Communication will accomplish one task: to convey a message. Effective communication goes a few steps beyond that. It will help us to better understand one another, it can help to resolve differences, encourage creativity, build trusting, respectful relationships.
Sometimes, our communications are clear, concise, and useful. Sometimes they’re not. Sometimes our communications are received. Sometimes they’re not. But we are regularly communicating – almost every waking moment.
We communicate through words, of course, and so every word matters. We also communicate through non-verbal means, so often our gestures matter just as much.
Thinking on a number of my own communications, I’m aware that different manners of communications are fitting at different times.
A few examples:
* My canoe buddy and I can natter away for hours about books, music, recipes, etc. But when we’re canoeing, there are times when an immediate response is needed. A simple ‘draw!’ from the stern can make the difference between safely running a rapid (great fun) and swamping the canoe (not as much fun).
* A text message might be altered by an Autocorrect, completely changing it’s meaning. In a recent chat on hockey, a friend asked “Who’s your favourite team after a few years on the prairies?” to which my phone sent “Okay we know I’m a Jesus fan!” – which, of course, I am; however the intended word was ‘Jets’. We know I’m a Jets fan! An amusing and innocuous change of words this time, an arbitrary change of one word could have been problematic in different conversations.
* At a recent visit to a care home, I spent a few minutes with one of my lovelies who has recently had some challenges with verbal communication. There are times when the word just won’t come out, and times when that word comes out after the conversation has moved on. Yet this lovely person is still capable of clear and effective communication, with hugs as strong and smiles as bright as ever. During my visit, the words weren’t coming easily, but I was hugged, my hand was held, and during prayers there was much smiling and nodding. The message was clear, even when the words were not.
As I said above, I think we can all find ways to improve our communication skills. What we say is only a small part of our message; our tone, our word choices, our actions all play a part in what others will hear from us. And, of course, even when we try our best, what is said is not always what is heard; what we intend is not always what we convey. That elusive ‘sarcasm font’ could prevent misunderstandings, using spell-check can prevent embarrassment, a misreading of handwriting can change “lemons” into “demons”.
With that in mind, I think that as Christians we are challenged to be aware of the message we are sending out. Do our words, actions, mannerisms, and tone reflect the gospel in all we say and do? Are we thinking about how the world will see us and know us based on our words? Are we careful to keep confidential or negative/embarrassing comments private, or are we chatting away at the store oblivious to who may be overhearing?
I think part of our challenge is to know that we are always portraying a message, we are always sharing some form of story. It’s difficult, but as Christians we are called to a higher standard; one where we are intentionally careful and Christian in what we show the world. I think my challenge for the days and weeks ahead is to remember this: to know that when people see me, hear me, they are making the connection that I am a Christian, and should be conveying that as clearly and regularly as possible. My challenge will be to share the light of Christ – in word and action – as a clearly communicated message of the Good News for which we wait this Advent.