Learning to talk


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I was involved in an online conversation in a secular public forum last week and, after a bit of chat with a few folks, received a pretty vitriolic response from a new poster. He accused me of being deliberately provocative and (to paraphrase) too smarmy for my own good. I hadn’t realised that my posts were open to that interpretation and I apologised. To be fair to him, he also apologised for going over the top. A couple of days later, another contributer accused me of being deliberately and unnecessarily provocative. I hadn’t intended this at all.

Within a few days of joining the conversation, I realised that I was doing something badly wrong. I’m still not sure but I can see at least four problems. First, these conversations were a new form of communication for me and I hadn’t learned the language ot its etiquette. I’m used to communicating in the lecture room and pulpit and, of course in all the normal casual situations of life, face to face, but in a world where the reader only has black words on a white screen, all of the subtleties of personal communication are missing. I hope I’m getting it now and I’m starting to appreciate the value of emoticons, which I’d always looked down on.

Second, I didn’t realise that, being a stranger to the other contributers, they know nothing about me or how I talk, my sense of humour, my general use of language. I’ve realised afresh that all communication is done in the context of the relationship that exists between the partners. Hopefully as we get to know each other we’ll get to understand each other better.

Third, have I become so centred on the Christian community that I’ve lost the ability to communicate well with non-Christians about spiritual things? Could it be that I’m too familiar with spiritual jargon and even sentence structures that are ‘baptised’ that I really do come across badly to non-Christians?

Fourth, could it be that, in general, I don’t communicate what I think I’m communicating. Do I need to remember the aphorism that what I say is not nearly as important as what people hear?

Just to confirm – this post is not meant to be smarmy, pretentious, self-serving, angry, bitter, ‘clever’, insulting, morbidly self-analytical etc, etc. But it is meant to invite a moment’s thougth about how well, or badly, we communicate. If I only knew how to insert a wee round smiley thingy at this point…

3 Replies to “Learning to talk”

  1. Here’s what I have discovered (commenting is a reflective learning process):

    1.Bless and do not curse – as a Christian you’ll receive a multitude of insults – don’t insult in return.
    2.Ask questions – don’t always be on the defensive (Jesus did this often). Anyone else’s worldview is less coherent than the Christian one because the Christian one is true (but don’t necessarily say that! – expose it by perceptive, politely worded questions).
    3.Be balanced – I recently posted a comment with two websites giving both sides of the argument even though one was opposed to my view. I did this because the comments were so ill informed they were hardly worth engaging with.
    4.Agree with them when you agree. It’s not a sign of weakness to agree – in fact it creates rapport. This is especially true if you affirm common values (I learned this from How to Argue Like Jesus by Joe Carter).
    5.Don’t allow yourself to be put in a box. I don’t state what I am – I let them work it out by what I say. When they assume I am a fundamentalist evangelical and a DUP supporter I try to break down the stereotypes, for example, by not giving unqualified support for Israel and by quoting from the NIV not the AV.
    6.Don’t put them in a box – I called an atheist a nihilist once which was probably unfair.
    7.Always give people the benefit of the doubt – don’t assume the worst of them.
    8.Don’t write comments that are too long (like this one!) but if you do then split it down (like this one). Refer to other websites to back up what you say – someone might be interested enough to read it.
    9.Avoid Christian jargon – I don’t even use the word sin. Use their language like Paul did in Athens. Quote people they recognise. Quote the Bible too but do it thoughtfully to engage with them where they are at.
    10.Pray before you post.

    A smiley face is no substitute for the above 🙂

  2. A simple tip which has stayed with me for a long while is:
    The art of communitcation is not simply to deliver a message but to ensure your message is understood by the recipient.

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