Discipleship and “Supercommunication”

I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “How to Become a Supercommunicator.” by Charles Duhigg (sorry its behind a paywall). Duhigg posits that there are people in our community who are “supercommunicators,” people who are “better at connecting with others, hearing what’s unsaid and speaking so others want to listen.” These people are “capable of saying exactly the right thing, breaking through to almost anyone, figuring out how to connect in even the most unlikely circumstances.” They are the friends or family member we call after a tough day, the colleague who knows how to really connect with people, the neighbor who can build bridges. They are the supercommunicators.

You know, I think we Christians have another word for these people: disciples. I say this because the author of the article, Charles Duhigg, after he defines what he means by supercommunicators goes on to say that any of us can learn simple techniques that can help us to raise our communication skills so that we too can become “super” (Just like any of us can become a disciple). He then offers four skills that supercommunicators share that we can learn so as to become better communicators ourselves. I would offer that these four skills are four skills among many of the disciple.

First, though, let me just say up front, that the greatest of the supercommunicators who ever lived and breathed in this world was Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It was not just in his words that he communicated. It was in his whole life. He was brother to all and died for all. He knew exactly what needed to be said – “Go, your faith has saved you …. And who was the neighbor? …. Father, forgive them ….” – and what needed to be done to teach, proclaim, and heal. Most especially, he spoke most eloquently and was most “super” when he hung upon the Cross. We disciples seek to follow him now under the guidance and communion of the Holy Spirit, the great communicator of wisdom and strength that we know so well.

That being said, I return to the fours skills that Duhigg offers to become super- communicators and assert once again that they are skill that are inherent in the very call to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. I say this because they are all relational in their foundation, meaning that I start by seeing the person or persons with whom I am speaking as my brother and sister. So the first skill, “to ask deep questions,” means that when we meet people or engage with people at a social event or party we begin by caring about who they are and what they are saying beyond just a superficial response to what they may be saying. We move deeper into the conversation with them by asking deeper questions. So if they tell you they are a parent you say, “That’s wonderful! Tell me about your kids.” Or if they tell you what they do for a living or what college they went to to or any number of things, our response is to get ask a question that gets them to tell you more about themselves. Which then leads into the second skill …

“Prove you are listening.” Again, this is Discipleship 101 in that the disciple does this naturally because that person in front of you is your brother and sister and you want to hear them and come to know them and maybe help them to come to know the Lord Jesus as you do (perhaps one may discover they already do! Wouldn’t that be great!). So Duhigg offers that one proves you are listening by using a technique that he calls “looping” in which you repeat back what you have just heard and ask, in one way or another, if you got it right. (Frankly, I think this is something we learned in Counseling 101 but, hey …) But for the disciple it is not just a communication skill. It is relational. I’m listening. I care. Which brings us to skill number three …

What Duhigg defines as “Determine what everyone wants” which I think boils down to for the Christian is “what does this person need me to be or do for them right now?” Do they need me to just listen and “loop” back (that’s always a good place to start)? Do they need me to offer advice – “Have you ever considered this? You know when I was in the same situation, I found this worked for me?” And here’s one that’s really dangerous – “Would you like me to pray with you?”

Finally, Duhigg says a good communicator needs to “pay attention to more than words.” But while he focuses more on the nonverbal skills of gesture, tone of voice, facial expression and the like (again, Counseling 101), we disciples know it’s more than that in the end. In the immediacy of that encounter with the person(s) in front of us, while we know that the nonverbals are important as communication skills, we also know it doesn’t end there ….

Matthew 25: 35-36 “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”

And so we pay attention to more than words.

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