What does the Bible say about the proper way to communicate in our modern email and social media saturated world? How can truth, kindness, necessity, and clarity help you avoid a communication disaster?
Bible Gateway interviewed Dr. Emerson Eggerichs(@loverespectinc) about his book, Before You Hit Send: Preventing Headache & Heartache (Thomas Nelson, 2017).
What problems are you addressing in this book?
Dr. Emerson Eggerichs: In Before You Hit Send, I address the vital importance of thinking about four words before communicating. To ignore one of these words and then hit send is not a good idea.
When I’ve neglected just one of these, usually the person listening to me or reading what I’ve written gets the wrong idea, not the right idea.
By the way, after surveying 1250 people, we found that each of these four words is distinct and essential. In other words, like four legs of a table, each is a standalone item and indispensable. In neglecting one, the communication table tilts or collapses.
Using these four words as a checklist has saved me both headache and heartache. Like a pilot who goes through a checklist in the cockpit prior to departure, my four points help me before I enter any realm of communication.
Don’t we all wish to be credible and effective communicators? Even at a young age, we’re all taught to think before we speak. These four concepts not only cause us to think first, but think wisely.
For instance, one of the four words is TRUE. I ask myself: Is this communication true? Is what I’m about to say the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me God?
Obviously, when we communicate something untrue, and the person listening learns it’s untrue, though all else that we say may be true, that person will wonder about our reliability and integrity. Just as a little leaven leavens the whole, a little lie poisons our reputation. My credibility as a communicator drops a notch; or several.
Why would we say what is untrue? In the book I provide 20 reasons under each of the four concepts that show why even people of goodwill are tempted to compromise. With this knowledge I seek to provide an impetus to stop before we cross a line that later we regret.
What’s an example of a goodwilled person compromising God’s will on speaking the truth? A wife asks her husband how much he spent on the tools he just bought. He knows he should tell her the whole truth, but he also knows he went over the agreed-upon budget. However, he doesn’t like marital conflict. He fears it. He doesn’t like to upset his wife. He wants to keep the peace so he hedges on the truth. From his lips he hears himself saying he spent $100 when he knows he spent $300. He hit send, so to speak, on a message to his wife that wasn’t the whole truth.
Why did this husband hedge on the truth? He was FEARFUL of the consequence of the truth, which to him is marital conflict. Peacemaker at heart, he compromises the truth. Of course, long term this makes things worse, but in the heat of the moment it seemed to prevent his fears from being realized. This is one of the 20 reasons a person would compromise the truth: fearing the consequences of the truth.
Dr. Emerson Eggerichs: Before You Hit Send is driven by the biblical revelation related to these four words. For example, Ephesians 4:25 instructs us to set aside falsehood and speak truth to each other. This should govern all communication.
I point out that God’s first disciplinary action after Pentecost—when the Holy Spirit came to indwell the individual believer—concerned a husband and wife who lied. Ananias and Saphirra lost their lives due to the untruthful communication concerning the price of a piece of property they sold. This disciplinary action served as a clear declaration that we who are indwelt by God himself as his new temple must be people of truth who never knowingly mislead.
We’re to be imitators of God, who “cannot lie” (Ephesians 5:1; Titus 1:2). In the deepest sense our communication as Christ followers reflects what we believe about God.
Briefly unpack “The Golden Rule of Communication” and the Bible verses that support it.
Dr. Emerson Eggerichs: Some ask, “But how do I know for certain what’s the right thing to communicate?” Most often we can know immediately given we act on what Jesus said in Luke 6:31, “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” We know this as the Golden Rule. When it applies to communicating, I need only ask myself, “If the roles were reversed, what would I want this person to say to me?”
Those who refuse to communicate based on the Golden Rule have come up with “reasons” why they’re an exception to the rule. However, in the long run no one is an exception. Jesus said in Matthew 12:36, “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.” We’ll give an account before our audience of one, with whom there are no exceptions, and nothing slips by. For certain, God is not some cosmic killjoy out to hammer us, but our loving Father who reveals that our words matter to him because we matter to him. Most deeply, he wishes to reward us, not shame us.
God cares about our heart, and intends for us to discern that our words evidence the condition of our soul. Jesus said, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matthew 12:34). Figuring out our heart isn’t easy, but our word choice and communication helps us know ourselves. When I always speak what’s true, that too reveals who I am. When I chronically lie, this reveals something about my nature (John 8:44).
What should a person do after sending an email that never should have been sent?
Dr. Emerson Eggerichs: Quickly apologize. We learn this in principle from Jesus who tells us that when another has “something against you. . . . Make friends quickly . . . first be reconciled” (Matthew 5:23-25). In this instance, reconciliation begins by seeking forgiveness for the inappropriate content in the email. Most people are forgiving when humbly asked to forgive. In this process there can be no self-justifying or blaming. The best approach is to take full responsibility for the bad email. Usually this clears the air.
How should a person respond when receiving an email that never should have been sent?
Dr. Emerson Eggerichs: Given the other person intended to be mean, we escalate the conflict when we retaliate in like manner. When hurt, offended, and angry, it’s best to calm down so as to compose a response that’s composed! This is where the checklist of four words best serves us to prevent that escalation and maintain maturity. When all four are checked, the issue at hand can be addressed without all the drama and toxicity.
What’s the relationship between truth and kindness in communication?
Dr. Emerson Eggerichs: These are two of the four axioms on the checklist that ensure sound communication. Is it true? Is it kind? As mentioned, each is distinct. In this instance, one can be true but not kind or one can be kind but untrue. That’s why the Bible tells us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Truth without love is jarring if not cruel. Love without truth is superficial if not wrongly accommodating.
Explain your statement in the book that “honesty doesn’t always pay, but dishonesty always costs.”
Dr. Emerson Eggerichs: Telling the sad truth about a used car may result in no one purchasing the vehicle. Honesty does not always pay. While dishonesty may help sell the car, in the long run it costs your reputation. When the truth comes out, and it usually does, the buyer tells family and friends, “That guy is a liar.” At that juncture dishonesty is far more costly than any amount of money one might have gained by misleading the buyer. Reputation is more important than revenue.
What’s a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Dr. Emerson Eggerichs: Ephesians 5:33. God used this verse to illuminate my heart. There God commands the husband to love the spirit of his wife and a wife to respect the spirit of her husband created in the image of God. However, I discovered a connection. When a wife feels unloved for who she is as a person and a husband feels disrespected for who he is as a human being (we are not talking about respecting evil actions) it can get crazy. The Crazy Cycle says without love she reacts without respect; without respect he reacts without love. Since 1999, we have been helping couples jump off the Crazy Cycle.
Bio: Emerson Eggerichs, PhD, is an internationally known communication expert and author of The New York Times bestseller Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires, the Respect He Desperately Needs. Just as Dr. Eggerichs transformed millions of marital relationships with a biblical understanding of love and respect, he also turned these principles to one of the most important relationships of all in Mother & Son: The Respect Effect. As a communication expert, Emerson has also spoken to groups such as the NFL, NBA, PGA, US Navy SEALs, and members of Congress. He was the senior pastor of Trinity Church in East Lansing, Michigan for almost 20 years. Emerson holds a PhD in child and family ecology from Michigan State University, a BA in biblical studies from Wheaton College, an MA in communications from Wheaton College Graduate School, and an MDiv from the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. He and his wife Sarah have been married since 1973 and have three adult children.