“To touch the soul of another human being is to walk on holy ground.” ~Stephen R. Covey
Note to reader: Be prepared, we’re going to do some heavy lifting here.
Relationships can get complicated. And communication fumbles can further complicate them. I know. I’ve complicated mine more times than I want to admit. The good news is that effective, even intimate, communication can be learned, broken relationships healed, happiness returned and love restored.
In fact, there are spiritual principles upon which free, open and loving communication is predicated. As we learn to live by these principles, our relationships and the conversations we have within them, will become an increasingly rewarding, happy, even spiritual, part of our lives.
First, what do I Mean by “Spiritual?”
Spiritual laws of communication are those fundamental and universal principles upon which healthy and happy communication is based. They are the principles more than the practice, and therefore transcend culture and circumstance.
In short, I’m simply referring to the nature of living our lives and developing our character and acquiring those traits and characteristics that lend themselves to being in tune with the sanctity of humanity in a way that consecrates our relationships.
It is the willingness to see the sacred in the other, to find meaning and purpose in human relationships and in the emotional glue that binds those relationships together.
It is the conviction that people matter, that they have divine potential, that human interaction therefore borders on the sacred, a sort of holy communion with the soul of a fellow being of infinite value.
Why Spiritual Laws Matter
As we live spiritually, or tune our lives to universal truths and fine-tune our character, we become kinder, more loving, accepting, patient and peaceful people.
The very qualities that deepen our spirituality add layers of depth to our relationships as well. They create a sort of tender closeness and freer, unguarded communication. Abiding by and developing more of these principles translates directly (even if not always immediately) into more trust, more forgiveness, more thoughtfulness and more love.
More than Technique
So what I advocate below is much more than the application of technique or style. I offer no methods of verbal manipulation to get what you want from others. I’m not getting from no to yes or winning friends and influencing people or teaching you how to negotiate like a pro.
It is more fundamental than that. It speaks to our attitudes and values, and the integrity we have to those values. It is therefore more about who we are than what we say. It is an expression of our hearts and character, a willingness to be open and vulnerable with another person.
The 14 Spiritual Laws of Human Communication
1. Look beyond the Armor
We can speak of facts and develop logical arguments impressively punctuated with validating data. Or we can communicate heart to heart as we reach for understanding instead of the win, acceptance instead of influence, expression instead of acquiescence.
When tempers flare, it becomes too easy to see the opponent and not the person, to see the scowl and not the scar tissue on the heart of the one you’re arguing with. But it is during fights that we can do the most damage, that our character is most on display and our weaknesses most vulnerable.
Once you start looking beyond the twisted, gnarled face of anger at the tender inside, at the fear, hurt, insecurity and confusion beneath their protective armor, and once the other can sense that you see her heart, the armor will start to come off.
2. We’re more than you think
We are so much more than we are usually demonstrating at any given moment. We are not only what we do and how we live, we are also our potentials, our capacities, our dormant abilities not yet realized.
We are Children of God with the spark of the divine smoldering inside, waiting to be fanned into more.
When you can see others as Children of God, especially when in a heated disagreement, even when they seem unreasonable, out of control, or even foul, you are well on your way to diffusing most communication problems and the emotional damage they create.
Those who hold on to past offenses, who use them over and over again as ammunition in the next blowup, never enjoy very long periods of peace. History is never allowed to fade, is always kept alive in the moment, accumulating power, momentum and acidity with age.
In such circumstances, there are never small issues to resolve because each issue is yet another reminder of the wrong you felt was done to you in the past, making small things a part of already huge things. Every disagreement becomes a spark that potentially ignites a tinderbox of pent-up anger and offense.
But forgiveness softens everything. Peace returns. Emotional equanimity is reestablished. The trash bin of what might be a tumultuous past is emptied so that nothing is really a reminder of everything that came before it.
Each disagreement is taken by itself, weighed on its own merit. Bitterness fades and resentment diminishes and hatred can be replaced by understanding, love and compassion.
Otherwise, the very success of your relationship will forever teeter on the edge of such silly things as whether the toilet paper is hung over or under. Each act of replacing the toilet paper will then become an expression of whether she loves and respects you. And that, of course, is a fragile kind of love and shallow kind of respect.
This is not, however, meant to discount truly painful experiences of the past, experiences that are not ready to be put to sleep because they are truly symptoms of larger chronic issues, or are lessons learned that must not be repeated.
Still, forgiveness is the antidote to historical pain that is undermining contemporary happiness.
“I’m right and you’re wrong” has never been a good relationship building device. And yet that’s exactly the way we too-often try to build and repair old worn-out relationship issues.
