The purposes of man’s heart are deep waters but a man of understanding will draw them out. Proverbs 20:5
I can’t remember where I first encountered the concept of communication levels, but understanding this has helped me shepherd more skillfully in my family, marriage, and church leadership. I think it can help you too.
We find the seed principle in Proverbs 20:5. In that verse, God’s word tells us that a person’s thoughts are deep down in his heart. A skillful person can draw out the deepest part of a person’s heart. This is an excellent verse for counselor, pastor, or parent as we seek to be faithful disciples of Jesus who are more skillful in interacting with others.
But to do that, we need to understand levels at which we communicate.
The first level of communication is cliché level. Examples include, “How are you?” “I’m fine, how are you?” While we certainly go beyond this for our spouse and children, it is usually where we start with someone we don’t know.
The second level of communication is information level. Most of our verbal communication with our spouse and children is on this level. We find out how they did on test at school or what time their soccer game is. This is the easiest level to have a conversation at.
Unfortunately, too many times this is where the relationship with our family stays. We only talk about information.
The third level of communication is ideas and opinions. At this level we start to find out what our children think about an issue. This level requires more skillful questions and more careful listening. When we have dropped to this third level it is important to notice it and value it.
We might even affirm the sharing with us even when we disagree, “Thank you for being willing to share what you really think with me.” Rather than lecturing teens, it is good (and scary) to ask what they think about a topic.
The fourth level of communication is feelings and values. Younger children easily communicate their fears. However, as our children get older often that openness disappears.
As shepherds in both family and church, we want to be a safe place for a person to tell us what they are feeling at the moment. When a child opens their heart to this level we need to take note and listen carefully.
The fifth level is transparency and confession. This last level seems to overlap with the previous level but might also include true confession about oneself and short comings. Perhaps this is best seen in a godly marriage where each party is fully known and accepted by the other. Again, when someone shares their deepest part with us, we want to realize it and acknowledge it.
Closing the Door/Closing the Well
While this proverb emphasizes the role of skillful questioning to draw a person out, another Scripture makes clear that this is not the only component there is.
The other party can “put up walls” or, as Paul implies, “close off their heart.”
Look at what he writes the Corinthians, “We have spoken freely to you Corinthians, and opened our hearts to you. We are not withholding affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange – I speak to my children – open wide your hearts also” (2 Cor 6;11-13).
Paul was seeking to draw out the Corinthians but they had closed him off. So even as the wise parent realizes the need to grow in skillful communication, Scripture makes clear that the other party can wall off their heart.
A skillful shepherd will be aware of the level of communication and trust in a conversation. In addition, he or she will seek to lovingly ask good questions to draw out the deeper issues of life. Often that answer will benefit the questioner. And sometimes the very articulation helps the responder.
You can become a more skillful communicator with your children, your spouse, and your church!