Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Importance of Good Communication

I sometimes have the opportunity to speak about "The Three 'C's of Healthy Relationships; Communication, Caring and Commitment." It is through good communication, invloving equal amounts of listening and talking, that we learn who the other person really is. If the communication part is done well, we can then begin to express care for the real person, instead of our projections or assumptions about who they are. Out of this good communication and sincere caring grows a commitment to the relationship.

The communication part always has to come first, though. Without it, we are attempting to have a relationship with what may turn out to be nothing more than our own mental construct of who the other person is and what they're all about.

Now, this communication can happen in a lot of different ways. My stepmother was from Greece. She had nine brothers and sisters. Their idea of a "good time" was to sit around the large table in Uncle Cosmos' kitchen, sip wine, nibble cheese, and argue. These were loud, passionate arguments, on every topic you could imagine. But, when it came time to go home, everyone would warmly embrace, and comment on how much they enjoyed the evening. A form of communication? I think so.

I know another couple who would never dream of arguing in public. But they would periodically beckon one another into the next room and close the door. Only the expressions on their faces when they emerged some time later gave any clue that there had been some serious communication going on behind that closed door.

Some couples use "talk times." This is a method by which a set amount of time (say, 20 minutes) will be set aside to talk about one issue, and one issue only. Tangents are verboten. The advantage is that the partner who is more verbal will have a set time when an issue will be discussed, and the less verbal partner will have a time certain at which the words will end. If both happen to be verbal, the time might be expanded; if less so, it might be shrunk.

Whatever method is used, the important thing is that effective communication happens, intentionally. Without it, meaningful caring and long lasting commitments don't have a chance.

It doesn't take much imagination to expand this idea beyond the realm of a couple trying to build a healthy relationship. Isn't communication important in our relationship with God? Isn't it equally important in building relationships with our neighbors?

So, expanding this to include various groups, rather than just individuals (do individuals exist? Another topic for another time, perhaps), consider the most recent attempt of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion at more transparency and better communication:

...Douglas said the committee, through the support of the Anglican Communion Office, "has pursued a course of transparency and open communication, which I think is vitally important if trust and understanding across the communion is to be engendered. We cannot minimize what a significant move that is in the right direction for our health as a communion."

The Anglican Communion Office's communications department, under the directorship of Jan Butter, has issued two daily bulletins during the meeting and more are expected. This is the first time the committee's proceedings have been communicated in this way...
So, was this attempt at "open communication" immediately successful? Not exactly.

The second daily bulletin contained this bit of information:

...A proposal from Dato' Stanley Isaacs that The Episcopal Church be separated from the Communion led to a discussion in which Committee members acknowledged the anxieties felt in parts of the Communion about sexuality issues. Nevertheless, the overwhelming opinion was that separation would inhibit dialogue on this and other issues among Communion Provinces, dioceses and individuals and would therefore be unhelpful. The proposal was not passed, and the group agreed to defer further discussion until progress on Continuing Indaba project had been considered...
Are there items in that statement that bother you? Various aspects certainly troubled me. And, apparently, they troubled Executive Council member Mark Harris:

...So a closed meeting of the Standing Committee can consider a proposal to separate The Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion, supposedly with the understanding that such a proposal was in order. It failed not because the power of the Standing Committee was challenged, but because it was felt to be premature and the Standing Committee awaited further input.

Given this, why in the world would TEC, or any other church in the Anglican Communion, believe the Standing Committee to be a servant of unity in the Anglican Communion...
Given only this limited communication of what happened at the Standing Committee meeting, I was inclined to agree with Mark.

But, then on day four of the meeting, we are offered this briefing, which communicates what transpired in in the initial discussion, and later dicusssions, in more detail:

...As agreed, the Committee revisited Saturday's discussion. Dato' Stanley Isaacs delivered a frank and passionate presentation about the distress felt by some parts of the Communion about The Episcopal Church's decision to breach one of the moratoria. He concluded by proposing that rights to participate in discussions of matters of faith and order at the Standing Committee and the ACC be withdrawn from The Episcopal Church.

In the subsequent discussion Archbishop Philip Aspinall reiterated that the Standing Committee did not have the power to undertake such an action...

...the Standing Committee agreed a resolution that it: "regrets ongoing breaches of the three moratoria that continue to strain the life of the Anglican Communion; regrets the consequential resignations of members of the Standing Committee which diminish our common life and work on behalf of the ACC and the Primates' Meeting; recognises that the ACC and the Primates' Meeting are the appropriate bodies to consider these matters further."
Well, this is quite different, isn't it? Note that Mark acknowledges that the fuller "briefing" from day four does take some of the sting out of what might have been assumed from the day two briefing. However, there remains a very real concern with this new thing called the "Standing Committee" being a bit top heavy when it comes to Primates. In my opinion, the last thing in the world such a body attempting to oversee things Anglican needs are more purple shirts, let alone purple shirts who see themselves as "arch purple."

So, this new thing we call the Standing Committee is taking the brave step of being more transparent, and striving to do a better job at communicating. And, out of the gate, they may have taken a stumble or two. I, for one, give them credit for recognizing how important effective communication is. However, I do indeed hope that they also recognize that effective communication involves a two way conversation. They have spoken. Now, are they willing to listen?


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