If we consider the time we spend communicating with others, by far the largest proportion of time is spent in what we refer to as verbal communications; that is talking with each other. We use it to pass the time of day, show concern for others, convey information, illicit information by asking questions, envision and encourage others, and a whole lot more. So we will now concentrate on verbal communications.

Defeating the Forces of Confusion

As we have just seen there are so many forces at play when we seek to communicate with another person that it is a wonder that we manage to communicate at all. It should therefore be no surprise when miscommunication occurs, but so often we do not anticipate it and we take few, if any steps to minimise the risk, seeking to assure ourselves of success.

But alone the talker cannot succeed. They need the help of the listener if there is to be any chance of successful communications ever occurring. Thus it has been said:

“Speech is a joint game between the talker and the listener against the forces of confusion. Unless both make the effort, interpersonal communication is quite hopeless.”

This makes communication a critical issue for you as a Christ-centred servant leader. If you are unable to communicate effectively with others, especially those whom you lead, how will you enable them to achieve their full potential? How will your team members ever be able to collaborate effectively and reap the rewards of being a highly effective team? How will you inspire them with the vision that leads to the destination of their journey?

The aim of this lesson is to help you with answers to these questions, so that you might achieve your full potential as a Christ-centred servant leader.

The Irony of Verbal Communications

The irony of that which we think as verbal communications is that words comprise only 7%. Of what, then, does the other 93% consist? According to Dr. Albert Mehrabian 38% of verbal communication is conveyed by tone and inflexion, that is how we say what we say. The remaining 55% comprises our body language, which is about our facial expression and posture.  So we need to watch for body language and even take time to learn about it.

The implication of these statistics is that face-to-face communications is vitally important. Although not always possible it should be our preferred communications mode, especially when sensitive or emotionally related matters are its subject. Documentary communications, especially emails, only deliver words. The horror of communications is text messaging and Twitter, neither of which are as rich a communications method as email, and that is full of issues. We will look at emailing later in this lesson.

It’s not practical to communicate some things by speech because they are too complex, involved or need a permanent record, so they must be transmitted in documentary forms. Even then, this is best supplemented by spoken communications, preferably face-to-face. Careful choice of communications method is required.

As an example of the importance of tone and inflexion, in English there are multifunctional words (such as ‘nice’) whose meaning can be completely reversed by how we say them. Dependent upon these non-verbal cues ‘nice’ can mean that something is really very pleasant or the exact opposite not very pleasant at all. Tone, Inflexion, expression and posture are all important in choosing the correct meaning.

The speaker’s and the listener’s body language, their posture and expression, is also very important. We won’t be spending much time addressing these aspects of verbal communication but would recommend that you study this separately. There are many books and web-sites that consider body language.

Face-to-face meetings also provide opportunity to repeat things and respond to puzzled looks. Both of which are important aids to achieving understanding.

Mind Time

Another important factor in verbal communications is what we do with our minds while we are listening.

In English we normally speak at rate of between 100 and 150 words per minute. Now studies show that we process what we hear at a rate of between 600 and 700 words per minute. So a listener is normally only using around 20% to 25% of his processing capacity to listen to the words that have been spoken. So, here is the question: What do we do with the other 75% to 80%? The equivalent of up to 600 words per minute.

Well, we get distracted by things around us, we think up our reply, we get bored and think of other things, word association sends our thoughts somewhere else, we think through options triggered by what we hear, and a whole host of other things.

It’s important for us to keep focused on what is being said otherwise we will miss something and may be not even notice.

Responsible Communications

From what we have seen it is plain that effective communications is not the responsibility of the listener or the speaker alone. It is a partnership between them, each having to play their role in order to ensure that understanding has been achieved, so that the listener can take whatever steps are necessary in response. Only then can both achieve their full potential. This requires each to be concerned about and focus on the other person; a central characteristic of the Christ-centred servant heart.

So as a Christ-centred servant leader we need to take responsibility to ensure that understanding is achieved. Similarly we need to encourage those we lead to take the same responsibility both for themselves and the other person they are in dialogue with. This we call this Responsible Communications and it has two aspects:

  • The Listener takes responsibility to ensure that they have understood what the Speaker was trying to say to them; that is, the thoughts he wanted to convey.
  • The Speaker takes responsibility to ensure that the Listener has actually understood what they were trying to convey.


It’s a combined responsibility and both parties must engage collaboratively with each other to ensure that understanding has been achieved.  Only then has the communication been successful.

If the Speaker is concerned that the Listener can achieve their full potential then he must do all he can to ensure that the Listener has properly understood what was being said. Likewise, if the Listener is concerned that the Speaker can achieve their full potential then he must do all he can to ensure that the Speaker has really communicated what he meant. Only when understanding has been achieved will the communication be successful. Focus on and concern for the other person is the key. This why effective communications is a partnership.

As we go on through this lesson we will unpack the concepts of Responsible Listening and Responsible Speaking.