It's Not What You Say, It's How You Say It - And Why
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:6)
My Dad has a million sayings for a million situations, but "it's not what you say, it's how you say it" is among his favorites. Mine, too.
Let's say you work for someone and your performance is lacking. Your boss is a middle manager, and she must answer to her bosses. Let's say you have been a bit slack in your work, showing up late and missing deadlines. Your boss must now have a conversation with you. Now let's consider two ways your boss might approach you:
Approach 1 - Boss-Centered
Here the boss is thinking mostly about herself. She is mad that you aren't doing what you're supposed to be doing and she doesn't like the way it reflects upon her. Her interests are foremost in her mind. And thus, she tells you:
"You need to get your act together or you need to go find a box to pack your stuff in."
Consider how you'd think, feel, and react if approached in this way.
Approach 2 - Others-Centered
Here your boss is thinking mostly about you. She wants you to succeed and thus sees your performance issues as something that will hinder your career and compromise the mission of the organization. And in this line of thinking, she says:
"Because I want you to be successful here, I'd like to address some aspects of your performance that need to improve immediately."
Consider how this would make you think, feel, and react.
Saying the Same Thing With Different Results
The reason it matters how we say things more than what we say is based on one word - intent. We are naturally skeptical creatures, and we want to protect ourselves against those who would harm us emotionally. Thus, we are repelled by those who treat us roughly or treat us nicely in a fake way.
Effective communication is not just about style and tact, although that certainly matters. The primary factor is our intent. Do we actually care about the person we're communicating with or do we care more about ourselves? People are brilliantly intuitive and can see right through your words to the heart from which they came.
If you find yourself in arguments, you've got an intent problem.
If you say things you don't mean, you've got an intent problem.
If your relationships are often rocky, you've got an intent problem.
And if you've got an intent problem, you've got a heart problem.
Communication is about intent, and intent comes from the center of our being - which we will refer to as the heart.
So often we judge others by their worst actions and ourselves by our best intentions. We lose sight of considering our own intentions. Conflict exists in our world because of sin, and not the sin of others - the sin of ourselves.
We are the problem.
Here humility knocks on our door. We must let it in. And it's not going to be easy. You see, humility requires introspection, and introspection bathes our sinful hearts in painful light.
If you've been in an operating room, you probably noticed the lighting. It's bright. And it's not only the overhead lights which illuminate the whole room, but there's additional focused lights to shine on the patient. A heart surgeon needs to shine bright lights on the heart of his patient so he can get his work done.
This is just like the light of God's conviction.
Post Op Recovery
When we are open to the fact that we're broken and sinful, we are open to letting God shine his light into our hearts so he can, by the power of the Spirit, do his spiritual surgery on us. His Word convicts and comforts. His counsel manifests in wisdom from our brothers and sisters around us. We are soothed in prayer as we seek change.
"It's not what you say, it's how you say it" isn't merely good advice - it's a spiritual diagnostic. If we are, through our words, saying things in such a way that shows selfish intent, we show symptoms of a sick heart. And thus, we don't just need to say things in a better way, we need to consider why we said them that way to begin with.
A heart seasoned with the love of Christ will yield graciously seasoned words. And as we recall our need for spiritual heart surgery on a daily basis, we will respond compassionately to our fellow patients on this earth.