I lived in Taiwan for about a year back in the early 1990s teaching English and trying my hand at learning Chinese Mandarin. On one occasion, I came into work having memorized several Mandarin sentences that I was "trying out" on the other teachers and the owners of the school. At one point, I turned proudly to one of the owners whose English name was Stella and peeled out a rather lengthy foreign utterance. Stella sternly looked at me and said something that I will not soon forget, "Don't ever say that to me again!"
Shocked, I just stood there paralyzed by fear. To this day, I have no idea what rude, crude, or socially unacceptable thing I had said -- yeah, that's right -- to my boss! But I knew that I was in trouble and I had a feeling that my morality was in question.
Have you ever said the wrong thing at the wrong time? Maybe it was too much of an answer to your wife or significant other about how she looked in a certain outfit. "Oops, I wish I had not said that!" Or maybe you found yourself in a verbal quagmire with a co-worker about a political issue. "Man, why didn't I just listen and not enter in?" Perhaps you popped off to a police officer about an impending ticket making your situation much, much worse. "Dude, c-o-n-t-r-o-l it!" In Proverbs 18:6, we find a verse that may epitomize some communication missteps, "The lips of fools bring them strife, and their mouths invite a beating."
A fool, of course, is someone who acts unwisely or imprudently. A fool is a silly person, one who has not given much thought to his actions. The Bible does not mince any words about what brings us the most grief in communication situations-- "lips," "mouths," and their consequences "invite a beating."
Now don't take it personally. Just because you may have succumbed to some foolish behavior does not mean that you are always a fool. I want you to know that you can get on the right frequency with others. You and I can get in a position to avert communication meltdowns with those we love. But to do so, we need to get connected with God's wisdom.
In Proverbs 17:27, we read, "Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is one of understanding." God, the author of knowledge, the originator of communication, declares communication success begins with self-control. Managing your words and emotions wisely will put you in a position to get tuned in.
"Whoever restrains his words has knowledge." Words can be like drips of gasoline that cause a spark to flare up out of control. Managing our words means to "test" each statement instead of just impulsively saying whatever comes to mind. Plato once said, "Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something." We do not have to always say something!
"He who has a cool spirit is one of understanding." One with a cool spirit is in control of his emotions. This person who is in control is not reacting to what has been said by the other party but instead is able to, in a sense, mechanically receive and honestly think about what has been conveyed. The one who does not exhibit a cool spirit acts upon unbridled emotions that can negatively escalate a conversation. "Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city" (Proverbs 16:21).
So there it is: restraining your words and developing a cool spirit. These are a couple of skills that you probably already knew about but need to develop in order to enhance your communications with others. It will not be easy but as it has been said, "Everyone must choose one of two pains: The pain of discipline or the pain of regret."
Here is an idea to think about. In the month of October, I challenge you to try to read one chapter of the Proverbs in the Bible corresponding with the day of the month. On each day, try to isolate one application that could enhance your communication skills. I am going to guess if you do so, you will find yourself more and more on the right frequency!
Norm Byers is the lead pastor of Genesis Church. Please join us: 9:30 a.m. at North Central Michigan College and 11 a.m. at Boyne City Elementary. Comments and insights are welcomed on Twitter @NormByers.