If, instead, we are able to humble ourselves and seek to know the others’ point of view more than cram our own down their throats for their own good, our relationships would be so much more deeply enjoyable than they sometimes currently are.
Note: Humility, by the way, does not mean you have to roll over and play dead, or surrender ever having a strong opinion again.
It simply means that you accept the possibility of not being omniscient, that there may be other valid perspectives you haven’t considered.
It is to acknowledge that clarity of views and depth of understanding and openness to a change of heart is more valued than a know-it-all opinion cemented into the pride of immovable permanency.
5. Stick to the Truth
“You always” and “You never” are untruths meant to exaggerate your claim. Calling names are other ways of lying to make a point. But if the point can’t stand on its own merit without artificial support, it has no business loitering in the middle of a conversation in the first place.
Instead, determine to only speak the unvarnished, unencumbered, unadorned truth. Then, when you catch yourself bending it, stop and fix it on the spot, as you speak it. That way, trust will always be the glue that holds your conversations (and relationships) together.
On the other hand, this is not an open invitation to rush into conversations with both barrels blazing the hot lead of truth right into the fleshy hearts of those unlucky enough to find you in a truth-telling mood. Truth should be a spiritual expression of your trustworthiness, not a weapon used to put people in their places.
6. The Soft Reply
“And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.” ~1 Kings 19:11
Nothing kills good will, love and intimacy like anger—especially when the anger is expressed loudly. But when a conversation starts to get a little heated, a soft reply can diffuse the situation, bring tempers down and restore peace. And at the very least, it can soften the blows of an otherwise escalating fight.
Of course, the soft reply can’t be sarcastic or condescending or it may have the opposite effect.
7. Judge Not
We can be so quick to assume the motive behind the words, attitude and actions of others. Or we see outward appearances and ascribe to them selfishness or pride or other character deficiencies.
The funny thing is that we do the opposite with ourselves. When we come up short, we see our intentions and ascribe to ourselves honorable motives even if poorly executed. When we refuse to judge our loved ones’ actions and attitudes and simply accept them as they are—warts and all—they can begin to trust us enough to be themselves around us.
That frees them to open up and share their deepest parts, the parts they fear you will judge and condemn and reject them for. Acceptance is liberating, opening, encouraging and honoring. And that is the essence of intimate communication.
8. Empathy and Compassion
Men, on average, have a particularly rough time with this one in our relationships. Many of us want to fix everything and find it difficult to simply feel what is being felt by others.
“Your heart is broken? Okay, this is what you need to do to mend the thing.”
For us menfolk, conversations are usually a means to an end. For womenfolk, conversations are often an end in themselves. A man wants to know the facts so a proper prognosis can be made, a goal set, a course of action decided upon. A woman often uses communication as a means to connect, to feel, to love.
But empathy is not the same as offering good advice. It is feeling. It is absorbing the nuances of what another person is experiencing and reflecting that back to the person feeling it. That kind of compassion is much more difficult for us than the compassion that motivates giving a homeless man a sandwich.
When we can step into their shoes and tenderly touch their hearts with the openness of ours, that kind of contact will change the relationship at its core.
At the same time, I humbly request the patience of women. It needs to be recognized that men are grinding against their very natures as they fumble and stumble down the road to this kind of heart-felt compassion. It is foreign territory. If you’re not sure you agree, just imagine two men tenderly touching each others hearts. Case closed.
So please take us gently by the hand and guide us as you resist the temptation to use our missteps as a battering ram to push us more quickly to the end of the road you may feel we should have been at from the beginning.
If we’re always putting our own needs first, it will be very difficult for others to ever bother putting our needs ahead of theirs. What we end up with are both partners in the relationship watching out for their own. And that’s no way to build love and openness that allows free and unfettered communication.
Trust is not only the product of honesty. It’s the love-child of honesty wedded to the sense that you’ve got my back, that you’re not just in it for yourself, that when push comes to shove, you’ll drop your self-interest and pick mine up off the ground.
Warning: Please do not read into this a sort of shut-up-and-take-it attitude. I’m NOT asking people to endure abuse or rudeness or mistreatment, to suck it up and just be patient, because, after all, he’ll change … eventually. This is NOT what I’m saying. Rather, I’m suggesting the best way to grow your verbal intimacy is to accept self-responsibility and avoid the temptation to read your partner into every trait considered here. This is for your own self-improvement.
10. Assume Decency
It usually doesn’t take but a few moments before it’s clear whether or not you affirm the good will of the person you’re talking to.
Second-guessing their “real” meaning or ascribing to them ulterior motives or ill-intent is insulting. To improve our relationships and deepen communication, we have to allow others the right to interpret the meaning of what they are trying to communicate unencumbered by our suspicions, insecurities and interpretations. Accept their stated reasons for why they do and say what they do and say.
