By JoJo Tabares
“For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” -1 Corinthians 9:19-22
I was so excited when I found this scripture because it confirmed for me what I knew to be true about human nature and what I was taught studying for my degree even at a secular college. People LOVE to connect with other people! People find it hard to take direction from those they cannot relate to. This is why God put this verse into His Word. God didn’t make cookie-cutter people. Each is a unique creation and looks at the world differently.
If we do not relate to others, we cannot hope to persuade them to see a movie let alone to accept Christ into their lives. You’ve heard the expression, “People don’t care what you know, til they know that you care.” Well, they can’t know you care until they feel they can relate to you, understand you, and connect with you on a personal level. They need to see themselves in us. They need to be comfortable with us before they will trust us. People need to think that what we say means something in their lives.
This does not mean that we change our message to suit the listener! It simply means we take into account our listener and tailor our delivery. So how do we relate to people? I’m going to share several simple ways to tailor our message so that we relate to our listener. You’ll probably recognize some of these and have use them in the past, perhaps even unconsciously. Here are several ways.
1. We change our method of delivery to suit our listener.
Knowing Aunt Mary (age 97), you know she doesn’t feel comfortable with email and that it’s best to call her on the phone to discuss your concerns for her safety in living alone. You might sense that a face-to-face conversation with Joe would be frustrating and prefer to send him and email telling him to follow up on the Cooper Account. Jesus used parables, children love stories, most people appreciate humor, some relate more to charts and statistics. Find the method of delivery that best suits the unique person with whom you are communicating.
2. We change the words we use.
Let’s go back to Aunt Mary. She’s 97. You probably already know that she wouldn’t understand technical terms or generational slang. In order to persuade her to get some assistance before she falls again and can’t call for help, you’ll need to use words and terms she is more familiar and comfortable with. Words that will persuade because she can relate to them.
3. We change our tone.
Some people appreciate sarcasm; others are repelled by it. Some love the direct approach; Joe feels threatened by it. Sometimes relating to someone is as simple as altering our tone or putting a smile on our face. That changes the entire tone of the message you are trying to convey.
4. We can tailor our examples.
Here comes Aunt Mary again. She doesn’t do much online so it’s not going to mean anything to her if you use an example about spam. Your 5 year old probably has no idea what you are referring to when you talk about a broken record. Someone who has never been to the United States may have a blank stare when you mention Uncle Sam. I actually have an Uncle Sam so maybe they thought I was talking about him. Make sure the examples you give mean something (preferably the SAME something) to the person you are trying to relate to.
5. We can alter our body language.
It’s not polite to point or stare, but sometimes that can make a point. Discern when certain body language would be appropriate, useful, helpful, or contraindicated!
6. We can carefully plan the timing.
While at 3pm we might be ready for a phone chat, my daughter (currently in Russia half way around the world) would be sleeping. Timing is everything! Make sure you aren’t catching someone at a bad time. Have they just lost a loved one? Now might not be the best time to confront them about the $5 they owe you. Has your husband just come home from a tough day at work? You might want to wait a few hours for him to unwind before asking him to fix the garbage disposal.
7. We can share more of ourselves.
It may feel more like an interrogation than a discussion if we ask our new neighbor all about their successful online business. Share a little of yourself in the discussion and see how helpful you might be to them instead of grilling them for success tips.
8. We can ask about them.
On the other hand, we may sound like we’re tooting our own horn if we monopolize the entire conversation with stories about how awesome we are! That same neighbor might wonder if you are applying for a job. Instead of plowing through a speech about how Bob should vote for Jim Smith, you might ask how he feels about Jim. Find out what he thinks and then have an old fashioned discussion where you share ideas.
Can we go too far in trying to relate to someone? Indeed, I believe we can. What is too far? I believe that line is crossed at different points for each of us. Just as the people we are communicating with are not cookie-cutter people, so we are as well. While one of us may be perfectly comfortable having a glass of wine with dinner as he relates to a French family where this is customary, another may not feel comfortable drinking at all. Is one wrong and one right? No. Is one or the other more righteous? Not necessarily. We’re not talking about getting drunk here, but for a recovering alcoholic or even someone like myself who chooses not to drink, this would be going too far. Each crosses that line at a different point prompting the Holy Spirit to convict us when we get close. We should listen carefully to it when it speaks.
Whether or not you have used these techniques before and wherever is your threshold, it is important that you make a conscious decision to do so in circumstances when you are in need of relating to others—most especially when you are discussing a topic as important as salvation.
JoJo Tabares holds a degree in Speech Communication, but it is her humorous approach to communication skills which has made her a highly sought-after Christian speaker and writer. Her articles appear in homeschool publications, such as Homeschool Enrichment Magazine and The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, which also endorses her Say What You Mean curricula. You can also find JoJo on web sites such as Crosswalk.com and Dr.Laura.com. For more information on communication FUNdamentals and Christian-based communication skills for the whole family, please visit http://www.ArtofEloquence.com
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