As we continue to battle this pandemic, and, as uncomfortable as it may be, I’m trying to learn a few lessons along the way. This week I have learned how much we communicate with our mouths. That sounds pretty obvious, but what I mean is not what comes out of our mouths but how we communicate with our facial expressions. I find myself talking to people or just passing by people and giving them a little smile and then I realize that they can’t see it. My attempts at communicating some measure of good will is masked by my mask.
It’s common knowledge that communication is so much more than just the words that come out of our mouths. Our tone, inflection, body language, and facial expression all contribute meaning to what is actually heard.
There have been times when I’ve said something that I thought was innocuous only to get a negative response. You see, I have been told I have a "tone" - a mysterious and unbeknownst quality of my voice that can communicate anger or disgust. I must admit, sometimes it is intentional but more often it’s because I’m in a rush or just not thinking. It’s then that I have to use many more words to explain what I really meant.
These masks are teaching me how complex communication is and reminding me that I need to be aware of and monitor the subtle ways I am adding meaning to my words. The dangerous thing about this is that many of these gestures and signals have become almost instinctive.
Communication can be difficult, even without masks, so let me offer some advice that has helped me:
•When you get an unexpected response to something you said, ask the one you are talking to if you said something that offended them or made them angry. Even though you didn’t intend to, you probably have a "tone", or something similar, communicating something you didn’t intend. Take the time to listen to what the other person heard—it may not be what you were trying to say.
•Apologize for miscommunicating. Don’t put the blame on the other person. Don’t defend yourself. Admit to yourself that you are like every other person who sometimes contradicts their words with misleading body language or facial expressions.
•When on the other end of the conversation and you are angered by someone’s tone or body language, be merciful. Everyone gets tired. Everyone struggles with clear communication. Give them a chance to clarify themselves. Too many arguments are over what you thought someone said and not what they actually wanted to communicate.
The Bible talks about how healing and how destructive words can be. In fulfilling the command to love one another, we must include in that mandate our willingness to communicate well. Commit yourself to being a good communicator. It will bless your life and your relationships in so many ways.
Todd Catteau is the preaching minister for the Park Avenue Church of Christ in Denison. He and his wife, Henriann, have four children and two grandsons. He is a native of Massachusetts and loves his Boston sports teams. His writings and links to sermons can be found at catteau.net. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.