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The quality of the conversations we have in huge part affect the quality of our lives. The ability to communicate well and help others feel valued and understood is so important. So in this series I’m passing on some things I’ve learnt in recent years that have helped me have better conversations.
This is part two. In the first part which you can read here, I spoke about understanding the goal of our communication. Understanding what our conversations are ultimately about, helps us set a healthy direction.
So in this post I want to think about some core values that shape my approach to conversations. As I previously mentioned much of this content has been inspired by Dann Farrelly’s excellent teaching title “Brave Communication”. I want to begin with this quote from Dann:
The quality of our lives depends to a large extent on the meaningfulness of communication. Dann Farrelly
Communication Core ValuesWhen looking to improve our conversations it is really helpful to take a step back and think through our approach. We will get to the practical tips that will help us mid-conversation however the approach almost matters more. It’s about preparing our hearts and establishing some ground rules. Rules of engagement seems a littler formal however the idea of establishing how we want to behave in advance of facing difficulty is powerful. It takes the pressure off to think it all through in the moment. I can’t say that all of these values spring to mind before every conversation but over time they have begun to seep into the way I think through conversations. As I approach a difficult conversation I will sometimes review this list.
1. Personal Freedom
This value is about simply recognising the way things work in relationships. Every individual has their own freedom and autonomy to choose their response. As much as we sometimes like to kid ourselves, we have no control over other people, only ourselves.
When we attempt to control others we actually go against how God designed relationships to function. There is a boundary that extends as far as your skin that defines the area over which you have control and power. To try and control or make others respond in the way we want is to go against the grain of relationships. It causes us to devalue the person in front of us, treating them as though they have no personal freedom themselves.
Whilst we may feel the frustration of the person in front of us making bad decisions or behaving in ways that are damaging, the sooner we can realise that we are not responsible for their life the healthier our conversations will be.
Letting people be free to choose is vital to healthy conversations.
At the same time recognising that we are called to control ourselves in conversations gives us enough to work on. Being self aware of our emotional state and how our behaviour and words affects others is a vital part of our growth. We can’t control others but we can affect them negatively or positively.
Biblically we have been given the fruit of self-control not others control. On a good day we exercise our personal freedom for the benefit of others. We need to understand what is ours to carry, what is someone else’s to carry and what is Gods.
For a pastor, this might seem like an obvious addition to the list, however it is vital! I don’t mean love in some abstract sense, being soft and fluffy to others. I mean that attributes of self giving love should be visible through our words and actions in increasing measure in our conversations.
Looking to Paul’s love list in his first letter to the Corinthians that means that in our conversations we should be:
- Patient with others when they frustrate us
- Kind with the words we use and the assumptions we make about others
- Not self-serving, proud or arrogant about who we are
- Slow to get angry with others
- Truth loving even when truth reveals we are in the wrong
- Hopeful about the conversation and the relationships involved
This is not an exhaustive list but gives us plenty to consider. Ultimately we love others well through the words, actions and thoughts we have towards them. This is challenged so much, particularly when emotions are high. We all tend to behave the worst under stress or attack. Yet remembering that people need the most love at the very moment they are acting the least loving is helpful. Jesus demonstrated this incredibly for us.
3. Expect Negotiation and Conflict
As a value this might seem strange at first, however it has helped me on many occasions. Put simply, I should not be surprised when there is conflict or negotiation. These are the natural result of healthy communication.
We might be tempted to think that within a healthy community conflict and negotiation would be lacking. However both aspects are simply the fruit of culture which values individuals. Where there is diversity of opinion and personality we can always expect the need for potentially challenging conversations. Of course there is unhealthy conflict and that is often why we shrink back from this term. Conflict in conversation and communication simply means a difference of opinion or desire.
A lack of negotiation and conflict can actually reveal a lack of health in a relationship or community. A sign of unprocessed emotions or an overbearing power structure. Healthy people talk about their issues. In fact healthy communities learn how to negotiate and do conflict well.
So it’s important that we as people don’t act surprised when we find these things present. They are not a sign we are doing something wrong, they are simply part of what it means to be human and communicate well.
I hope you found these three values helpful. If we let them inform our conversations they will lead to healthier conversations.
I have some more values I’ll share in the next post.
NEXT POST – Communication Core Values (Part 2)
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