Review by Jim Anderson
I remember my Speech Class in Bible College — never did I dread such a class. That was, until we came to the point where we discussed the art of communication, a discussion that allowed me to come away feeling like I was a good communicator. I learned to listen well, make eye contact, and use body language that was affirming. I received an A in that class and immediately ranked it as one of my favorite classes that year. But that was 35 years ago, and much about communication has changed. We no longer live in an age where the majority of communication takes place in a face-to-face context. In fact, with the advent of social media, texting, and emails, communication in the context of each other is rapidly becoming a lost art. More importantly, as we lose the grace of God honoring communication, we lose the very basis by which God grows, disciplines, and matures the body of Christ. Rightly done, communication is essential to all we are as the body of Christ.
This critical subject is addressed in a new book, An Essential Guide to Interpersonal Communication, co-authored by Quentin J. Schultze and Diane M. Badzinski. Designed to be used in an academic setting, it addresses the full scope of interpersonal communication in an age of rapidly changing technologies. The authors state:
“We have written this book to help people practice the enduring essentials of interpersonal communication in the age of social media and through the lens of Christian wisdom. Our book is a practical and inspiring guide to being a faithful as well as an effective communicator in today’s multi media world” (x).
The book, a short 8 chapters and 127 pages, utilizes a theme to guide the reader through each chapter. Each theme is meant to offer both admonishment to change poor habits of communication and encouragement to fulfill and improve in areas where we may already be strong. The book is full of keen insights on the contemporary state of communication.
Two chapters stood out as especially beneficial to me as I worked my way through this book.
Chapter two, entitled “Listen Attentively,” drives home the point that very often, lost in the foray of modern technology, we have the misguided belief that with all of our modes of communication, we are communicating at a high level today. Nothing could be further from the truth. According to Schultze and Badzinski, the most important element of communication is listening. They point out that listening to both God and neighbor are critical to all of communal life. They write:
“When we are committed to listening, there is hope for our relationships. When we stop listening we cease paying attention to both God and neighbor, our relationships wither and die” (17).
Of course, if this is true, the majority of communication taking place today via email, texting and Facebook, all lack the most critical element of communication — listening.
But that’s not all. Listening in its most basic form is something that any animal can do. There is more to listening than acknowledging that you simply hear what is being said. Perhaps the most important task of the listener is to listen with “intent.” The most beneficial element of true communication is listening with the intent to understand. Far too often we listen only to be done with the conversation, or we listen waiting for a chance to speak. True listening occurs when we unselfishly lay aside all distractions and listen with the intent of understanding what is being said. Schultze makes the point well when he quotes Stephen Covey.
Single-Task vs Multi-Task
Another beneficial chapter was found in chapter three, which focuses on the theme of “Single-Task.” In today’s world, the general consensus is that the more you do, the more effective you are. Multi-tasking is the way to go. With the plethora of new technologies, most people feel that they are more connected communally than ever before. Once again, perception falls short of reality. The authors point out that, in truth, rather than creating deeper relationships, modern technology has created a deep chasm in the meaningful relationships we were created for. Intimacy is lacking. They write:
“The jury is in. Multi-tasking is a myth. No one can really do it well. When we think we’re multi-tasking, we’re actually shifting back and forth from one activity to another without closely concentrating on any one of them” (26).
They go on to say that:
“We overly multi-task because we wrongly equate mere transmission with communication” (28).
The final point in this chapter is obvious. None of the modern-day modes of communication can replace the one way that God intended — face-to-face dialogue with the intent of listening to understand what the other person is trying to say.
The remaining chapters delve into a varying array of contemporary issues regarding communication, all of which I found beneficial. If I had one disappointment with the book, it would be its lack of an exegetical nature to the topic of communication. Scripture has much to say about how we listen. In a sense, listening right is a bridge between the good news of the gospel and faith. The authors could have brought a much-needed biblical balance to the subject, and I sure wish they had.
In conclusion, this book proved to be very insightful. I loved how it addressed the issue of communication in the context of contemporary modes of communication. The book is unabashed in its assertions that modern forms of communication, while beneficial, may actually lessen the depth of true intimacy. I found the book to be more than just an academic treatise on the subject. It was personal in its application and broad in its dealing with such an important subject. I think this book would be an excellent addition to any couple or parent who desires to communicate in a more biblical and beneficial way.
In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Baker Academic Publishers for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review