Healthy Communication Principles
Each day we communicate. We communicate verbally and non verbally. Each of us have different ways we let ourselves be heard and known. Yet communication can be the most fundamentally divisive aspect of relationships. Whether parent-child, husband-wife, boss-employee or friend-friend, we all communicate in unique ways. Healthy communication can be vital factor in illustrating the Gospel well.
Below are basic principles taken from the ACCFS Healthy Communication Principles presentation.
God’s standards for communication & relationships:
Romans 12:18 “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.”
Ephesians 4:29 “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”
Concept 1: Speaker-Listener Model
Speaker: The speaker “has the floor.” Speak in short sentences and at a speed rate that allows the listener to keep up with you. Speak from your perspective. Don’t expect the Listener to be able to “read your mind.”
The Message: “Say what you mean and mean what you say!”. Stick with one topic at a time- Don’t switch topics mid-conversation. Non-verbal communication is just as important as verbal communication: Facial expression, eye contact, posture, tone of the message, etc.
The Listener: Focus on understanding the other person instead of focusing on your answer. Don’t interrupt. Listening is your gift to the Speaker. Your job is to: Hear what the Speaker says, Comprehend it, Let the Speaker know you understood what he/she said. Listening is not just waiting to speak.
Acknowledge/Reassess: Let the Speaker know he/she has been heard. “Reflect back” what you heard the speaker say- Don’t just “parrot back” the exact words. When the Speaker hears the Listener’s acknowledgement, he/she can assess if the message was heard correctly.
Keys to Communication Cycle: It is the Speaker’s responsibility to match the Listener’s level of understanding. It is the Listener’s responsibility to verify to the Speaker whether or not his/her level has been matched. Without proper understanding communication is incomplete.
Concept 2: Healthy Communication Loop
Unhealthy Triangle #1 Unhealthy Triangle #2
Concept 3: Understanding Our Differences
Difference 1: Expanders vs. Condensers
Expanders are people who talk more than others. They elaborate, give detailed, lengthy descriptions, and have a dislike of silence. Expanders may be frustrated by Condensers who do not provide as much information when talking.
Condensers are people who do not talk as much and who do not always include a lot of detail in their conversations. They prefer an efficient use of words and tend to stick to the main points or the “bottom line” when communication. A Condenser may become overwhelmed by the Expander’s seemingly excessive use of words.
Difference 2: Processing Styles
Thinkers cope primarily by thinking things through logically. They work through problems and stressors by: keeping emotional distance, understanding information and facts, and having assistance in problem-solving.
Feelings cope primarily by working through emotions. They work through problems and stressors by: sharing their feelings and experiences, “venting” or pouring out their emotions, having others empathetically listen, and being understood by others.
Difference 3: Interpersonal Behavior Styles
We interact with each other in several key manners:
Passive: I want to please.
Passive-Aggressive: I’ll get you back.
Aggressive: I want my own way.
Assertive: I want to communicate.
Difference 4: The Pursuer-Distancer Cycle
It is quite common for us to have different ideas about how to deal with challenges, resolve conflict and even start a conversation. Some of us want to talk about problems right away or get right to the point. Others of us want time to think about it, talk later, or avoid the issue altogether. This arrangement often leads to the Pursuer-Distancer cycle.
Difference 5: Five Conflict Styles
Avoiding – The Passive Turtle
Accommodating – The Lovable Teddy Bear
Collaborating – The Wise Owl
Compromising – The Wily Fox
Competing – The Aggressive Shark
Concept 4: Crucial Skills of Healthy Communication
Skill 1: Dealing with Filters
Filters are anything which come between the Speaker and Listener and can potentially alter the meaning and/or reception of the message. Environmental Filters would be radio, children, telephone, being in different rooms, etc. Internal Filters would be being tired, being frustrated, having a headache, being sick, etc. Filters can be temporary or systemic.
Skill 2: Dealing with Negativity
Negativity occurs in outlook, attitude, and talk. Negativity has its source in negative emotions such as: fear, anxiety, anger, guilt, and shame. Other factors contributing to negativity: trust issues, unrepentant sin, losses, and repeating failure. Negative thinking has a longer shelf life than positive thoughts. Our inner dialogue and thoughts aren’t always easy to recognize. Negative thinking is often the result of our expectation the world should behave according to our wishes and it doesn’t. Negativity attracts negativity. Perception is often deemed reality although this perception can be quite inaccurate.
Skill 3: Overcoming Personal Negativity
- Learn to recognize the many irrational and unhealthy thoughts we tell ourselves.
- Break worry patterns.
- Manage and decrease stress.
- Learn to not take the negativity of others personally. Get enough rest.
- Remember to close the mouth and open the ear.
