Have you ever been singing along with your favorite song and all of a sudden realize that you have been singing the wrong words for years? Were you singing “I can see clearly now, Lorraine is gone” when the lyrics are actually “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone”? Once you figure out the actual lyrics of the song, it kind of changes the whole meaning, doesn’t it?
We misunderstand things because we don't always listen effectively. Communication is more than just talking to get a point across; the real work of communicating happens with the listener. The listener has to hear the speaker speaking, filter out the noise, and try to understand the meaning of the message. An astute listener doesn’t react or get defensive, but seeks a fuller understanding of what is being said. A keen listener is also tuned in to the nonverbal communication that is happening as they seek to understand the experience of the speaker.
I often hear people say, “I hate confrontations” or “Confrontation make me so nervous.” Some people equate assertive confrontation with hostile arguing, but they are not the same thing. A confrontation is simply addressing a concern with someone. Has there ever been a time when your drive thru order was wrong and you had to go back in to have it corrected? That was a confrontation. Not so scary, huh? More serious matters can be handled in the same manner of ease, especially if we ask the Holy Spirit to come into our hearts to give us the right words to say.
We are given a great example on how to deal with confrontation in the book of Matthew. If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother (Matthew 18:15). In this verse, we are given a short and sweet method of expressing our feelings if we have been wronged. Once we are in a calm state of mind and emotions aren’t running high, we can go to our sister or brother and have a discussion with them to let our concerns be known. Keep in mind, when we approach them, we are to do it respectfully and privately, directly to the person with whom we have a problem. Keeping it private means that we don’t share our concerns with other people and we are not to share our grievances on social media. Confrontation should be done in such a manner, that you feel confident that you have taken the most loving approach and acted with compassion.
If there is a heated situation between two people, it may be the best to hold off addressing any issues until both parties are calm. Choosing to address issues in the heat of the moment makes it too easy for verbal attacks to begin. Verbal attacks can sound like accusatory statements, “I hate it when you…”, or “You always do….”, or “You make me so mad when you…” When sentences start off as “you” statements, it can make the other person feel attacked so they become defensive. You statements escalate conflict as the other person will be less likely to listen to what is being said to them and more likely react defensively.
Let’s say your partner fills the sink with dirty dishes and never washes them. You come home from a long day at work and when you walk into the house, the first thing you see is a sink full of dishes. Not just a few cups, but pots and pans with leftover food stuck to them. Your first thought may be to go into attack mode and start with something like, “You always leave the kitchen in a mess and I have to come home after a long day and clean up after you!.” Instead, try taking a deep breath and starting with an “I” statement. Saying something like, “I feel pretty overwhelmed when I come home from working a long day and the sink is full of dirty dishes. Is there a way to prevent this from happening in the future?” In saying that, you have gotten your point across without attacking, and your partner is more apt to listen to your concerns without getting defensive.
Although the thought of confrontation can be scary, it really doesn’t have to be. The goal is to be able to have open and honest conversations. We can’t control how others will respond but leading with a grace filled approach can limit hurt feelings. Keep in mind that practicing effective communication can help build stronger and healthier relationships. It’s okay if it takes a while to get into the habit of practicing effective communication, practice makes perfect. We never have to try to figure out how to navigate things alone. The Holy Spirit is always willing to guide us when we ask.