Updated: Dec 15, 2019
Communication is not something you want to let slip through the cracks when you have a new roommate situation, are on a team, or are in any other kind of relationship with a human being. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it's the most important thing in any relationship. If we want to honor God with all areas of our lives, we need to make sure we're being loving and intentional in all of our relationships, that they may know His love through us. So let's explore how to communicate well!
As someone who doesn't naturally communicate intentionally, I've had to learn many relational principles the hard way. This is one reason I'm writing this article - so that people like me (and people unlike me!) can glean from my years of hitting relational walls.
My husband and I place a high value on communication in our marriage, so we talk about it often and enjoy discussing theories developed by other relationship experts whose books we've read (see links below). In all of this, we have developed a list of tips you can use on your team, in your roommate or co-leader relationship, and with your significant other, family, and friends. I hope these help you be even more intentional and grow closer with those around you!
Here are the tips we've put together, specifically to help when something is between the two of you, after you've prayed and opened your heart up to what God wants to do through the conversation:
Start with the understanding that you are on the same side. You love the other person, right? And they love you. The other person does not mean real harm; they do not intend evil toward you. Start there.
Remember that it's the relationship that's most important! If you "win" the argument but you distance yourself from that person by doing that, it's not actually a win at all. Keep the value of your relationship in the forefront.
I have come to realize that the issue you're vocalizing is rarely the actual issue you're discussing. Becoming aware of this in any situation will help you stop talking about the surface issue and start asking what's really going on. When someone is lashing out at you or arguing about something you think is petty, don't lash back or argue - ask what's going on, if they're okay, how the situation is making them feel. This can disarm them and help diffuse the situation. Once you get to what you're actually talking about (Hint: Many things are rooted in their past events, issues, relationships, and feelings), it's easier to find a real solution and make that person feel loved again. The surface problem will be much simpler to work out, and it might actually become a non-issue!
In The DNA of Relationships, Dr. Gary Smalley says, "True communication usually does not occur until each person understands the feelings that underlie the spoken words." You might think you're talking about the dishes, but the conversation you're actually having is about your roommate not feeling valued or cared for. There's always an underlying emotion.
In the same vein of recognizing that you don't know what the deeper issue is, also know that you don't know what it's like to be in their shoes. It's important to try thinking about how they might feel, but do not assume you know. Godly communication starts with putting aside our selfishness and being humble before the other person. Ask multiple questions to really understand how they're feeling.
Make them feel heard. This actually requires listening instead of thinking of what to say next. A helpful thing to say after you've listened is, "What I heard you say was... Is that right?", and giving them time to reply. Don't assume you understand until you can articulate what they're feeling and they agree with it. (It's a little awkward, but sometimes I even ask my husband what he heard me say so I can see if he's actually understanding me, too)
Acknowledge the other person's validity. All feelings are valid, theirs and yours; neither are "right" or "wrong". If you were in the exact same position with the exact same prior knowledge and situation, you would necessarily make the same decision/assumption. Their feelings are valid even if their perspective is skewed.
Wording is important. "I feel alone and afraid," gets more to the point than, "I think he doesn't care." Cause and effect make it feel less like blaming: "When you did ... I felt..." helps to explore what actually happened. "Do you think this would work?..." is a much more helpful way to suggest a solution than, "You should..." Finally, treat the words "never" and "always" as off-limits, because they are very rarely true in these types of conversations and are hardly ever (dare I say never! 😛) helpful.
Identify and acknowledge the miscommunication and go from there. Lots of issues stem from two people interpreting one thing in two different ways. There's nothing to do to change the past, but you can walk forward together on a better foot.
Being defensive or reactive does nothing positive for the conversation, only negative. It only makes the other person react or shut down, which is not conducive for understanding each other. Instead, calmly and respectfully ask to understand why they feel/think/do something in a particular way, and listen to their answer.
There is always something you can apologize for. Say you're sorry and acknowledge the hurt. Be sorry and truly mean it, showing it in your delivery and words. Don't do this to get an apology from them but to actually be humble and admit you had something to do with the situation. "I'm sorry that you felt... when I did..." is a good start, even if the fault isn't fully yours. Another wording point to honor the other person: Don't say, "I'm sorry if...," but instead say, "I'm sorry that..."
After you both understand what you're actually talking about and how the other person feels, you can start working toward a solution (if the solution isn't just understanding each other better!). Work toward collaboration, a win-win. Push through! It doesn't have to be a compromise (where you both lose something); there may be a solution you both actually like if you are willing to find it!
Pray and hug after you have a difficult conversation. This restores unity and makes it even more personal and loving, especially since the discussion was hard.
These have proven to be very valuable tools and tips in my relationship with my husband, and we hope they bless you in your relationships!
In addition, here are a few bonus general relationship/conversational tips:
It's good to have constant or even over-communication, such as reminders and a continuing open dialogue. Once you've had a difficult discussion, remember that agreeing to something doesn't put it in stone. People are human; they forget and/or feel differently later. Keep the conversation open.
Helpful for people who assume people will voice how they feel: It's loving for you to ask about how the other person feels about something, like a plan you're making that might affect them. It might not be natural for them to vocalize that.
Helpful for people who tend to want to make everyone happy: It's also loving for you to bring up how you feel about a certain thing. It might not be natural for the other person to ask how you feel about something even though they really do love you. I can't do anything about it if you don't speak up.
Are you willing to try any of these? Let us know in the comments which of these you find most groundbreaking for your ministry and your life!
Books where some of these ideas came from:
"The DNA of Relationships," Dr. Gary Smalley, 2007.
"The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," Stephen Covey, 1989.
"Love and Respect," Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, 2004.
"Boundaries," Henry Cloud, and John Townsend , 1992.
"How to Win Friends and Influence People," Dale Carnegie, 1936.
*Also a weird note: These five books all have crimson and white covers. Not sure if that's significant at all! 😛