To put yourself in the position of mind-reader, or the Great Judge of Real Intent is to claim rightful occupancy of the throne of God and declare yourself All Wise and Knower-of-All-Things. Not a very humble path on which to create a spiritual bond with us mere mortals.
Once the person you’re communicating with senses that you doubt their honesty or motive, or they feel your disdain or disrespect, the conversation is over. Words may still be spoken, but hearts are closed off and open communication is dead, replaced by defensiveness or outright hostility.
To avoid this emotional dead-end, simply affirm the basic decency of the other. Assume a pure motive, a pure heart and the good will it takes to truly open and truly hear the soul of the person you are communicating with as they open their hearts to you.
11. Pray for your “Enemies”
Anger between people is like sand between metal parts. Nothing good comes of it. When a partner becomes an enemy, an opponent to be beaten on the field of verbal battle, communication can lead nowhere but the junkyard.
One way to change the mindset, to move the “other” from enemy #1 locked in mortal combat to BFF engaged in heart-felt conversation, is to pray for the person for whom you feel anger or by whom you have been offended. Ask God to bless them, to heal their wounds, to heal yours, to feel love for them and that they feel the love and acceptance behind your words.
Note: This is not a prayer of retribution or a plea they undergo some miraculous personal change and finally see things the “right” way. It’s a prayer for them, as though you were a concerned parent petitioning the Heavens to reach down into the life of a cherished one to bless them with love. There is a healing quality to this kind of prayer. It closes gaps and rekindles tender feelings.
It is essential to show love during a conversation, especially on topics you know can get heated. But love also needs to precede the conversation or the conversation itself feels manipulative.
Having said that, it may be even more important to show an increase in love afterward—especially if things got tense during the conversation. Otherwise, the person may start to see you as their adversary.
Once you’ve become The Enemy, your ability to reach them with your words becomes very difficult. Everything said is suspect. Motives are doubted. Accusations are made, even if not expressed. Communication is thereby rendered shallow, angry, superficial or nonexistent.
But when communication is nothing more than an extension of the love you have for the heart and soul of the person you’re talking to, the verbal slips and blunders we all make become increasingly insignificant.
Getting to this point if spiritual intimacy, however, takes time—especially if you are currently repairing a damaged relationship. Trust has to be rebuilt over what may be a very long time. (see “forgiveness” above if this is the case)
Accept imperfection, even in communication, even in love. Accept that we are all imperfect beings, that we will make mistakes, fumble the ball, fall down and oversleep. We will say what we shouldn’t have said and fail to say what we should have said.
Accept differences in personality and preference. Accept judgment lapses and perspective blind-spots. Exercise the emotional maturity to accept different points of view, that the two of you may never see eye to eye on a particular subject, maybe even something as important as how to raise your kids. And that’s okay!
If you are truly an accepting person, you not only tolerate these differences, you enjoy them. They add texture to your relationship, broaden your own perspective and minimally, are cute curiosities that simply make your relationship more interesting.
The Golden Rule is perhaps the most universally restated and emphasized human relationship doctrine across virtually all religions in the world. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” finds itself here at the end of the list of spiritual laws because it nicely sums up everything preceding it.
A superficial understanding of “do unto others” is to treat others the way you want to be treated. So if you like pats on the back, you pat everyone else on the back. If you like to be corrected when you mispronounce a word, you go around correcting everyone.
A deeper understanding knows that “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” means doing to them in the way they prefer, that touches them, that they respond to, just as you would like others to treat you and communicate with you in the way you prefer (which may include pats on the back and public corrections, but takes into account that not all people are fond of such expressions).
“In the last analysis, what we are communicates far more eloquently than anything we say or do.” ~Stephen Covey
Methods and tactics can be manipulative and counterproductive.
If the communicator has not grown, if method is hiding character, the actual person behind the technique (manipulating, angry, vengeful, impatient, judgmental) will sooner or later reveal himself—even if the communication technique has been applied masterfully.
In such circumstances, your hypocrisy and duplicity will undermine everything the technique falsely established.
Spiritual communication is communication that speaks to the soul of the other, elevates the other, honors their unique perspective and holds their heart in yours. It is a form of communication that takes a lifetime of work to develop. It is the external expression of the inner work you do on character and values, overcoming habits of selfishness, pride and impatience.
But it is the only kind of communication that will permanently heal and restore fragile or broken relationships. It is the best way to deepen those that have plateaued. And it is the most reliable way to turn a good relationship into a great one.
Let me know what you think!
Questions to consider: What would you have included? What did I miss? Do you agree (or disagree) with any or all my points? Have you had experience with any of the traits I shared? Any of them resonate with you? Which ones? Why?