Thursday, November 20, 2014

The 3 main ways we communicate

Every Wednesday, as part of our Lake Hart Stint program, Melissa and I take part in what is called "Connection time."  This is essentially a time created for us to share our life stories, and then hear from some professor/staff/friend of the ministry on any number of topics.

This week one of the main things we talked about was healthy verbal communication.

"The ground floor understanding is that communication is done essentially three different ways…" Dr Coffield from Reformed Theological Seminary shared with us.  He went on to describe the three ways. -- competitive communication, informational communication, and cooperative communication.

All of these terms are rather self-explanatory, but allow me to flesh them out nonetheless:

1. Competitive communication

Imagine an argument you're trying to win.  Imagine a group of young people around chatting, all of them with the motive to prove who is cooler or wittier.  Imagine a person trying to prove that he is right.

Dr. Coffield said two things that I'll touch on more in a bit:

"Jesus rarely communicated competitively unless it was with the pharisees or religious elite."  And,

"God rarely uses this method of communication."

2. Informational communication

This is teaching or training or just catching up.  One person is sharing information with another -- not in a competitive I'm better than you sort've manner, but helpfully -- simply to inform.  Gossip probably fits into this category as well; one person is sharing with another some sort of information.  Think, "Tell me about your day…" or "Did you know that…" or "Let me show you how to use…" or similar communication styles.

3. Cooperative communication

Here, two or more people, as the name suggests, are working together for something.
Maybe they are communicating to strengthen a relationship -- think a genuine "How are you doing today?"
Maybe they are communicating to strengthening a cause they both share -- think Peyton Manning asking his linemen if they had any ideas for better pass protection.
This method of communication is really, if I understand correctly, the only method that allows a place for a healthy exchange of emotions -- "How did you feel about the theatre?"

Coffield argued that this was the method Jesus used most often.

If you've read this far, feel free to stop if you've gathered the information you're looking for.  Good stuff.

But I have a few comments.  Obviously, I'm just sharing here my understanding of what he shared.  That list isn't exhaustive, nor could it probably be applied to every aspect of verbal communication.  Please don't read this as me poo-pooing on Dr. Coffield.  He was great, and I'm sure he'd love just hours and hours and hours to flesh out further what he means by these distinctions.

That said, I have two problems with this paradigm.

First, it seems to me that most conversations fall into more than one of these styles at the same time.  Cooperation can and probably is often informational.
Competition can often be cooperative.
Informational communication can often be competitive or cooperative.

These three ways of looking at how we communicate fall a bit short, in my opinion, of addressing the nuance and varied change of so many different sorts of communication.

As an example, I'll share my second problem with the way this information was shared.

It was hinted at numerous times that Jesus mainly or mostly communicated cooperatively.  I disagree with this.

One of the coolest things about Jesus was that he communicated in a way that fit all three of these styles  of communication at the same time.

Consider the Sermon on the Mount.  Or virtually any parable.  But for our purposes let's use the parable of the Prodigal Son, which I will not paste here but hopefully is known enough to suffice.  Check Luke 15 if needed.

In that story, Jesus was indeed communicating competitively.  The story essentially says any life outside of relationship with the Father is dead.  If you reject the Father, you are dead, should you return, you are alive.  There is only one way to live life, in grateful embrace of the Father.

That is as competitive as anything I've ever said.

Yet the story is also informational.  Your Father, your God, is no curmudgeon.  He is no blow-hard demanding your obedience.  His love for you and his embrace of you, despite your rebellion, is ever present.  He delights in you!
And he is even merciful should you be the do-gooder older brother type as well.

And the story is cooperative as well.  Most all stories are, for that matter.  Stories invite the reader to cooperate with the author.  Where are you in the story?

After processing all this I'm having one searing thought: Jesus is the best.  This guy can blow your doors down like the Big Bad Wolf, correct you like Socrates, and simultaneously invite you into a deeper, fuller, and more blessed life.  What a king.

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