Communication…the key to successful relationships

“A soft answer truth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger. The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright: but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness.” Proverbs 15:1-2

So many books have been written about relationships–you could spend a lifetime reading each one and learn a million different things to do in order to succeed at relationship building.  I believe the most important thing any two people can do in a relationship is communicate.  In my life, most of the arguments and disagreements I’ve been involved in were caused by a failure to adequately communicate.

This is true in marriage, in the workplace, in the community, and among friends.

The first principle of communication is to listen more than you speak.”  Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). So many people in today’s world listen to respond instead of listening to understand.  It is impossible to listen to understand if you are already preparing your response in your mind. There are times when you must be ready to respond immediately, but in general, the thoughts in your mind can wait.. “Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man” (D&C 84:85).

The second principle of communication is to always speak with kindness and empathy. “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). I once was responsible for counseling with a young couple who were having marital challenges.  One of the issues the husband brought up was that he felt like his wife said mean things to him–things designed to hurt his feelings.  In my naivety, I commented that I’m sure she didn’t mean to say things to hurt his feelings.  When I looked at the wife, she replied that she intentionally said things to hurt his feelings.  This shocked me. How can two people ever expect a relationship to thrive (or even survive) when things are said to drive a wedge in that relationship? I made a vow long ago that I would never say anything to intentionally hurt my family’s feelings.

The third principle of communication is to always speak the truth. I’ve had numerous discussions with people about this principle.  Some have told me that it’s ok to lie to people depending on the situation.  I’ll walk down that line for a bit. There have been times when my child brought me a picture they drew and said “look what I drew, Daddy! Do you like it?” To be honest, sometimes I couldn’t even tell what it was. Did I like the picture, no. Did I like that they drew something and are excited about it? Yes. Therefore, my answer was “yes.” This principle really goes back to the 2nd principle.  If you always speak with kindness and empathy, then you will know how to answer the tough questions.  There are certain things you should never lie about: money, improper relationships, intimate feelings (to list just a few). A relationship built on lies is exactly like the foolish man who built his house on the sand. “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:27).

The fourth principle of communication is to avoid profanity and don’t take the Lord’s name in vain. “The commandment says, ‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.’ (Exodus 20:7.) Except in prayers and proper sermons, we must not use the name of the Lord. Blasphemy used to be a crime punishable by heavy fines. Profanity is the effort of a feeble brain to express itself forcibly.” (Spencer W. Kimball, God Will Not be Mocked). There have been times in my life when I used profanity, but as I look back, it wasn’t necessary. I could easily have expressed the same emotion, conviction, and seriousness without resorting to profanity.

The fifth principle of communication is to never raise your voice in anger. President David O. McKay once said “Let husband or wife never speak in loud tones to each other, ‘Unless the house is on fire’” (Stepping Stones to an Abundant Life, comp. Llewelyn R. McKay [1971], 294). One of the worst rebukes I have ever received was from my first Commander in the Air Force.  He had given me a task to collect phone books from around the base so we could donate them to a local radio station. I didn’t follow through as I should and, when the day came for me to deliver the books to the radio station, I discovered someone had already taken all of the books.  When I told my boss, he looked at me and very calmly said “Cort, you’ve really let me down.” Nothing else needed said.  Another example comes from my time at Osan Air Base in South Korea. One of my troops broke the radar by accident.  When I told my boss, he yelled, he berated, he wanted a name so he could hang someone. After he was finished with me, we went to his boss, followed by his bosses boss, the General. I expected to get drilled by the General.  I didn’t.  All he said was “that piece of equipment is very important to me.  I need you to get it fixed.” I was far more motivated to fix the equipment for the General than I was for my boss.

The final principle of communication is speak as if the Lord were part of the conversation. This helps me to keep my words clean, my thoughts pure, my intentions honest. If what I’m saying can’t be said to the Savior, then I probably shouldn’t be saying it. You’ve all probably heard the saying “What Would Jesus Do (WWJD)?” Take that phrase one step farther and ask “What would Jesus say?” If He wouldn’t say the thoughts forming in your mind, then it would probably behoove you to refrain from speaking them.

Communication is the key to successful relationships (both personal and professional). If you remember these 6 principles, you will be more successful:

  1. listen more than you speak
  2. always speak with kindness and empathy
  3. always speak the truth
  4. avoid profanity and don’t take the Lord’s name in vain
  5. never raise your voice in anger
  6. speak as if the Lord were part of the conversation

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