One of the biggest frustrations about coming home is trying to explain your experiences to your family and friends. What makes it particularly frustrating is that they understand the words you are saying, but they don’t seem to understand your meaning behind these words. People who once seemed close and intimate can often now seem distant and disinterested by what you have to say. At a time when you most want to talk about deep and meaningful issues that have suddenly been raised in your life, those whom you most want to communicate with seem unable to do so satisfactorily.
Tips for communicating with others
The goal of communication is to get ideas across to others. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22 that he’s prepared to flex to make it easier for his audience to understand Christ. Paul doesn’t expect a Greek to become a Jew to understand Christ. In the same way we need to flex in order to communicate accurately with those who haven’t experienced what we have. They haven’t been where we have, so we have to use language and communication techniques that will make sense to them.
1. Don’t expect too much understanding from those you’re talking to, at least not at first, give them time to come to grips with what you’re saying.
2. To avoid unnecessary confusion take a little time to think things through before you share them with your friends. Tell them that you want to use them as a sounding board and that your ideas are only formative at this stage and may not make sense to them. This takes the pressure off them and helps explain to them the strangeness of what you’re describing.
3. Explain that what you’re trying to communicate to them is difficult and that perhaps at this point you can’t think of the right words to properly communicate with them.
4. Be careful not to make it sound like it’s because of their lack of experience that you can’t communicate with them as this can often offend.
5. Make sure that the way in which you communicate doesn’t sound like you’re trying to make them feel guilty. Always talk in terms of what you’ve learnt and how you have to change.
6. As they have no frame of reference to understand your experience, try to frame them in terms of experiences they can relate to, i.e. past shared experiences in your home country.
7. When communicating with others try not to be critical of the church or of other people and organisations.
The most common question short-termers hear upon return is, “How was your trip?
Some people ask this question as a formality of greeting, others really want to know. Anticipating that people have different levels of interest can help you make friends with that question rather than despise it! One way to prepare for varying degrees of interest is to have answers of varying lengths that can be used appropriately as the question, “How was your trip?” is posed.
The Soundbite Approach
Write a quick 15 second response (approximately 30 words).
The Commercial Approach
Write a 1 minute response which invites the listener to ask for more (approximately 110 words).
The Interested Conversation Approach
Write a five minute response. (Of course, this response needs to anticipate the fact that in normal conversation there is dialogue!)
The Invited Approach
Write an outline for a 20-minute talk and photo presentation that may be solicited from either your campus group or home church. Use lots of brief stories, principles God taught you and what you saw God doing where you were. Avoid stereotyping of the people and culture in which you stayed.