Reading Between the Lines in Communication

There are two sides of communication. There is what is said and what is meant. Have you ever had someone quote you almost verbatim and then you said, “That’s not how I meant it.”

I think this is one of the things that makes communication so hard. This is true for marriages, parents, friendships and every other important connection we have in life. It is even true for Christians.

Not only is it easy to read into people’s words, but we also should consider their tone of voice, body language, the context of the discussion along with their personal situation at that moment.

Communication is hard, and it is easy for us to approach life in a very negative way. I know I find myself thinking evil about people of which I have barely had a conversation. I know I can read a post on social media and get frustrated by a sentence without ever talking to that person.

Here are some thoughts that I am trying to use to help me in my thinking.

1. Think the Best of Others.
Try to see the world from a positive standpoint. Instead of jumping to negative conclusions, why not jump to positive ones. I am sure when they said that they were trying to offer a compliment. I am sure you meant those words as a blessing and I will hear them that way.

2. Be Careful with Ascribing Intent.
It is easy for me to think you said that to try and hurt me. You did that on purpose. You are trying to be mean. You probably set up at night and plan ways to make my life miserable. Most likely, none of those things are true. The reality is that this person probably has not thought about you at all, it was just a misspoken word. Try not to read more into a situation than it deserves.

3. Don’t assume meanings, especially negative ones.
Let me say a sentence, and you tell me what it means. “Did you see that new shirt?” Does that mean the person cannot believe you bought another new shirt? The emphasis on the word new in a negative sense. Does that mean the person cannot imagine that anyone would buy a shirt that ugly? The emphasis is on the word see in a negative sense. Does the person mean that they cannot believe you are wearing that as a shirt? The emphasis is on the word shirt, meaning it is too long or way too short even to be considered a shirt. Does the person simply mean that they think it is a nice-looking shirt? Three of the four conclusions we can draw from one six-word sentence are negative. See how easy it is to assign negative meanings? Be on your guard against this type of thinking.

4. When in Doubt, Just Ask.
I know this is a novel concept, but if you find yourself thinking negatively of another person why don’t you just go talk to them. Ask them to explain their words and what they meant. When we find ourselves going negative on people, then we are required to confront them directly in a loving manner. Believers see this as a command of their faith to deal with people face to face.

Personally, I know I struggle with my negative thoughts about people. In over 24 years of ministry, I have become jaded toward people. I am committing myself to guarding my heart in both what is going in, but also what is coming out. Staying positive is hard, but it really is the best for everyone.

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