“As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.”
– Proverbs 27:19 (NIV)
Communication goes well beyond what we say with our words.
Research shows that when we are under stress, less than seven percent of our communication comes from our words. The rest of the communication cues we send out come from our tone (38%) and our body language (55%).
How often have you had a conversation with someone close to you and, despite the fact that everything she was saying to you was upbeat, you knew something was wrong? Did you know that our brains are set to scan systematically the people we talk with for visual, auditory and tactile cues to establish trustworthiness? We automatically sense and register when someone’s words don’t match what the rest of that person is saying.
That’s because God created us to communicate through many more avenues than just the spoken word. Much of the meaning of our verbal communication is expressed beyond our words, through body language. Through our bodily posture, motion, countenance, gestures, tone and volume of voice, we express feelings that words may fail to reveal. Our eyes and ears are consistently scanning situations for incongruity between the words that are being spoken and the message that is being sent by the heart.
When you are listening to your friend, listen with more than your ears. Engage your eyes and other senses, and trust your intuition when you feel something is off. This part is not difficult. God designed us to connect to one another this way-to “click in” with each other and understand one another from a place beyond the physical – from our hearts. We each have this ability and do it every day.
The hard part, the part we run from, is the next step.
Once we sense this incongruity, we must reach beyond our safe cocoon of indifference to extend support to our friend. This can be as simple as asking “Are you ok?” and being prepared to hold your ground if floodgates open and emotional issues come up.
In her poem, “The Invitation,” Oriah Mountain Dreamer writes:
It doesn’t interest me who you know
Or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
In the center of the fire
And not shrink back.
That sums it up, doesn’t it?
Are you willing to:
1) ask the question when you know the answer might take time to wade through,
2) stand at the center of the fire and not be afraid of what you might see when the mask comes off and someone’s heart is revealed?
Don’t be afraid to listen to your friend’s struggles.
Next time you are in conversation with a friend, ask her specifically, “What’s challenging you right now?” Don’t push, just listen and provide support unless and until she asks for help.
“The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say, ‘What are you going through?’”
– Simone Weil
The preceding was a excerpt from the book Living Life with Strings Attached.