It is always my goal to help my friends become stronger, healthier, and happier in some way. However, there have been times when my advice has not only fallen on deaf ears but also may have damaged the friendship.
One such case happened when I was still living overseas. I became very close friends with a Korean American co-worker, and for a season we were inseparable, frequently eating dinner together and spending much of our free time together. Things started changing when I was transferred to a different training facility, but I think what may have increased our separation was my unsolicited “helpful” advice on an issue she was dealing with. I suspect my suggestions were delivered too strongly and she couldn’t “hear” me.
The Apostle Paul instructs Christians to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:13), and over the past several years, I have been working on doing this more effectively, though I still fall short so often. This is usually an issue when there is conflict or disagreement, not when life is running smoothly. There has been much that has been written and said about how to approach a conflict. Therefore, it is not my intention to address the when’s and why’s here (see resources for a link to a message on resolving conflict that addresses these two issues), but more of the how’s – what does it actually mean to speak “in love”?
In his TED Talk “How to speak so that people want to listen,” Julian Treasure lists what he calls the seven deadly sins of speaking. Each of these are ways of NOT “speaking in love,” and they are:
- gossip – talking about others
- judging – evaluating others, especially negatively
- negativity – focusing on the pessimistic perspective
- complaining – focusing on problems
- excuses – refusing to accept responsibility
- exaggeration – overstating reality
- dogmatism – stating opinion as if it were fact
We have all been guilty of some, if not all, of these “sins,” whether they have been verbalized or not. However, what I notice about this list is that each of these “sins” starts with an emphasis on your own perspective, without consideration of the listener’s perspective. Both John Ullmen and Stuart Diamond talk about the importance of starting from the other person’s perspective, especially when negotiating or dealing with disagreement. I think this is a key to being able to “speak in love.”
When I think about a model of “speaking in love,” I see Jesus Christ as the best example. In every interaction He had with individuals, we see Him speaking into the other person’s perspective. He had the power and authority to speak the words of heaven, and yet He met each person right where they were and spoke the words they needed to hear. I think the Book of John has some great conversations, including the discussion with Nicodemus about being born again (chapter 3) and His meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well and their conversation about living water (chapter 4), among others. In each of the conversations, Jesus takes the approach that is most effective for the particular person He is speaking with.
Julian Treasure gives his solution to the seven deadly sins of speaking through the acronym “HAIL” (in the sense of “all hail the conquering hero”), including “speaking in love”:
- Honesty – speaking the truth
- Authenticity – being yourself
- Integrity – doing what you say
- Love – wishing people well
I would venture that these are a great place to start, but Mr. Treasure has left out one very important element that is available to all Christians – the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I think that is what made Jesus such a powerful communicator; He depended upon God’s guidance and only spoke what He heard the Father speak (John 12:49). We, too, have that guidance available to us. Perhaps it is time we were more mindful of checking with God for His perspective and His words before engaging in conversations, especially with those closest to us and with those who have very different perspectives.
Links and Resources:
Rick Warren’ message on Resolving Conflict, part of the “You Make Me Crazy” message series
Julian Treasure’s TED Talk “How to speak so that people want to listen”
Stuart Diamond speaking at Google about the concepts in his book Getting More.
100 Bible verses on speaking the truth in love