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How to communicate with charity: When honesty meets kindness

Sad woman having conversation with friend

Aiman Dairabaeva | Shutterstock

Daniel Esparza - published on 05/09/24

There will be times when a direct approach is best, while other situations call for more gentle persuasion. The key is to prioritize love.

In her celebrated book The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt observed that even the most mundane interactions hold the potential to cause harm. Pain and evil are sadly part of our everyday lives. From an unintentional brush past a stranger in a crowded subway car to a careless word, we inevitably encounter one another in ways that can cause friction, and perhaps even enmity.

Yet as Christians, we are called to navigate these situations with charity — a love that goes beyond mere affection. But how do we balance this call with the need for honesty? Can we be honest without offending? The answer is yes, of course. Here are some communication tips, rooted in Christian values, that promote understanding and peace.

Active listening: The foundation of love

Media has somehow gotten us used to one-sided communication. And still, communication is supposed to be a two-way street. Active listening, a cornerstone of loving communication, involves truly focusing on the other person. This means putting our own thoughts and judgments on hold, making eye contact, and offering verbal cues (including the occasional “uh-huh” or “I see”) to show that we are indeed engaged. By actively listening, we make the other person feel heard and understood.

Empathy: Walk in another’s shoes

Hard as it sometimes is, we need to imagine the situation from the other person’s perspective. What are their experiences, feelings, and concerns? Cultivating empathy allows us to see beyond our own point of view and connect on a deeper, more human level. However, it is important to note that empathy does not mean condoning someone else’s actions, but rather acknowledging their feelings.

“I” statements: Owning our feelings

Speaking of feelings, instead of accusatory language (“You always do this!”), “I” statements allow us to express our thoughts and needs in a non-threatening way. For example, “I feel hurt when…” is much more constructive than “Man, you’re so insensitive!”

Assertiveness: Standing up for ourselves with respect

Assertiveness doesn’t mean aggression. It’s about communicating our needs and boundaries clearly and respectfully. Imagine a situation where a friend keeps canceling plans. We can assert ourselves by using an “I” statement such as, “I value our time together and it disappoints me when plans change at the last minute.”

Love does not always mean silence

Sometimes honesty is necessary. But love is the guiding light. We don’t have to be “brutally honest.” There is always a way to communicate truth with kindness. Consider the parables of Jesus. He masterfully used stories (like the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan) to convey complex and oftentimes harsh truths without being violent or distasteful. We can emulate this by framing our message constructively and offering solutions.

Remember that communication is an art form. There will be times when a direct approach is best, while other situations call for more gentle persuasion.  The key is to prioritize love, always seeking to build bridges of understanding rather than walls of resentment

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