Communication in today’s world can be pretty challenging. We are overloaded with so many communication channels, whether it’s print media, social media, or face to face conversation. The art of “discussion” has increasingly become frustrating because often people simply have lost the skill of active listening.
Yes, communication in today’s world is challenging!
Making it harder on ourselves.
As if it wasn’t already challenging, I’ve noticed that a lot of people are unwittingly creating obstacles in how they communicate because they often create obstacles or barriers in how they communicate. You see, it’s not just the words that are important; rather, it’s the words and the medium and a whole host of other important issues that make for effective communication.
Let’s back up and consider some of the ways we experience the difficulty of communication by wrestling with a few questions:
- Do you ever feel like when you are talking to someone, people get defensive?
- Have you ever posted something on Facebook and watched as people flipped out about what you seemingly thought was a non-troll-worthy status?
- For those of you who are in church leadership, have you wondered why your church has struggled to get momentum and you’ve experienced more decline than growth?
There are many other questions that can help reveal some of the obstacles that render our communication ineffective. Sometimes these are exterior challenges that are seemingly forced on us or the result of circumstances beyond our control. But sometimes they are internal challenges that are a direct result of the way we are communicating.
In other words, we sometimes make it harder on ourselves. Here’s one reason why…
Your tone has far more impact than you may realize.
The Roman Catholic Church was facing serious decline and cultural rejection prior to 2013. With the numerous sex scandals facing the Vatican, it was common for people in the media to constantly point out issues and hypocrisies facing Catholicism.
Along came Jorge Mario Bergoglio, an Argentinian man who we all know as Pope Francis. The tone of Francis’ leadership immediately changed the way that many viewed the Catholic Church because the way that Francis began leading was… well… different.
I mean, at the time that the Pope came on the scene, the idea that a Pope would wash the feet of Muslim immigrants was pretty unexpected! Or that a Pope would be so “of the people” and focused on the poor. Pope Francis changed the “game,” largely due to his tone. This is something that Chris Lowney addresses in the excellent book Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads. Francis set a new tone for the Catholic Church while not changing a single theological position of the Vatican.
You see, the tone of your communication has far more impact than you may realize.
That’s why we sometimes find that people respond to us in ways that are defensive, angry, or explains why people may outright reject what they are hearing.
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Why are you so angry?
About twenty years ago I was sitting in a church, listening to a preacher stand behind a pulpit, and the only thing that was running through my mind was, “Why is this guy so mad?” In all of that preacher’s homiletical gusto, the only thing that was really clear was that he was angry. And sure, there are times to be angry, but I’m inclined to agree with St. Paul when he writes that most of the time, “anger gives a foothold to the devil” (Eph. 4:27). Not everything that comes out in our anger is what qualifies as “righteous anger.” And many a leader could learn well about filtering their initial indignation about really important things because they want to effectively bring about change or compel people toward change.
The pulpit of today that often leaves me shaking my head wondering why a person is so angry is social media. I have a lot of social media “friends” who are pastors or in church leadership and far too often their angry rants, which generally address very important topics, are engulfed in such a negative tone that people can’t but help reacting negatively.
What kind of tone should we have?
I think a good “filter” for the tone of our communication, generally speaking, can be developed from the following:
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT)
Did you actually read through that? I know for many of us, we’ve been to so many weddings that 1 Corinthians 13 has lost a lot of it’s impact (sadly). But Paul’s thoughts about love is extremely helpful when it comes to talking about the tone of our communication. I think we need to regularly filter our communication through this question: Is our tone loving?
We have no reason to be unkind (and yes, I am talking to myself here). As Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in Rome, “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you?” in Rom. 2:4. God’s grace, I think, is the reason why Paul so strongly challenged the tone of the Ephesians:
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:31-32 NLT)
Did you catch that? Get rid of any tone that communicates bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander. Tone matters.
Toward a rhetoric of love.
Now some may respond to this with questions about rhetoric. There’s certainly something to be said about how good communication can (and should) provoke people toward thinking and action. No argument there. I have no problem with suggesting that our tone can be strong, bold, and convinced… but not angry, arrogant, or harsh (or dishonest).
I guess what I’m getting at is this: we seemingly overlook the power of love in our rhetoric, the tone of our communication. Yet Christians in the early centuries were so committed to this “rhetoric of love” that they constantly filtered how they responded to the world around them through the lens of love. And the tone of love…changed the world.
Questions for Application.
- Is what I’m about to say (or type) going to come across as loving?
- How can I express this in a much more kind manner?
- Will this help those hearing (or reading) what I’m saying experience grace?
- What needs to be changed in order for this to come across less angry or arrogant?
- Is what I’m saying (or typing) truthful or are things misleading?
What would you add? What are your thoughts?
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.