Struggles in relationships can lead to feelings of loneliness, frustration, anger, and even hopelessness. But God has the power to heal and bring about reconciliation in our relationships.
You may have friends, family members, and many others around you, but do you feel alone? If you’re struggling in your relationships, you may come to feel alone – I know I often do. If God intends for us to have healthy, fulfilling relationships, why do I feel lonely?
Loneliness can be rooted in feeling misunderstood, which results from trouble with communication.
Feeling as though I can’t convey or explain my thoughts in my relationships often causes me to suffer in silence with these feelings, resulting in loneliness.
So how can we improve our communication skills?
1. Be a Listener
How you communicate is as important as what you’re trying to communicate. Communication is a choice and a series of choices, and so are our responses. Communication barriers may include attitudes, personality differences, and misinterpretation of language.
Verbal and written communication are about another language compared to that of our thoughts and feelings. So, each time we try to speak or write, we are translating from one language to another. Then the other person must take this language and translate it back into the language of his or her own thoughts and feelings, interpret it, then respond by translating the interpretation back into a written or verbal form.
The trouble is that things will be lost in translation, changed and understood differently by different people in different states of mind in different contexts and circumstances.
Due to this, it’s important to remain open to understanding the other person’s thoughts and feelings beyond his or her words.
Suppose a friend came to you to talk about something she is struggling with. However, maybe you’ve had a long day and you’re unreceptive to what she is trying to tell you. This could be considered a barrier in attitude. Because you’re tired, your attitude may be negative toward your friend who is trying to express a concern.
However, if she came to you at another time to discuss her struggles with speaking in front of a crowd (while you find it very enjoyable to speak in front of crowds), you may struggle to listen due to the differences in personality.
But if your friend came to talk to you and said something along the lines of “public speaking is terrible and a waste of my time,” then you might counter her strongly in response, since you greatly enjoy public speaking, rather than trying to understand the reason why she feels that way. This would be a misinterpretation.
It is important to ask questions for clarification as well as to show interest in the speaker. Talk less, listen more.
A truly good listener practices empathy, open-mindedness, and understanding even if the message is beyond his or her realm of experience. Consider how certain situations could’ve affected or changed your own feelings or opinions given a different context. Listen empathetically and put aside your own feelings for the time being to better understand that person’s feelings.
Exercise respect and concern. Identify where your perceptions differ from the other person’s to understand him or her better. Be open to new ideas, and even if you disagree, try to understand what could make a person think or feel a certain way. Ask questions, don’t just listen to respond.
“It is through listening we validate each other. It is through listening that we create the opportunity to truly know each other.” – Dr. Linda Clark
2. Focus on the Intention
Communication is a continuous process that requires discernment.
Our intention often differs from the way we convey it and the way the other person interprets it. It can be so difficult to translate thoughts and feelings into words, and things can get lost in that translation.
Though we understand what we mean by our own words, the listener can’t know our thoughts or feel our feelings, so the words sometimes can’t convey the full meaning. Try to see past the words and understand what the speaker means by them.
Look for the intention that might have gotten lost in an unfortunate word choice or hurt feelings that might have been covered up by a harsh word.
Miscommunication can also result because of misreading cues like body language or tone of voice, or, in the case of technology, a lack of these cues. This is why it is important to consider the character of the person and give the benefit of the doubt.
Suppose that when your friend expressed to you her strong dislike for public speaking, she said it rather angrily. You interpreted this as a smear on you, a passionate public speaker. But in reality, she was struggling with anxiety over an upcoming speech and was turning to you, because of your expertise, for advice and pointers.
The more we get carried away by our interpretation of what someone tries to communicate, the more likely we are to miss the communication entirely, resulting in an argument or unresolved conflict and hurt feelings because of a misread intent.
Remember that you don’t know what the other person is thinking; therefore, you cannot assume their emotions. Even if you think you can, your perception of what you assume others think or feel is not completely reliable.
Communication “rests on the perceptions of each other and the world around us.”2
Experience, attitude, background, and values make up our perception, which is individual and personal – a very important aspect of the communication/interpretation process.
3. Have a Good Attitude
Having a good attitude towards someone opens you up to having a good relationship. If you approach that person with a bad attitude, then it will be much harder for you to connect and communicate.
Your attitudes towards others determine what kind of relationships you’ll have.
The value is in your response. Even if something the other person says triggers an emotional response in you, he or she may not have the same reaction as you or may not have considered the reaction the words could cause. Don’t be defensive.
So rather than becoming angry that your friend has been criticizing something you enjoy, try to let go of your immediate emotions. Recognize how your friend is actually feeling rather than being caught up in negative emotions that would only result in hurt feelings on both sides.
Past experience and learning influence the way we think and feel. We’ve been conditioned to think and feel a certain way about certain things. Be aware of this. Different people may have a different understanding of a situation, even if they come from a similar background.
Don’t make up your mind ahead of time; listen to the full explanation and consider the other person’s point on the subject and what emotions they may be experiencing. They deserve your attention; be open-minded, and don’t be taken over by your own emotions, either.
Defer judgment until later. Consider all the person says before making a decision and taking a stance on the issue; think and try to understand the full meaning first. Recognize your own expectations and interpretations, and put them aside to allow yourself to gauge the other person’s full meaning.
Grace Lott is a senior at Samford University and serves as an intern with CWLC.
1 Linda Clark, 5 Leadership Essentials for Women (Birmingham, AL: New Hope Publishers, 2004), 18.
2 Clark, 33.