- Get the “buts” out of your dialogue! (“You did a good job but…”)
Skill 4: Additional Elements of Negativity
Cynicism: believing others are motivated purely by self-interest. Overcome cynicism through optimism and gratitude. Be careful of the stories we tell ourselves about others’ motives.
Sarcasm: a form of irony in which apparent praise is used to mock or convey contempt. Overcome sarcasm by treating others with dignity and respect.
Skill 5: Staying Focused
When separating events from issues there are two layers to most conversations. Events are the topic at hand. Issues are the “under-the-surface” feelings, meanings, and goals. Always seek to communicate on the same issue. Many conflicts are never solved because the people talking are actually arguing about different hidden issues. It is a loving act (though often a challenge) to work at understanding why another person is reacting to an issue the way he or she is.
Skill 6: Dealing with Conflict
Conflict happens even in the best relationships. Occasional conflict in relationships is both normal and inevitable. However, how you handle conflict (submitting yourselves to the flesh or the spirit) determines whether it harms your relationship or helps you to grow.
Active listening is a key skill to understanding each other and in dealing with conflict. James 1:19-20 “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” “Using” good listening skills is very different from just “knowing about” them.
Avoid speaking quickly and angrily. Criticism, sarcasm, and put-downs are hurtful to your relationships.
Ephesians 4:29 “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”
The words we speak when frustrated or angry often hurt others deeply and leave us feeling regret. This means harsh words spoken early in a conversation can doom the discussion to turn into destructive conflict. When entering difficult or tense conversations, don’t use inflammatory words, keep your voice tone steady, and the volume moderate. Many people think they need to “vent” their anger in order to deal with it. However, venting often leads us to “spew out” words and actions that are neither godly nor healthy. As our tension level goes up, our ability to think clearly and solve problems effectively GOES DOWN.
Skill 7: Assessing you Conflict Zone
If your level of tension is in the Red Zone (7-10), don’t try to talk out any problems right now. Take steps to calm down such as going for a walk, writing out your feelings, working in your garden, and taking deep breaths.
If you are in the Yellow Zone (4-6) be aware that you are quickly move into the Red Zone (7-10), so pay attention and work to stay calm.
Ideally, we would always talk to each other from the Green Zone (1-3) with a prayer on our heart and with the other person’s best interest in mind.
When conflicts occur, pray! Ask for God’s help in dealing with your feelings, understanding the other person, and sharing your feelings. Anger is often referred to as a secondary emotion because it comes as a result of another issue. When you are angered by something, try to identify which of the following categories likely triggered the anger.
Ephesians 4:26-27 “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil.”
Skill 8: Dealing with Anger
Dealing with anger and hurt proactively. Don’t deny it, “stuff” it, or let it turn to bitterness. Hebrews 12:15 “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.”
Skill 9: Forgiveness is Essential
The ongoing practice of seeking forgiveness and being forgiving is essential to a healthy, Christ-centered relationship.
Ephesians 4:32 “And be ye kind one to another tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
Skill 10: Acceptance & Forbearance
Accept that you will not agree on everything. Forbearance is an act of love.
Colossians 3:12-14 “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.”
There is no right answer for every situation. Match your response to the needs of the situation and the other person. Sometimes remaining silent or saying only a few words is best while other situations will require loving confrontation. Mutual Respect is an essential starting point.
Skill 11: Avoiding “Silence” or “Violence”
Silence: withholding information from the pool of shared meaning.
- Masking– sugarcoating; not saying what you really need to.
- Avoiding– staying away from topics, issues, people.
- Withdrawing – pulling out of communication.
Violence: any action trying to force others to take your view.
- Controlling – coercing others to take our perspective.
- Labeling – using labels to dismiss people.
- Attacking – belittling, put downs, etc.
Skill 12: Dealing with Feedback
Questions to ask yourself concerning feedback:
- Am I willing to receive loving feedback from others?
- Am I willing to hold others accountable with loving feedback?
- How do I deliver feedback to others?
Skill 13: Types of Criticism:
Constructive criticism is specific enough to be clear. Done to help the other person grow and improve. Points out a need for growth or correction without attacking or demeaning the person. Shows belief in the person’s ability to grow and improve. Holds people accountable for behavior. Part of a dialogue. Willing to listen, share, and understand.
Unhealthy criticism can be either “microscopic” or “global.” Is done to indict or “pin” someone. Is personally harsh, a personal attack and/or demeans the person. Characterizes the person as failing or a failure. Indicts people for not fulfilling the speaker’s opinions, requests, and ideals. Is a monologue and only allows the other person to speak from a defensive position.
Skill 14: Ways to Take Feedback
Dismissive: These people tend to quickly discount criticism and may overlook what they actually need to consider.
