When in doubt talk it out

April 7th, 2010 · by Tom Stuart · Communication, Relationships

Every relationship suffers from mixed signals, hidden suspicions, secret agendas and confusing communication.  And much of the time emails and IMs, even phone calls don’t help and may only muddy the water.  Sometimes we just have to resolve our conflicts the old fashioned way by actually talking it out face to face. Wonder of wonders.

Several years ago I had the privilege of officiating at the wedding ceremony of a couple from Kenya, East Africa.  What made the wedding reception so unique was their traditional Kikuyu tribal ceremony of speeches and gift giving.   Members of both the bride and groom’s family, who incidentally had come all the way from Kenya for the wedding, presented gifts to the bridal couple.

As each gift was given, its significance was explained accompanied by an exhortation to the bride and/or groom.  For example, the groom’s family presented to the bride two very large crockery pots with the charge that she always keep them full of food.  In so doing, she would demonstrate a hospitable spirit to all who come to visit, especially from the groom’s family. The bride’s family presented the groom with a beautiful spear and shield with the exhortation that he was now responsible to provide for her and protect her.

To me however, the most ingenious gift of all, were two small stools.  Two small stools were presented to the couple with this encouragement – they are to be stools for communication.  Now by small I mean stools with legs no more than 9 inches long.  The couple was exhorted that whenever they might have marital conflict, that they were to sit down together on those two stools and talk out their problems.  In other words, when in doubt, talk it out!  That’s great advice not only for a happy, enduring marriage, but for any relationship for that matter and it’s Biblical. 

The simplicity of Jesus’ teaching on resolving relationship conflict basically says this;  either go one-on-one or one-on-none. (Matthew 5:23 & 18:13)  Paul explains it this way in Ephesians 4:15.  Rather than allow confusion in relationships, “Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ.”  Communicating in love is more about attitude and action than it is about the words we speak.

Those two small stools present a beautiful picture and illustration of this kind of communication at its best:  humble, non-threatening, listening and sharing, eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart.  The stools take on even more significance when you consider that various communication studies have shown that from 55% up to 90% of communication is non verbal, i.e. our actions, body language and facial expression.  That means less than half of effective communication is actually the content (what we share) and tone of voice. 

Just picture what wonder working power the posture of both parties, sitting humbly on little stools facing each other, would be in diffusing conflict.

The genius of such an approach to communication is in the intent.  Being quick to grab the stools and begin communication is imperative.  But the manner in which such communication begins by leveling the playing field, stripping away pride, arrogance, and judgment creates an atmosphere of cooperation and understanding.  Yes, when in doubt talk it out, and if you can, it might be best to do it from a little stool.

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