We started by looking at the Bible and saw how God is an honest and straightforward communicator, recognising that he is our model. The Bible is about communications and has a lot to say about communicating. We learned that words are important and must be used wisely because they have a significant impact for better or worse. We saw too, that our words reflect the true nature of our hearts and that a bad heart has bad motives and brings forth bad words. A good heart has good motives and brings forth good words.
The Christ-centred servant leader is one who seeks to live out Christ’s servant heart in their own character, expressing concern that others be the best they can be for God in practical ways. Even with a good heart, filled with the character of Christ, communicating effectively and successfully is a significant challenge. With the best will in the world so many things can go wrong. We saw Professor Wiio’s attempt to highlight that when he formulated his insightful ‘laws’ of communication, which can be summarised as “if communications can wrong they will go wrong”. This means that we must deliberately take steps to increase the likelihood that our attempts at communication will be successful.
We saw barriers to effective communication
We have to overcome the many barriers and filters that interfere with our attempts to convey what we really wanted to convey to another, so that they understand what we really meant. Emotional intelligence is a key skill in seeking to achieve this. We need to be aware of others character and personality, so that we can consider what they may think we say when they hear our words. Similarly we need self-awareness when we seek to hear and process the words they utter. We also need to recognise that these words may not accurately reflect what they wanted to say anyway.
We saw how being a responsible communicator can make communications effective
So we examined the concept of Responsible Communications. That is that both speaker and listener take responsibility together to ensure that the ideas that were intended to be conveyed are actually conveyed and that real understanding has taken place. This is far more than a concept; it requires positive action, on the part of both speaker and listener, in order to achieve this goal of confirmed understanding. Thus we looked at the different skills required for being a Responsible Speaker and a Responsible Listener, working in a collaborative partnership to successfully complete the communication, ensuring that understanding is achieved.
We considered how to make communications effective in meetings
One-to one conversations are hard enough, let alone the many-to-many dialogues encountered in meetings. The basic principles of Responsible Communication apply but there are some extra factors introduced by the meeting scenario. There are some basic rules for setting up and running a meeting which we reviewed. We also looked at De Bono’s Thinking Hats approach to meetings. Especially those that are about finding solutions and making decisions. It’s an immensely practical approach that aligns the thinking of participants. It steps them through the kinds of thinking that are needed by people trying to solve problems and make decisions. It makes room for people’s caution and emotional response for instance, but enables them to be received by the meeting as positive contributions. It allows them to be expressed when the other participants are ready to hear them.
We thought about how to make emails an effective communications channel
Finally we considered email as a communication mechanism, what it is good for and when to use it. Wearing my Black Hat I have to say that Email is dangerous because it has the immediacy of the spoken word but it lacks the rest of the message that is conveyed between speaker and listener. In a face-to-face conversation only 7% of the communication is contained in the words. The other 93% is conveyed by tone and inflection of voice, expression and posture. None of that is conveyed by email. The net result is that an email can have disastrous consequences for the recipient because 93% of the message is missing. No wonder emails can so often cause so many problems!
We saw how mutual concern for the other person can make communications effective
The challenge of this lesson is that to allow our Christ-centred servant hearts work out their concern for others, we have no choice but to improve our communication skills. No one is good enough because the challenges we face in successful communication are unique to each and every situation and each and every attempt to communicate. There are so many barriers and filters that we have to adopt an approach that accounts for them. Even if we successfully communicated with someone yesterday, today is another day. Both our and their situations are different, things may have happened in the meantime that work against successful communication.
As a Christ-centred servant leader the challenge is to allow our concern that others be the best they can be for God, make us committed to ensuring that others successfully understand what we meant to say, and vica versa. It needs us to commit to being Responsible Communicators.
“If you want things to come out the way you think they should, you probably are the best person to improve the chances that they will. By taking responsibility you gain the right to influence the outcome.”
Practice Makes Perfect
Review this lesson and prepare yourself a Responsible Communications prompt card which reminds you of the steps you need to take.
Share what you have learned about Responsible Communication with someone that you trust and practice it with them. Swap roles so you can develop your skills as both a Responsible Speaker and a Responsible Listener.
In the meantime, when speaking with others, think about what they need to understand and work towards them achieving that understanding. Both ask and invite questions to probe understanding.
So, starting today, adopt Responsible Communications strategies in your dealings with other people. Assemble your Responsible Listening and Responsible Speaking action plans and put them into motion. Monitor progress using the questionnaires.
Take time out to read Edward de Bono’s book on Thinking Hats.
Plan some smaller meetings that use the Thinking Hats approach and evaluate them. You will have to instruct people in how to use the hats. Use the Crib Sheet in Appendix 1 to do this and as a guide for the meeting.
If you haven’t done so yet, browse Proverbs chapters 8 to 18 and 25 & 26 and look to see what you can learn from the Wisdom of Solomon about speaking and listening? Ponder also how this might apply to other modes of communication as well. Having done that, compare yourself to what you have learned and see if you can identify at least 3 ways in which you can improve.
Further investigate and develop your active listening skills.
Similarly learn about body language and develop your skills in this area.
Regarding communication in cross-cultural settings, Cross Cultural Communication A Visual Approach by Richard D Lewis, Transcreen Publications – ISBN 095343981X is a recommended read.
The Next Module is entitled Leading the Journey. Leadership is about leading people on a journey to achieve something. It’s about envisioning as well as enabling and, because vision is about achieving a different outcome, journeys inherently involve change. This module looks at the issue of developing and sharing a vision and leading people through a journey of change.
Grand visions often emerge from the heart but this is not true of all visions. For instance a small team may be confronted with a problem. At one level the vision is to have solved the problem but problems need solutions. For the team that will resolve the issue, the actual solution is the vision. Their journey is to implement the solution they envisage. So, this module also spends some time looking at the very practical issue of creative thinking; the process of finding new and innovative solutions and alternatives.
MacMillan, P.,The Performance Factor – Unlocking the Secrets of Teamwork (2001), Broadman and Holman
Hoppe, Michael H., Active Listening: Improve Your Ability to Listen and Lead (An Ideas Into Action Guidebook), Center for Creative Leadership
D Bono, E., Six Thinking Hats® Penguin
Lewis, Richard D., Cross Cultural Communication A visual Approach, Transcreen Publications
Axtell, Roger E., Gestures: The Do’s and Taboos of Body Language Around the World, John Wiley and Sons Inc.
Storti, Craig, Figuring Foreigners Out: A Practical Guide, Intercultural Press