Prudent: These people consider and soft feedback, filtering-in what is wise and helpful and filtering-out what is not.
Over-Personalize: These people too quickly take in criticism and tend to ruminate about the opinions of others.
Concept 5: Other Key Communication Tips
- Be Completely Present.
- Use X,Y,Z format
- “In situation X, when Y occurred, I felt Z.”
- Use “I” statements. Avoid “You” Statements.
- “I feel disrespected when you criticize my driving.”
- “You’re never ready to leave on time.”
- Learn the skill of Contrasting.
- “I am trying to …” I am not trying to…”
- Share the Floor when necessary.
Concept 6: Common Communication Challenges
Challenge 1: Verbalizing Your Thoughts
We should have the freedom to communicate without walking on eggshells all the time. Keep balance between our needs and wants. Keep balance between demands and requests. Example, choice of a restaurant vs. the need to eat.
When making a request, be clear and direct. Use “I” statements, not “you” statements. Talk about yourself, do not judge the other person. Example, “I feel neglected when my choices are never considered.”
Two responses possible when a request is made:
Yes – accept this gratefully
No – If the request is not important, accept this answer & move on. If the request is important, then seek dialogue:
- Reevaluate the importance of the request- Is it a Need or a Want? If it is a “want”, you can be “sad” but don’t force the other person to feel “bad” (this can lead to bitterness).
- Seek to understand the reason for the “no”.
- Empathize and gently ask again.
- Highlight the consequences of the “no” to yourself and/or others.
Challenge 2: Making Someone Aware of a Problem
We will not address problems in ourselves until we are “aware” of them. We should always assume a person is innocent and doesn’t know any better. I Corinthians 13:6-7 Beware of the Fundamental Attribution Error- assuming it is a lack of desire that causes someone to act the way they do. Be humble as you approach the situation (Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 12:3). Pray you can see yourself as you really are with all your strengths and weaknesses (others can help us see our own blind spots).
- Gauge understanding. Do you need to warn or support? (I Th. 5:14)
- Be specific but loving.
- Teach about the effects on him/her/you/others.
- Request change. Preserve the person’s freedom to choose options when possible.
Challenge 3: Stopping a Behavior
Micah 6:8 “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
- It is a good thing to judge rightly. Remember the difference between a commandment and preference. Remember the two real issues at hand: the problem and the person’s ability to deal with the problem.
- Be sure to show mercy. Be hard (hate) on the issue/sin, be soft (love) on the person until forced otherwise (John 8:1-11)
- Walk humbly with God.
- Proverbs 19:11 “The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression (revolt).”
- Know when to confront and when to let go (commandment/preference).
- Relationships are more important than preferences.
Choose Your Battles Wisely:
Proverbs 9:7-8 “He that reproveth a scorner getteth to himself shame;…rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee.”
Realize possibilities and assess your motives – what do you really want? Proverbs 9:8 – the wise man might listen and it goes well. Proverbs 9:7 – the scorner might not listen and it goes poorly. You can influence but you can not control the outcome.
Challenge 4: Steps of Confrontation
Choose the right time and place. Distinguish between preferences/commandments and vary your approach appropriately. Avoid the line: “we need to talk”. Affirm the person by speaking the good first. Be specific and clear; start the end in mind. Keep the issue clear. Seek to understand (listen), speak to feelings but return to the issue. Request specific change. Be patient and stay in control (James 1).
Challenge 5: Dealing with Blame & Counterattack
We need to know when to engage and when to walk away. We should not be surprised by resistance. It is part of our sin nature (Genesis 3). Use grace and love as much as possible while not compromising. These are important for any redemptive conversation.
How we resist confrontation:
- Shoot the messenger
- Project our problem on others
Tips for dealing with counterattack:
- Gently mention defensiveness in an effort to get back to the issue.
- Humbly examine any contribution you may have on the issue.
- Listen and contain the emotions of others when possible. Think of the example of a mother calming her child’s emotions. Handle the situation as an adult, not a child.
- Be honest about the consequences the behavior has on you.
- Admit helplessness and dependency on them to fix the problem. Moves the situation from one of power/debate to one of relationship and helps to create healthy vulnerability.
- Do not make it into a debate (Romans 12:18)
- Persist and be as patient as possible.
- Have consequences ready if needed but always offer a way back.
Six general keys to healthy communication:
- Cover the situation with Prayer
- Seek and Acknowledge Reality
- Continually Build Safety
- Seek to Understand the Other/Listen
- Be Clear and Remain Gentle
- Remember the Power of Questions
To view the complete PDF, click here.
Some material referenced from How to have that Difficult Conversation You’ve Been Avoiding, Cloud & Townsend and Crucial Conversations, Vitalsmarts.