Communication is truly an art, which takes practice. In order to be effective communicators, there must be awareness of our inward stances. It’s not enough to be silent as we listen, as some believe. Instead, it takes effort and intentionality to be able to have deeper and meaningful connections with others.
I was originally going to write this for parents of teens, but as I reflected on the four stances I realized this is what I teach my clients in the office when it comes to communicating with others. So, these four stances are key to developing healthier relationships in marriage, family and with others in our lives. It’s a way to see ourselves, not other, and begin to understand and master the art of communication.
We all know what it’s like when communication doesn’t go as expected. We become frustrated, overwhelmed, confused, which in turn leaves us full of resentments. Ironically, this only creates a bigger gap in our communication… and the cycle continues! So, how do we begin to understand others? How do we connect? How do we communicate?
True communication begins with our inward stance; it’s about the position of our heart and mind! “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” 1 Peter 3:8 (ESV) When we communicate with a difficult person (husband, wife, teen, etc.), we tend to focus on all the wrongs of the other and dismiss our wrongs. The 4 stances are a good starting point to begin making inward changes in the hopes of influencing (not controlling) the other person. Remember, we can’t change others – we can only change ourselves. So do it right!
The 4 Key Stances to Communication:
1. Empathy: Relating to the pain and concerns of others.
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12 (ESV)
One of the things I find in my therapy room is a lack of empathy; this goes for couples as well as parents. It’s difficult to be empathic when there’s been an injury in the relationship. We turn away from those that hurt us in order to protect ourselves, which is understandable and in some situations necessary. But if we truly want to heal, we must learn to empathize and have compassion (taking action because we’ve empathized) for others.
Being able to put your agenda to the side and relate to your child or partner’s pain and concerns is important. When we look at the situation from our own lens (perspective), we distort the motives and feelings of others, which results in a division. Think about it for just a second? Remember a time when you were hurt… how would you have wanted other’s to treat you? What is it that you needed from them? Did you want them to empathize with your pain? The last thing I want to hear from someone is, “You need to do this…? Or “Have you tried that…?” I want for someone to just listen and be there for me. It’s human nature to want to be heard – so hear someone out.
2. Safety: Accepting others despite differences in opinions and tolerating negative feelings.
“Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” Proverbs 11:14 (ESV)
Usually, when we think of safety, we think of physical protection. In relationships, the environment must feel safe in order to freely express feelings and thoughts without fear of being withheld love, rejected, ridiculed or undermined. Think about it? How many times, have you stopped yourself from sharing when the other person begins telling you what to do, begins to roll their eyes, begins to undermine your feelings? Or, maybe you are that person? We shut down because the trust has been broken.
Part of creating safety is being aware of your body language, tone of voice and your intentions. We are very good at reading non-verbal cues. Many times, what we say is not what we are truly communicating on the outside. This means being able to put emotions aside (temporarily). If we can all just learn this: It’s not about me, but about the other. Does that sound like too much? Well, it takes practice. This is especially true for parents. You see, parents make it about themselves and forget about their teen. They go on and on about their feelings and forget to ask what the teen feels or thinks! The same is true for couples. We can get so emotionally charged, that we forget to be a safe person for one another.
3. Patience: Ability to keep emotionally regulated.
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Romans 12:12 (ESV)
Patience is being able to respond lovingly in the face of being provoked or wronged. If there is one thing I have learned by being a parent, it’s that I cannot soothe my child when I’m in an anxious state. As the adult, I need to be emotionally regulated (calm) in order to help my child.
It’s the same principle in other relationships. What happens many times is that the parent becomes overwhelmed and allows that anxiety to stir within… the child senses that anxiety and they become more anxious… creating even more fear in the parent that leads to further distance.
The key here is to be mindful that being patient doesn’t mean you agree with what the other says. It just means that you are intentional about your (1) Timing and (2) Response Time… Let me explain the difference between these two. Timing involves WHEN you will bring something up to your child or spouse. It is so common for parents to want to solve for a problem, but we miss the right time. Your teen just got home from school or they are in the middle of homework or studying and you want to “solve” the problem. Timing is essential! Look for opportunities when you are both calm – that is usually a good indicator that it’s the right time.
Response time involves HOW you say things as you communicate. For example, your wife is now ready to talk (timing) and you begin to talk about the conflict you had earlier. She begins to tell you her perspective and you begin to interrupt… Wrong response time! Wait until she is done and ask her if you can speak and give your point of view. This really does take us back to the first stance – having empathy.
4. Contact: The gift of being present and connecting.
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” Romans 12:9-10
After you have practiced the above three stances, what results is the gift of contact. This really means staying engaged with the person – being present. True contact is the manifestation of LOVE! Our love must be sincere, without any strings attached. We mistake love as us having to show with things we do or say, but what about loving others by being present with them?
Having contact with teens means being curious about their life (the world they live in, which is so complex). I find that many parents ask questions that shorten the conversation. They ask, “Did you like the party?” The teen can answer, “Yes” or “No.” Asking open-ended questions is always helpful. For example, “Tell me about your day?” “What was the highlight of your day?” Asking your teen about their day or something that’s important to them set the stage for them to be receptive and open to your own concerns.
Contact means building on the relationship and the trust between two people. Contact means that we put away the belief that we have to solve the problem… that we have to teach our kids a lesson… that we have to make sure to teach them morals… these come out of our own fears! Contact simply means enjoying the now with your kid or spouse. Learning how to be with one another despite the good and the bad.
I will leave you with this important question I learned in a parenting class… When you find yourself frustrated and unwilling to make changes (with husband, wife, teen, child, parent, etc.), ask yourself,
Is what I am doing or saying helping build contact?
Rest in His Word: Philippians 2:3
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”
- Go back to the 4 Stances and be honest with yourself. What are the stances you need to improve?
- Why is empathy so important in our Christian walk?
- What am I doing to be a safe person with my kids, spouse and others?
- Bring these to the Lord and ask for His guidance.
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