by Dr. Jim Richards, Impact Ministries
The Golden Rule isn’t just the first law of communication; according to Jesus it’s the first law of love and relationships between mankind (Matt. 19:19). Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. These are not Jesus’ exact words, but this has become known as ‘The Golden Rule.’ Nearly everyone can quote it; yet, ironically, the way we interpret it usually produces the exact opposite of its intention.
Our tendency in communication of any kind is to ‘do’ toward others exactly how we want someone to ‘do’ toward us. For example, the ‘direct’ communicator wants the straightforward, ‘bottom line,’ 'get to the point' kind of communication. He/she appreciates and values this type of communication and when they don’t receive it they often feel manipulated or they just stop listening.
The person who wants indirect, more ‘personal’ communication is offended and feels controlled by the “get to the point” communicator. They view them as rude and inconsiderate.
The irony is that both people are communicating the way they would prefer someone communicate with them, because their intention is to be polite and courteous. After all, if I value and respect ‘straightforward’ communication then surely everyone else does as well. And the indirect communicator reasons it is only good manners to be personable before we get down to business.
What we do for people and how we do it are two very different things. And as the old adage goes, “It’s not what you do; it’s how you do it!” The real message we send to others isn’t based on what we do as much as it is how we do what we do! Our tendency isn’t to do unto others as we would have them do unto us; it’s do unto others how I do unto them.
Let me explain. We all want the same things. We want to be loved, appreciated, rewarded, and encouraged… you get the picture! There are usually people in our lives who are offering us these very things, yet we often fail to recognize it! Why? They express those things the way they want people to express it to them instead of the way we want it expressed to us. Then we do the same thing to them and both parties feel unloved because they aren’t experiencing love from the other person’s efforts, and both parties feel unappreciated because their efforts are not being received.
I have to say it again: “It’s not what you do; it’s how you do it.” Proverbs tells us the words of the wise are like apples of gold in settings of silver. In other words, they are attractive to the hearer. Since every hearer has different tastes, we should make sure we know what they like before we attempt to express ourselves. Here are a couple of examples:
Expressing love: In recent years there has been a lot of needed emphasis on love languages. The concept of love languages is that there are different actions that make people feel loved. Most people assume that what makes them feel loved is what ‘should’ make everyone else feel loved. So we do to or for them how we would want them to do for us. Then when it doesn’t have the desired effect we’re offended. When this scenario plays out enough times in our life we stop attempting to express love; after all, (we think) it isn’t appreciated.
Amazingly, our loved ones do the same thing to us. They attempt to show us love in some way that is meaningful to them but means nothing to us. Too often we even express how ridiculous it is for them to show love the way they do. No wonder so many relationships sink into the mire of incompatible existence!
People don’t hear what you say, they hear what they hear. For much of my early life as a father and an employer I mistakenly thought I was great at communicating what I wanted. I had so much frustration after giving what (I thought) were perfectly clear requests and guidelines, only to discover that people didn’t do what I asked.
I could write volumes about the gap between what we say and what others hear, but for now it should be enough to accept it as reality. It has nothing to do with lack of intelligence or any dysfunction that we always blame on the other person. Different people need different types of instructions in order to understand their role in a task. Some people need the goals and the big picture. In other words, they want to know WHY you want it done. Some need to know HOW you want it done. Some people want the deadlines and all the rules and others just want general guidelines and then to be left alone to accomplish the task.
Most of our communication is designed to satisfy ourselves instead of to be effective. The list of ways and places we communicate to satisfy ourselves is long. The pain that comes into our lives, the lack of productivity in the work place, and the seemingly endless flow of frustration this behavior produces feels unending. Sadly we assume it’s too complex for the average person to ever sort out. But trust me, it isn’t that complex and the rewards far outweigh the effort it takes to close these communication gaps.
We’ve all heard the saying, “Work smarter, not harder.” Most of us have worked hard at effective communication but we’ve worked hard at the wrong thing. We just tried harder at what wasn’t working until many of us reached a place of shutting down, giving up, or otherwise just no longer being willing to try. Here are a few tips to start getting the response you desire from your communication:
Ask a lot of questions: Never assume ANYONE understands what you mean, always ask. And don’t just ask for a “yes” or a “no;” ask them to explain what you want and how it should be done. If it involves your personal relationship always ask them, “What will make you feel loved?” or “What would you prefer?” or “Is there something you would rather I do?”
Be a safe person: Don’t make it painful for people to tell you what you don’t know or what you may not want to hear!
Don’t show frustration; it’s condescending and causes people to stop communicating.
Don‘t belittle what they need to feel loved or to understand what you want. You’re implying there’s something flawed about them.
If you’re the one attempting to communicate accept the responsibility to be sure they understand!
Never argue with the answer to your questions. They’re giving you the information you need whether you like it or not. Be willing to learn from the harshest criticism.
Never make people feel they should value what you value or they should communicate the way you communicate.
And in the words of Stephen Covey, “Always seek to understand before seeking to be understood!”
We do everything we do because we think it’s the right way to do it. No one does anything because they think it will be ineffective or cause failure. There is a way that seems right. The way we do things may be right for us but that doesn’t mean it’s right for anyone else.
I want to open your world to a whole new dimension of communication and ways of expressing love. Along with the series, Secret Signals, you will also receive a free download of Speaking and Listening: The Art of Communication and a list of Scriptures for wisdom in communication. (Watch the informational video to hear more about this and what is included free with every order.)
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