Say what you want to say when you have the feeling and the chance. My deepest regrets are the things I did not do, the opportunities missed and the things unsaid.
– Saint Arthanasius
Someone once observed, “Communication is not what I say, it’s what you hear me say.” Experts tell us that 80 percent of all communication is nonverbal: facial expressions, hand gestures, body language. So, when we talk to someone on the phone, we’re only expressing about 20 percent of what we’re trying to convey.
If you’ve ever studied a foreign language, you know how much of the intended meaning can be altered or, even, lost in the translation process. Even when we’re all using the same language, this can be true. That’s why it’s vitally important to give words a context. The people around us need to know what is ultimately motivating our communication with them. The only way they can truly know our intention is if we pay the price of revealing our heart. Like the old-fashioned pay phones, we must make a deposit into the relationship before there’s a dial tone. Before you open your mouth to speak, you must first open your heart.
The most dramatic example of an open heart speaking is one that changed the course of history and continues to redirect countless lives today: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14). Jesus communicated with us by leaving His home in Heaven, coming to this earth, and putting on human flesh so He could reveal His heart to us. He opened up His heart and made Himself totally vulnerable. He risked rejection and was, in fact, misunderstood by many, especially those in power.
Why did He do it? For one reason – so we could see what God is like. So He could communicate with us in the most effective way possible – as the Word that transcends all language barriers. Until we open up our hearts to those we love, we will never experience a communication breakthrough. Before the words flow, our hearts must be exposed. We have to risk vulnerability to the point of possible rejection.
One vital way we open our hearts to those around us is by sharing our time. In our overloaded lives, we often try to relate to others efficiently, doing what saves us time, energy, and money. But, whenever we skimp on communication in a relationship in order to be efficient, all effectiveness is lost. Relationships don’t exist and grow according to rules of efficiency. It costs time to communicate effectively; but, keep in mind that we pay the price in relationships when we neglect them. Dates with our spouses. Activities and outings with our kids. Meals and celebrations with our friends. Team-building time with our co-workers. Often, these are the first things we drop when we get busy and need more time at the office.
Not only must we share our time, but we also need to share our troubles. For people to see my heart, I have to admit my needs. Too often, we’re like the character in a children’s book titled The Knight in Rusty Armor. The fearless knight rides off to slay dragons and fight fierce battles; but, when he comes home, he doesn’t know how to take off his armor. We have to learn how to take off our armor so we can connect with others. Sure, we have to wear armor; otherwise, we can’t fight the battles we inevitably need to fight. Both social and professional boundaries are necessary. But, if you want to have a breakthrough in any relationship – whether it’s with a co-worker, an employee, your boss, your husband, your wife, or your teenager – you have to learn when to take off the armor, when to be vulnerable and expose your heart, and when to admit you have needs.
If you’re a leader and you want the people you serve to connect with you, to work as hard as you do, and to remain loyal, then you must be willing to open up to them at times. Admit your mistakes. Tell them your needs. Share what you’re really thinking. People unify when their leaders are strong enough to share their weaknesses. Open your heart before you open your mouth, and you’ll be amazed at what a difference it makes in your communication.
We must also learn to listen before we open our mouths to launch our messages. Often, we simply nod and make a concerted effort to look like we’re paying attention to others when really we’re thinking about what we’re going to say next, what we want to have for lunch, or what time we need to pick up the kids after practice. Instead, we need to listen beneath the words to the hurt that is in someone else’s heart. You don’t have to be a counselor, pastor, or social worker to realize how much people around you are hurting. No matter how great their lives may seem from your perspective, everyone hurts. If you listen beneath the words of those you love, you’ll hear the hurt and connect with them on a deeper level.
Listening also means that you look into other people’s eyes and try to discover what they really love, what their interests are, and what they dream about. When one of my sons was about three or four, sometimes he would come to talk to me while I was reading the morning newspaper. He would immediately swat the paper down, gently grab my chin, and turn my face so I was looking right into his eyes. He wanted to make sure he had my full attention because he wanted to be noticed, listened to, and understood.
My son is not alone. God created us with a longing to be totally understood. We want to be seen, not as the public persona who works hard to look successful and have it all together, but as we really are. We want someone who has looked into our heart – warts and all – and still loves us. Spouses, children, friends, team members, and co-workers want us to respect them by giving them our full attention, our ears as well as our hearts. They want us to see them and still love them.
True communication is about connecting, sharing, and understanding. If we really want to remove the accumulated armor that envelops us over the course of our lives, we have to be willing to risk our hearts and reveal who we really are. We must be willing to listen, identifying the unspoken needs of others as well as discerning their dreams. As you share the truth and ask God to open up the communication channels, your life will become rich in rewarding, transparent, strong relationships.
- Write a letter, send an e-mail, or call someone who’s important to you but lives far away. Recall the last time you were together, and tell that person what it meant to you.
- Try a twenty-four hour media fast (no television, radio, computer, or newspaper) to help you tune out distractions and listen to the people in your life. After your media fast, write down how it affected you.