Say nothing that does not improve on silence.
Here are some more guidelines for making sure that our speech is truly helpful:
- Speak to persons, not about them. Much grief and much damage is caused by people trying to “get a message” to someone by involving someone else as the messenger. This is called, “triangulation,” and it’s always a recipe for disaster in relationships. Avoid it as the plague it is.
- If it even might be important, talk straight. “Straight talk” is direct, uses simple language, describes one’s own observations, wants, needs, desires, fears, and the like clearly, and honors #3 and #4, below.
- Don’t presume to know others’ motives. Focus on behavior, not on what you think might have been the reason for it. You can’t know motives, so don’t try.
- Talk about actions, not personal qualities. Say, “You didn’t do this on time,” and you might be heard; say, “You’re lazy,” and you’ve been unfair (and are unlikely to be listened to again).
- Respect the privacy of people. Everyone has a right to a zone of privacy, and it’s unseemly (and sinful) to discuss others’ business in the presence of people who don’t have a legitimate need to know it.
- Put the best, most honorable interpretation on any set of circumstances unless the contrary is proven. This is a moral obligation that Christians have (see last week’s column); not to do so is sinful, and damaging to the fabric of a family or a community.
- If you need to ask a third party for help in dealing with someone else, conceal that person’s identity if at all possible when getting the help. There’s no need to use names or other identifying details unless they pertain to the problem at hand and can’t be avoided.
- Recognize that it’s ok (and sometimes necessary) not to give people what they want. Diplomatically turning aside a request for inappropriate information, or changing the course of a group that’s gossiping, isn’t easy — but discipleship doesn’t come with that guarantee.
- Listen carefully, and more than you speak. It’s best not to be “preparing a response” when someone else is speaking. “Let me think about that” is often a good response (it may even impress people).
Jesus was acclaimed as a miracle-worker because he made the deaf hear and the mute speak. Communication is a great gift from God; using it well is sharing God’s gift. Until next week, Peace.