Sunday, March 31, 2013

Proverbs 18: Wise Communication Principles

Prov 18:2 A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.
Prov 18:4 The words of a man's mouth are deep waters, but the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.
Prov 18:8 The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man's inmost parts.
Prov 18:13 He who answers before listening — that is his folly and his shame.
Prov 18:15 The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out.
Prov 18:17 The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him. 
Prov 18:18 Casting the lot settles disputes and keeps strong opponents apart.
Prov 18:19 An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel. 
Prov 18:20 From the fruit of his mouth a man's stomach is filled; with the harvest from his lips he is satisfied. 
Prov 18:21 The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. 

In this chapter, we have a list of proverbs that gives us good communication principles which we could apply in our daily interaction with people:
  • Seek to Understand first (Prov 18:2 A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions): A fool is someone who only wants to express his opinion without trying first to understand the other person. So, in contrast, a wise communicator seeks to understand first before expressing his opinion. If we speak without first understanding the situation or the real concerns of the other person, we are likely to say things that are irrelevant to the other person's real needs.
  • Speak to impart life (Prov 18:4 The words of a man's mouth are deep waters, but the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook): Our words should be like water, giving life to our listeners. Jesus says in John 7:38-39, "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him."  By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. And in John 6:63, he says that His words are spirit and life: "The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life." When we are walking by the Spirit, we want to impart life through our words, not just knowledge. Not all words that are scriptural are life-giving; it has to be inspired by the Holy Spirit who alone knows what the other person needs to hear.
  • Avoid Gossips (Prov 18:8 The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man's inmost parts): A lady once said to me, "If we cannot gossip, what's the fun in talking?" That's why gossips are like choice morsels (MSG: "cheap candy"); everyone likes to get a bite on it. The danger is that gossips distort reality. A wise man would avoid it because he wants to speak only what is true. Someone has said this: "If you have nothing to good to say about a person, keep quiet." Or better still, focus on positive conversation to counter-act the gossips.
  • Listen before Answering (Prov 18:13 He who answers before listening — that is his folly and his shame): Answering before listening is a common flaw for many of us. This is hardest when the other person is giving some negative feedback about us. We get defensive and start getting busy thinking up retorts and rationalizations to justify ourselves--and in the process we stop listening and start interrupting. It takes great self-discipline to listen to negative feedback.
  • Adopt a Learning Posture (Prov 18:15 The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out): A wise communicator must have the attitude of a learner--that we can learn from everyone. It's not wise to adopt a teacher mode, because teachers are judged, not appreciated: "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly" (James 3:1). As learners, we learn to appreciate others more because we can acquire new knowledge from them. Furthermore, it helps the other persons feel important because we are learning from them.
  • Have the Last Word (Prov 18:17 The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him): The advantage of listening before speaking is that we can have the last word! If we speak first, we can be shot down if our arguments are weak. But if we listen to all the arguments and counter-arguments, we can ask the right question and then reach the middle ground of compromise as the last word. 
  • Agree to Disagree (Prov 18:18 Casting the lot settles disputes and keeps strong opponents apart): Don't try to change the opinions of strong opponents--we end up quarreling. When we know that someone has strong views and unlikely to change their opinions, it's best to settle for a compromise - like casting lots to decide who's the winner! Don't waste more time arguing. 
  • Don't Attack the Person (Prov 18:19 An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel): Sometime, when we cannot win an argument, we start attacking the person's integrity. When we do that, we have made an enemy out of a brother. Separate the problem from the person.
  • Speak to Build Up (Prov 18:20 From the fruit of his mouth a man's stomach is filled; with the harvest from his lips he is satisfied): We don't speak to preach at people or prove they are wrong. Rather, we speak to build them up. When we do, we will have satisfied customers and contented congregation! We should practise seriously Paul's advice in Colossians 4:6, "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person."  
Life is about communication. Right communication skills can help smooth relationships wherever we go. May God grant us wisdom in our communication with others.

Lord, teach us to speak the truth with love and grace. Amen.

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