Two Skills Essential to Clear Communication

The Passing of Sonny the Hampster. A true story.

The Passing of Sonny the Hamster. A true story.

I have taught platform communication skills to thousands of ministry professionals and corporate executives. But, many times I fail miserably when it comes to interpersonal communication.

This sad but true (and very funny) story illustrates two important skills that can make the difference between success and failure when it comes to family communication.

Jake, an eight-year-old boy, went to his bedroom to play with his hamster, Sonny, only to find the little creature lying on the bottom of its cage, all four feet straight up in the air. Jake was unable to awaken his pet. He raced down the stairs to the first floor where his mother, Janet, was busy preparing a birthday party for Jake’s brother.

“Mommy, mommy,” Jake said, catching his breath. “Sonny’s not breathing.”

“What is it, Hon?” she asked, half listening.

Jake spun in circles trying to get his mother to understand. “I said, he’s not breathing, mommy! You’ve got to come RIGHT NOW . . . or he’ll D-I-E!!”

Too busy to listen to what her son was saying, Jake’s mom said, “Listen, sweetie. Mommy’s really busy right now, call Daddy. See what he thinks you should do, okay?”

She dialed her husband’s cell number and handed Jake the phone. Jake staggered into the next room, his whole body tense with anxiety.

Across town, his dad, Paige, answered on the third ring, but the connection wasn’t particularly good. It was at this point that the evil phone gremlin joined hands with the miscommunication fairy, setting the stage for one serious mix-up.

Jake blurted out, “Dad, it’s Sonny–I think Sonny’s dead. I . . . I don’t think Sonny’s breathing.”

Paige, also to busy to really listen thought his son had said, “Dad, it’s Mommy–I think Mommy’s dead. I . . . I don’t think Mommy’s breathing.” Paige fought to stifle the alarms ringing in his head. He told his son as calmly as he could, “Listen to me, Jake. Go back and shake her. Hurry.”

The eight-year-old put the phone down, ran back to the hamster’s cage, shook the cage back and forth throwing the limp lump of fur inside from side to side, then he tore back to the phone and reported to his dad. “I still think he’s dead.”

Still thinking Jake was talking about his wife, Now Paige was on full alert “Listen, son, stay calm and stay right there. I’m going to call 911. Don’t worry, I’ll be right home.” Paige hung up, dialed 911 and reported the emergency–his wife was not breathing and might just be dead.

The pastor’s wife who was in the room overheard the call and was devastated that her friend might be hurt. Judy dialed the prayer chain at church. She reported the tragic news that Janet wasn’t breathing and most likely was dead.

Within minutes, FOUR prayer chains all across the town of St. Cloud, Minnesota jumped into action, notifying hundreds of people to uphold the family in prayer.

Stay with me here, it gets even better.

Back at the house, still busy preparing for the party, Janet decided to check on Jake. She found the boy, sitting crossed-legged in the corner of his bedroom, cradling the dead hamster in his lap. “What did your dad tell you to do?” she asked, taking a seat next to her son.

Jake didn’t look up. With a sniffle, he said, “Dad’s on the way home . . . I think he called 911, too.”

Janet wondered why her husband would call 911 over the death of a hamster. An instant later, the distinct, though distant, wail of an approaching siren provided evidence to the contrary. It suddenly dawned on Janet what had happened.

She grabbed the phone, called the 911 dispatcher and explained the communication error. Her next call was to Paige, who rejoiced she was alive–and the hamster dead, not the other way around.

Later that evening, with the hamster lain to rest, the ambulance back at the base, and the four church prayer chains celebrating the good news, Paige and Janet were able to laugh in relief.

This is my favorite part of the story.

After all the commotion and relief there was still one more loose end that had to be wrapped up. As any responsible parent would want to do, Paige and Janet knew they needed to help their son cope with the loss of Sonny. He asked Jake, “Son, aren’t you at least glad it was the hamster who died and not your mom?”

Jake considered that for a long minute. He folded his arms together, lips curled into a pout, then said to his mom, “I love you both the same.”

Paige and Janet don’t have all the answers but they are good parents. They have learned it’s important to communicate with clarity and love. They are learning two skills that lead to clear communication

  1. Listen carefully
  2. Choose your words carefully

Listening carefully goes a long way to smooth this bumpy journey called life. Even then, it can require extra effort choose words that will be sensitive to the hears of those we love. The Bible puts it this way:

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

And just in case Paige and Janet thought that they had become the ultimate parents, their son had reminded them that they were not the top squirrels in the tree. They had a special place in their son’s heart.

Right next to the hamster.

Have you ever experience a huge miscommunication? I would love to hear your story.[reminder]


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