There’s a secret every missionary learns. It’s a super-awesome-secret that the best missionaries figure out pretty early on their missions–but most missionaries learn this secret through hard times, big trials, and rough patches. And I’m sure you’d prefer avoiding them. (You really would, I’ve been there).
Before I left on my mission I didn’t really get this. I thought I was a pro because I’d grown up with brothers and sisters and I was the oldest! But until I’d lived with someone (and I don’t mean a one night sleepover with a few friends), I just didn’t get it.
So what is this one must-know secret every missionary should master before entering the mission field?
It’s actually really simple: companionship is all about communication—including missionary companions.
In this day of digital discussion, we’ve all found a way of communicating with people we’d rather not talk to face-to-face. We reply six hours later and give them the one-liner private message on Facebook, or in a text, or on iMessageor Viber.
But what do you do when this person is standing right in front of you? What happens when they do something you don’t agree with or like? What if they really irritate you? Like a companion who walks really slow, never lets you talk, makes you consistently late, or drinks that refreshing can of ice cold ginger ale you were saving in the back of the fridge as remedy for a bad day.
You can’t just “block” them, hide them from your timeline, or “thumbs down” their activities. It’s all face-to-face and sometimes that can be hard. Without talking, these negative feelings towards your companion can churn up and leave you without the spirit.
So, what’s the trick to better communication? Here are some tips to help you learn how to avoid some simple communication problems in the mission field, at home, or anywhere:
1 – Seek to Understand
First try and understand that your companion might not have been brought up the same way as you and that they might do things differently to attain the same results. My mission president always told me. “Take the best and leave the rest.” Their culture, language and food maybe different than yours. It’s just different, not wrong. Appreciate their differences and try to learn from them.
2 – Talk openly (Like the white handbook states)
No one can read minds—set an expectation early in the companionship to share openly. When things are going well, say something. When things are not, say something. Say in the moment when you’re not happy. Have you ever been irritated by someone clicking a pen non-stop? It’s simple to fix, but often we just let that irritation it build up. Also, tell or thank your companion in the moment when they do something productive, kind, or have a great idea.
But remember: just because you’re trying to communicate doesn’t make it okay to be rude. Tell your companion in the nicest way that what they are doing is annoying, destructive, disobedient, or just irritating. Strive to be Christ-like in your communications.
3 – Take a Companionship Inventory
At the end of Chapter 8 in Preach My Gospel, there’s a step in weekly planning that is called the Companionship Inventory. This is where you speak openly about how you feel and make goals. Now, mission companions are not strictly a “couple,” and a lot of the time you wouldn’t pick your companions to be your best buddies back home.
However, you do have to invest time, energy, and communication to make it work. A companionship inventory is a perfect moment to just lift the bonnet and assess how things are running in your companionship.
Preach My Gospel suggests companionship inventory starts like this: “Discuss the strength of your relationship with your companion. Discuss any challenges that may be keeping your companionship from working in unity or from being obedient. Resolve conflicts.”
I would suggest, rather than every week, do companionship inventory once a night after planning for only a minute or two. Just to touch base and then move on the same page.
4- Use Actions More Than Words
Speaking is just 20% of communication. If you and your companion are not close then you won’t work well together. (Notice: I didn’t say “best friends”—that might be an unrealistic expectation.) So, acts of kindness and
courtesy go a long way in showing someone that you are trying to make it work. It won’t be easy with everyone but it is possible. Pride is the enemy of a fully functioning, productive companionship. Determining who’s right and who’s wrong won’t help you to teach people the gospel.
So, a quick recap.
Understand (their background)
Talk Openly (frequently)
Do a Companionship Inventory (every night)
Take Action (do stuff for them)
Act, pray, and expect. Do your best and you’ll be fine. Remember, the strength of your companionship will determine it’s affectivity.