Good communication skills rank among the highest of traits employers desire. Whether that falls into the realm of public speaking, writing understandable reports, or simply letting a manager know of an upcoming absence, the ability to communicate well helps others feel more informed, engenders trust, and prevents countless problems. Indeed, a brief review of those characteristics explains while good communication matters so much in marriage and why parents desire it from their children as well. Good communication is as vital to relationships as good transportation is to the economy. However, this begs the question regarding what constitutes good communication.
Despite much evidence to the contrary, many people assume that speaking or typing words guarantees communication. In an age where it sometimes takes longer to decipher all of the abbreviations and emojis in a single text than it would for the average person to read a decent novel, we certainly should consider what actually communicates meaning. One person could offer an eloquent soliloquy on the meaning of life, but to someone who does not share the same vocabulary, all the benefits of the message would be lost in the maze of subtlety and syllables. Likewise, sometimes we speak freely at people but not with people. We demand their attention but have done nothing to command their respect. In this we sacrifice understanding on the altar of our own ego, talking past one another because we seek self-affirmation rather than true communication. Social media did not create this phenomenon, but it does exaggerate it. It extends our network of acquaintances in an unnatural way (a friend of a friend of a friend wants to be a friend) so that interaction has little or no personal context. The so-called democratization of the internet has led to interacting with almost total strangers as if you grew up together. And this strain on our already poor communication has created a daily pool of miscommunications and misunderstandings.
The answer for these and other social ills does not lie in eliminating the medium but in meeting the challenges that they present—especially in communication. However, to do this we must first take responsibility for ourselves as communicators. We must not assume that the fault always lies on those who listen but consider how we could improve our presentation of the message, whether publicly or privately. But most of all, we should spend more time on reflecting on our purpose in communication and our attitude while communicating. While God’s Word does not offer specific advice on public speaking, it regularly comments on the quality of attitude and purpose while doing so. Proverbs 12 alone contains at least seven valuable principles for our consideration.
- To speak well you must first think well (Prov. 12:5, 8). Your speech reveals your heart, for good or for bad. It reveals how much or how little you value people and souls, and it reveals how much thought you put into what you are going to say.
- Focus on self-improvement more than self-promotion (Prov. 12:9). Sometimes speaking less is a virtue all its own. You do not have to respond to every criticism, every sarcastic remark, every insult, or every disagreement. You can choose the high road…and peace.
- Your speech can either get you into trouble or keep you out of trouble, so consider not only the impact of your words in the moment but also their ultimate destination (Prov. 12:13). Saying things in the heat of the moment usually leads to a poor choice of words and often poor argumentation. When we get caught up in a discussion emotionally, we often say things that come back to haunt us and come out to harm others. If we wield our words to inflict pain and devastation, the supposed victory won is always hollow.
- The proper use of the tongue can have many positive benefits—for yourself and for others (Prov. 12:14, 20). Be more purposeful in your communication. Be positive as much as possible. Encourage people. Make them laugh. Focus on how to help others rather on how to help yourself.
- A wise man knows when not to speak too, and this self-control has additional benefits (Prov. 12:16). Guarded speech prevents becoming a walking offense. It is no honor to be “an open book” with people if what you say is not worth reading. Show self-control in what you say and in what you post. In doing so, you will learn how to keep friends instead of losing them to the anger you call wit, you will learn not to expose your ignorance in the name of having the last say, and you will learn not to respond to every insult in the name of defending your honor. Act honorably with the confidence that your honor is sufficient to defend you on its own.
- A man who consistently speaks truth promotes justice in society and adds greater credibility to any testimony given (Prov. 12:17, 19). But a wise man does not require an oath to speak truthfully, only a heart for gold (Prov. 12:22). But notice that speaking truth should focus on building a better society and aiding the cause of righteousness. As such, truthful communication is bold in its accuracy and ethic—not in its roguishness and rudeness.
- Righteous speech considers how words can affect the people who hear them, either positively or negatively (Prov. 12:18, 25). It remains a constant consideration whenever the mouth opens so that self-control speaks even the hard truths with empathy and love (Eph. 4:15). The ultimate aim of good communication should be to reach the heart of another through words with the result that those two hearts then beat in unison.
Communication of every kind has challenges—more than we might care to admit. Some dismiss these issues offhandedly; others decide they should no longer try. But the answer lies between these extremes. God created man as a social being, a communicative being. More than that, He not only allows us these privileges but also expects us to use them for His glory. That alone should give us reason enough to give our all in developing better communication skills.