I believe healthy communication is the key to growing a healthy, mature community. Good communication is also the best weapon against the enemy of our souls. And good communication proves we are the adults in the room, and not just children with adult bodies.
As a leader, it becomes a high priority for me to develop a habit of communicating in ways that foster grace, sensitivity and understanding. If I learn to do this, those around me will not only respond with good will, but will hopefully adopt those habits and pass them along in their circles.
If I want to make the practice of healthy communication a priority this year in my church, home or organization, here are six things I’d do to get started:
1. Say more. What we think of as “over-communicating” is likely the amount needed for someone to get it. Never mind what you think they need; start with what they actually need.
Are your meetings under-attended? Do people in your church have a habit of saying, “I didn’t hear about that”? Even after you’ve said it more than once? It is possible they are dumb, but more likely they are just good people who haven’t heard.
Try this assumption: Assume people have a lot going on in their lives, a lot more than just the stuff you want them to pay attention to. And with that assumption in mind, give your folks the benefit of more information than you might think they need. I guarantee it will build good will. People will be grateful for your sensitivity to their over-crowded lives.
2. Affirm more. I learned this from Paul. You’ll notice that in most of Paul’s letters, even those where he’s obviously frustrated, he begins with encouragement. From that biblical pattern, I glean that I need to do as my mother taught and find something nice to say before I can say anything at all.
Start every conversation with affirmation. It helps right-size expectations, so the gap between what people are doing and what we think they ought to be doing is less noticeable.
3. Blast less. When I assume the worst and blast someone with a lot of negative words, I erode trust. Send enough email bombs and I’ll produce someone who cringes when they see my name pop up on the screen. Yell enough and I’ll produce kids with a defensive crouch.
Here’s the decision I’ve made where corporate communication is concerned: I will not send any emotion by email/ text/ facebook message/ twitter that isn’t positive and affirming and I will not communicate negativity in public (which includes facebook and twitter). It just doesn’t seem like a mature or healthy way to get a message across.
(Note to self and anyone else who needs a reminder: I will also not allow myself to react out of my woundedness in meetings. When I feel defensive, I will let God take care of my reputation and allow only the adult in me to respond.)
4. Check yourself. If you’re prone to sending angry emails, make a rule about that. Decide that any negative email must wait 24 hours before it is sent (the angrier you are, the more time you should take). Or find someone who will agree to read anything you send before you send it — someone who won’t mind being honest. Or write out what you’d like to say, then mail it to yourself and see how it feels when you’re reading it as if written to you.
Then, delete your email, pick up the phone and make time for a face to face conversation (I can’t overemphasize the value of person-to-person communication), which leads to the next idea …
5. Ask more questions. This ends up being a Kingdom-building habit. Far too late in life, I’ve learned that most of my frustration and miscommunication is a product of not asking enough questions before jumping to conclusions. Remember: The Kingdom of Heaven is big, hopeful and focused not on me and my feelings, but on God and His Kingdom. When I invest the time it takes to ask clarifying questions, seeking not so much “to be understood as to understand” (a prayer of St. Francis), I am reaching for God’s vision, God’s perspective, God’s Kingdom.
6. Assume the best. Maybe I don’t know all there is to know about the intentions even of those closest to me. Perhaps I would do better to assume the best in them, to assume their intentions are good and their hearts are for me, not against me, even if their approach to a situation is not what I’d have chosen. I can accomplish this attitude if I keep a “Kingdom of Heaven” perspective – big, hopeful and focused on God. If I’m willing to begin back where this piece begins — by saying more, affirming more, blasting less and asking more questions before making assumptions — I set myself up to assume the good intentions of those around me, believing they care as much as I do about what really matters.
The bottom line is that what Paul teaches is never more relevant than when we are talking about communication: take every thought captive, and grow up in every way into Him who is our Head. If I can get that right, then those around me will be more likely to get it right, and the ripples will extend to their circles of influence. And on it goes.
The Kingdom of Heaven works like that.