Let's Play "Telephone"!

July 22, 2013

Dwight Lee Wolter

"Then the eyes of those who see will no longer be closed, and the ears of those who hear will listen. The fearful heart will know and understand, and the stammering tongue will be fluent and clear." - Isaiah 32: 3-4

Just because lips are flapping doesn't mean communication is taking place. We often fail to say what we mean and hear what was said.  To illustrate this, we played "Telephone" in church. I divided the congregation into four groups and said something seemingly simple to one person in each quadrant who told the next person and so on. We compared what the first and last person of each group said and heard. They didn't match. Not even close. What went wrong? Here are some possibilities:

• Some people are better listeners than others.
• We often hear what we want to hear.
• Not seeking clarification skews the results.
• Not caring or paying attention doesn't help.
• Rehearsing your response rather than listening results in monologues, not dialogues.

People played "Telephone" with Jesus 2,000 years before the telephone was even invented, making flawed communication one of our earliest Christian traditions. The disciples' chronic misunderstanding of Jesus borders on slapstick.

But no one, including Jesus, I presume, was ever amused by being preached at, ignored, dismissed or misunderstood. We need to constantly hone our communication skills at home and in church. But before you take that webinar on effective communication skills, let's remind ourselves that communication skills are for naught without a generous and loving spirit that enables us to speak respectfully and listen reflectively. A sweet spirit is the tool that inspires us to overcome obstacles to effective communication such as apathy and just plain being ornery.

Prayer

O God who gifted us with the ability to communicate with each other and with you; help us to do so according to your will.

About the Author
Dwight Lee Wolter is the author of Forgiving Our Parents, Freedom Through Forgiving (a workbook), and Forgiving Our Grownup Children. He is pastor of the Congregational Church of Patchogue on Long Island, New York.
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