Failure to Communicate


Going through my files, I came across this conversation between an attorney and an old farmer.
A farmer walked into an attorney’s office want to file for a divorce.
The attorney asked, “May I help you?”
The farmer said, “Yeah, I want to get one of them dayvorces.”
The attorney said, “Well, do you have any grounds?”
The farmer said, “Yeah, I got about 140 acres.”
The attorney said, “No, you don’t understand. Do you have a case?”
The farmer said, “No, I don’t have a Case, but I have a John Deere.”
The attorney said, “No, you don’t understand; I mean do you have a grudge?”
The farmer said, “Yeah, I got a grudge; that’s where I park my John Deere.”
The attorney said, “No sir, I mean do you have a suit?”
The farmer said, “Yes sir, I got a suit; I wear it to church on Sundays.”
The exasperated attorney said, “Well, sir, does your wife beat you up?”
The farmer said, “No sir, we both get up at 4:30.”
Finally, the attorney said, “Okay, let me put it this way: why do you want a divorce?
The farmer replied, “Well, I can never have a meaningful conversation with her.”

The failure to communicate stands behind many of the problems society faces today, as well as those it has struggled with in the past. Sometimes it comes because the speaker cannot get their message or thoughts across in a way people understand. Other problems occur because people will hear things differently than what the speaker conveyed. Sometimes communication fails because either the speaker or listener doesn’t see things “eye to eye.” The words, tone, and expressions used can always affect our communication. When any of these things occur, there can be hurt feelings, turmoil, or significant arguments. Situations such as this primarily happen because we pay attention to only the words and don’t take time or effort to consider how we communicate with our speaking or hearing. 

“I never said she ate my sandwich.” This phrase exemplifies how something can be said in seven different ways and carry a completely different meaning. It all depends on which word one emphasizes. Say the sentence seven times but stress a different word each time, and you’ll see how easy it is for meanings to change.

James wrote, “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” James 1:19-20 (NASB) In other words, take time to pay attention and listen instead of being ready to pounce back without giving thought to what someone says. The writer of Proverbs noted, “A wise man will hear and increase in learning.” 

From a speaking standpoint, we should learn to choose words wisely and make sure we convey our thoughts in a non-confrontational manner. When we listen, we mustn’t listen only to the words but the why and feelings of the one speaking. When we fail to do either, we open things up to miscommunication and possible division. 

In addition, we should be careful when we say something that could be heard by a third party and misconstrued. Remember Fred and Ethel Mertz from the “I Love Lucy” show? The story goes that William Fraley overheard 42-year-old Vivian Vance complain about being married on the show to a man 25 years her senior. This comment caused hard feelings, and they feuded for the rest of their lives. Poor communication can destroy relationships. Bad communication can be misinterpreted and devastating. Hearing without listening can cause unnecessary, divisive situations. 

Each person holds responsibility for how they communicate. Whether we’re the speaker or listener, it’s up to each of us to weigh what we hear or say. Authentic communication between people comes when each side makes an effort to understand the other. 

Paul wrote the church in Ephesus, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment so that it will give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29 (NASB) Again remember James’ words, “Everyone must be quick to hear.” 

Until we learn to communicate with one another both as speakers and listeners, there will remain a disconnect that causes division and mistrust.

Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ


  • You are spot on, clear communication is most important and it needs to enhance relationships.


  • Miscommunication may be the root of many of our social problems. I love the example sentence you used with the 7 words. What a difference a stressed word can make!


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