Do you ever wonder why someone "just doesn't get it?” We are all tempted to blame those who don’t understand what we think is obvious. However, in most cases, there is something we can do to communicate better. The best communication is relevant dialogue with those you love and serve. Corporate Turnaround Specialist, Lee Lacocca, says “You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can't get them across, your ideas won't get you anywhere.” This is true when communicating with anyone — whether at work, home, or anywhere you lead. Thankfully, communication is a skill we can learn to improve.
Here are five principles of communication that apply to every scenario:
1. Ask Questions
Asking questions is the first step in good communication. There are many types of questions — including thought stimulating questions, inspirational questions, persuasive questions, and relationship building questions. However, there is one question that is of primary importance in leadership: What do you want? What people want, and how they think they can best fulfill those wants, is the driving force behind all their decisions in life and work. So to lead people well, we must first understand what they want. Jesus knew this well, and that is why the first words Jesus says in the gospel of John is, “What do you want?” (John 1:38). Once you understand what someone wants, an important clarifying question to ask is: What are you willing to risk? If someone really wants something, they will go to great lengths to achieve it, and what someone is willing to sacrifice is indicative of how much someone really wants something.
Useful tip: The best way to start a dialogue is to ask questions. Create a list of good questions to ask your coworkers. The questions should be relevant and curious — trying to better understand the needs and motivation of the person.
Listening is absolutely essential to good communication. We must seek to understand before trying to be understood. Stephen Covey said it this way, “If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Often, we are so eager to make a point that we do not listen. Listening requires patience and love. To gain information we need to ask more questions and make less statements. God’s Word is clear about the importance of listing and understanding. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). David Mathis of Desiring God, gives this insight in his article "Six Lessons in Good Listening",“Becoming a better listener hangs not on one big resolve to do better in a single conversation, but on developing a pattern of little resolves to focus in on particular people in specific moments.” Start with asking those you love and serve questions. This will make a difference in all of your relationships.
Useful Tip: Start by asking those you love and serve if you are a good listener. Then, ask if there's something about them that they'd like you to better understand?”
3. Useful For Good
If we listen well we will prioritize our communication based on what is relevant and useful to those we serve. Zig Ziglar says, “In many ways, effective communication begins with mutual respect, and communication that inspires and encourages others to do their best.” So much of what we say is not necessary and can get in the way of what is most important. God’s Word tells us our speech should be for encouraging one another and building each other up (Ephesians 4:29 and 1 Thessalonians 5:11). This is true for parents raising children and for CEO’s trying to get everyone on board with the company’s mission. You must ask how what you're trying to communicate helps the people you're trying to reach. It's important to craft communication to help others reach their goals, especially when it is constructive feedback. Telling someone they need to improve is ultimately for their benefit, so how that feedback is given and received is crucial. We must always keep the persons interest in mind.
Useful Tip: Before speaking (or writing) ask yourself two questions: “Is this essential?” and “How will this help the person or intended audience?"
When we are convinced our communication is for the good of the person or group we serve, we need to focus on getting the message across effectively, and in as many ways possible. Patrick Lencioni thinks this principle is so important he writes about the discipline in his book The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive. He explains how to over communicate this way, “The first step is to embrace the three most critical practices of effective organizational communication: repetition, simple messages, and multiple mediums. Ironically, these have nothing to do with presentation style or speaking ability.”
- Repetition: Lencioni says that leaders must get used to saying the same things again and again and to do it in different ways. “Whether they are bored with those messages is not the issue; whether employees understand and embrace them is.” This is just as true for raising children and it is for motivating teams.
- Simple Messages: No extra words needed. Keep the concepts simple. Lencioni says, “What they need from leaders is clear, uncomplicated messages about where the organization is going and how they can contribute to getting there.” Too many words and too many concepts will only confuse your friends, family members and teammates."
- Multiple Mediums: There are so many ways to communicate: speeches, letters, emails, texts, phone calls, advertising, social media, articles, podcasts, videos, interpersonal conversations, and perhaps most importantly, good leaders act as examples in action. Of course, all of these are not appropriate in every situation. Some may even be prohibitive to your point. If you are trying to communicate to someone that they should spend less time looking at their smartphone, the best way may be to lead by example by not using yours around them all of the time.
Useful Tip: Think about the way the person or group you are trying to reach best receives and interacts with others. What is the best medium for them and what might be the best way to model the message?
5. Check For Acceptance
You have asked good questions, you listened, you are sure your message is good for the intended recipient(s), you have communicated your message in multiple ways. Now, you need one final question to know if you were heard.
What is the best way to know if you were effective? “Ask them”, says Lencioni, “This is pretty simple. Ask employees if they know why the organization exists, what its fundamental values are, what business it is in, whom its competitors are, what its strategy is, what the major goals for the year are, and who is responsible for doing what at the executive level. Then ask them how their job affects each of these areas. Blank stares and incorrect answers are good signs that more communication is needed.” This is true for personal relationships and parenting too.
Useful Tip: Ask the individuals you lead if they understand what you have communicated about the initiative and their role within it. If it's an entire team, spot check with each person and ask them to repeat back to you what the organization is doing and the specific part they play within it.
A Biblical Case Study
The Apostle Paul is one of the most effective communicators in the history of the world. His epistles to the early church continue to be read by millions of people every day. The book of Acts records many of his live speeches. His visit to Athens opened up the Gospel to the most influential leaders in the world.
In Acts 17 Paul exemplifies five principles:
1. Paul first reasoned with those in Greece as he got to know them — this involved asking questions, listening, and observing — in the synagogues and marketplace day by day.
“So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.”
2. Paul listened with his ears and observed with his eyes what the people and leaders of Athens valued.
“While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
3. Paul understood what they wanted and spoke to them with incredible relevance to help them understand what they need for eternal life.
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship---and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.
4. Paul reinforced and over-communicated.
"'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.' “Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone---an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
5. Paul checked for acknowledgement (and rejection).
When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.” - Acts 17:16-28
Of course, there is much more to learn in Paul's winsome communication, but notice how clearly his speech was based on listening to their needs, applying the message for their benefit, over-communicating the relevant points, and checking for acceptance. Because of this speech and many others like it, we know God and the love of Jesus today. Praise God for how He uses leaders to effectively communicate His Word!