. Parents would complain that their children do not talk to them, while the children would say that their parents should listen more to what they have to say instead of scolding them constantly. Some of the children had even run away from home because they felt that their parents did not understand them.
It does seem that while technology has greatly enhanced communication between individuals, the lack of face-to-face interaction has led to a greater propensity for communication to break down.
I had my own personal brush with such a breakdown in communication—and it happened because of a simple WhatsApp message. A virtual conversation between a good friend and me turned sour when she misunderstood my tone in a text message of mine. It eventually led to an argument and an emotional exchange, followed by two months of cold war. It was a most painful two months for me, as I kept dwelling on the problem. Thankfully, however, after much prayer, we resolved the problem, forgave each other, and grew our friendship.
So how can we prevent such breakdowns in communication? The Bible has a fair bit to say about communication. It not only tells us to communicate well and effectively, but also reminds us of what we should be communicating about—the gospel.
And it also points out a vital aspect of communication that many of us tend to overlook—listening. In my work with youth and families, I’ve heard many children complain that their parents do not listen to them when they have something to share. And when they blame their parents for forgetting something they had told them previously, their parents get angry. The result: heated arguments.
What if we learn to take a different approach? Instead of blaming others for not understanding what we are trying to say, let’s ask ourselves these questions first: Do we listen to others when they speak? Do we treat others with the respect we wish to be treated with? When others give us sound advice, do we really listen to what they’re saying?
But how can we learn to listen? I would like to suggest two virtues: patience and humility. Often (and especially when we’re upset), we just want to get our own point across. As a result, we tend to lose patience with others and not listen to their point of view. Or, we may let our pride get in the way when someone is saying something about us, and start to defend ourselves instead of adopting a teachable and humble attitude.
So the next time we find ourselves in such a situation, we could try to hold our tongue and listen to the other person first. As an old proverb says, “If speaking is silver, then listening is gold.”