On Communication and Relationships (Discussion Group Resources)

(For a full list of topics and resources, go here). 

 By Anna Mussmann 

Topic Introduction
It’s a cliché that troubled relationships need “better communication,” but what if the modern approach to communication is part of the problem?
Our culture is swamped by an increasing inability to hear each other. Polarization is obvious in the public square. The same attitudes and problems have an equivalent impact in the home. How often do we think of communication as primarily a means to elevate and express ourselves, with the focus on getting what we want? How often does our ostensible quest for “communication” in our marriages or relationships actually separate us from the ability to love and hear others?
Perhaps we can learn from the classical concept of rhetoric. The word carries negative connotations nowadays, but for much of the history of Western education, rhetoric was a respected discipline. It was part of the training of educated citizens. The key to classical rhetoric is that the speaker was supposed to grow in virtue so as to fluently and effectually guide others toward the common good.
Perhaps we should think of communication as something that begins with self-discipline, careful thought, and love instead of word vomit. As women, can we grow in virtue so as to speak to others—especially those in our own homes—more effectually?

Image source.

Create a Culture Where Difficult Conversations Aren’t So Hard” by Jim Whitehurst. This short article focuses on the business world, but I think we can apply the basic concept to life in the home as well. Do we give our husband and kids the positive feedback and appreciation that builds trust before tough conversations arise?
Mastering Crucial Conversations: Getting Good At Difficult Conversations Makes You The Most Valuable Coach (And Person) In The Room” By John Berardi, PhD. This article draws from the book Crucial Conversations to talk about a radical shift in mindset. The writer talks about the idea that instead of focusing on what *we* are going to say, we should focus on understanding the other person so that we pursue the common good.
Doing this ONE thing dramatically improved my marriage” by Suzanne Venker. What do you think of this argument that women hinder communication in the home by talking too much? I’m not actually sure yet what I think of it! Do we need to spend more time thinking through what we actually want to say before we say it?

Discussion Questions

1.      (Pray Psalm 34 together).

2.      I’ve often heard the complaint that “people these days” aren’t as good at communicating and talking with each other as we could be. Do you think it’s true? Do you think most people have good, medium, or poor communication skills when it comes to talking with fellow-citizens in the public sphere? What about talking with friends and family? What obstacles make good communication harder for most of us?


3.      When we hear people saying that good communication is key to marriage, what do you think most people picture? What do we generally think good communication in marriage should look like? How do you think women generally try to improve marital communication? Are there any weaknesses or limitations to this cultural perception?


4.      In the first article, “Create a Culture Where Difficult Conversations Aren’t So Hard,” Jim Whitehurst talks about being amazed that people would much rather hear about their company’s weaknesses and problems from an outside consultant than from each other.

a.       Similarly, a lot of people don’t want to hear about their personal weaknesses—or be given suggestions for fixing those—from their own family (perhaps particularly from our own husbands or mothers!). Is this just human nature, or does it suggest there is a weakness in our a family’s communication culture?

b.      Are there people in your life you feel safer receiving feedback from than others? What makes the difference?


5.      Whitehurst says leaders need to express appreciation, open up, and be inclusive early and often. Do you think all of these could apply to marriage? Friendship? Politics? How can we show more appreciation (both verbal and non-verbal) to the people in our lives? Is there a danger that this kind of appreciation might feel manipulative? What is the difference between trying to compliment folks into compliance and becoming the kind of person who is more grateful and appreciative?


6.      In his article about the book Crucial Conversations, John Berardi says that in the past he didn’t prepare for tough conversations in the right way. He says, 

“I realized that I was spending far too much time blaming others, and far too little time searching for the role I might be playing in our difficulties.

“For example, previously, leading up to difficult conversations, I’d obsess over what the other person was doing, what they were like, what they might say in response to my words, and how I would ‘counter’ their arguments.

In doing this, I was trying to force things to go my way.”

What do you think of the idea that when we need to talk to someone else about a change or a problem, we shouldn’t be trying to “force things” to go our own way? Can we reconcile believing we are right about something with going into a conversation with an open mind?

7.      What do you think of the idea of the “shared pool of information/meaning?” Is this something that’s helpful when it comes to a disagreement in marriage?


8.      “Most often, the goal you want is to find a mutually beneficial solution that strengthens your relationship with the other person.” Thoughts?


9.      Any other comments on the Crucial Conversations article?


10.  What is your reaction to the piece by Suzanne Venker—in particular, the line that, “The less you say, the more your husband will hear you?” (Are people more likely to listen to our advice if we wait to share it until we are asked?).


11.  When we talk about communication, especially in marriage, we tend to envision sharing our feelings. How much do you think good communication requires open, unfiltered spilling of our feelings, vs. carefully thought-out and disciplined conversation? Do we need both? How can we prevent our feelings from taking over (or even shutting down) the conversation?


12.  What are other ways we can organize, discipline, or otherwise improve the quality of our ability to communicate?


13.  Any personal communication challenges in your life? Thoughts on ways you’d like to improve or change?

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