Over the years I've done a lot of communicating:
- I've been married for 18+ years.
- I've been a parent for almost 15 years.
- I've been working on staffs with many different personality types for the better part of 20 years.
- I've served under people, with people, and "over" people since I was on the high school year book staff in 1989!
- I've been a "communicator" on a stage for the last 5+ years as a teaching/lead/senior pastor.
- I've learned much about communication as both a volunteer and as a leader of volunteers.
For all of the business leaders who read this blog, imagine communicating vision & direction, often while giving instruction or correction, without the tether of paying them to stay with you! The balance of leading, teaching, and often stretching people beyond their comfort zone while keeping them involved when they could simply quit at any time without any repercussions is difficult, to say the least. Motivating people to go somewhere they need to go when they don't want to go there, with the knowledge that they could simply walk out and never come back ... and probably go somewhere else where they will never stretched ...
Such is life in ministry.
Provers 4:23 says that we are to "guard our hearts" above anything else, so I thought I'd share a few "T's" that might help you guard your heart as you communicate. These are good no matter who you are communicating with: volunteers, staff, spouse, kids, or anyone. They are also good filters to listen through as sometimes you are on the wrong end of bad communication!
TEMPERAMENT So often we communicate with everything except our words. We may be saying one thing with our mouths, but everything else is communicating something different. Temperament is all about the mood you're in when you are communicating. If you're in a bad mood, you're words are going to reflect it. If you're overwhelmed, your communication is likely to be strained, emphatic, or unclear. If you're exhausted, you might be saying something that makes perfect sense to you, but not so much to anyone else!
One of my college professors used to have what he referred to as the "24 Hour Cooling Period." If you received a grade on an exam or a paper that you didn't agree with you were required to wait 24 hours before speaking to him about it, allowing you time to gain some perspective before you spoke with him. (I spent a lot of time "gaining perspective" in his classes!)
- As the one speaking: honestly evaluate your temperament or mood before you are about to initiate an important dialogue. If you're in a bad or "off" mood, wait.
- As the one listening: if you notice that the temperament of the person communicating to you is a little off, take that into account as you listen to them. Give them a little grace.
TONE Along similar lines with temperament, watch your tone. If your mood is effecting your communication, it is almost certainly coming through your tone. Communication experts actually teach classes on how to change the tone of your voice because it has such a significant affect on how you communicate.
And it isn't just the tone of your voice, it is also the tone of your entire body or posture. Crossing your arms sets a tone of distrust. Pointing your finger suggests hostility. Hands on your hips, furrowing your eyebrow, holding or clinching your jaw ... and don't even get me started on the tone that your eyes set! (I live with some of the BEST eye rollers on planet earth! They are so good at it that I can actually feel their eye rolls after they turn their heads and I can't see their eyes!)
Your tone will communicate volumes louder than your words. I have probably learned this more from being a father and husband than anything else. When I come home frustrated and take it out on my girls. When I'm exhausted and I don't communicate at all. When I'm angry (for any reason) and they pay for it. There is an amazing humility (and often disgrace) that happens when your 9 year old tells you she's sorry for making you so angry when all she did was ask you to help her with something. Or when your wife smiles at you and tells you she loves you after you've just bit her head off for simply making a suggestion about anything.
- As the one speaking: as difficult as it may be, make sure you listen to your tone when you are speaking. In fact, don't be too prideful to let someone else be honest with you about your tone.
- As the one listening: try to separate tone from the message. If the tone was off from the message, take a minute (probably after some time has passed) and ask them if they realized their tone was communicating something else; maybe the didn't know how it came off.
TIMING This is a B-I-G one. Timing of communication is everything.
- When your wife is frustrated while trying on her bathing suit ... probably not the best time to talk about dieting!
- When your husband has just broken a small yet extremely significant piece off of the car he's trying to fix ... probably not the best time to talk about patience or attitude.
- When you've just heard a sermon on forgiveness ... probably not the best time to talk about that thing that someone owes you an apology for when said someone is sitting next to you!
The same goes for when you recognize someone's temperament. If you know your wife is exhausted, wait to talk with her about something that is likely to frustrate her. If you know your husband is in a foul mood, wait to talk about whatever it is that you know is going to set him off more.
This is especially true with it comes to your kids. Just because you are the parent, and you want to talk about it RIGHT NOW, that doesn't mean that you should.
- Pay attention to your temperament. Are you angry? Are you irritated? Are you too frustrated to communicate effectively?
- Pay attention to your child's heart by looking at their temperament and actions. When your son is struggling with math homework and you want to teach him about "patience and perseverance," there might be a better time. When your daughter is dealing with idiot boys and self image struggles, there may be a better opportunity to talk to them about purity than when they are crying over a text from said idiot boy!
Timing. Is. Everything.
- As the one speaking: take a moment to inventory the moment. Choose wisely the when because it will have a significant affect on the effectiveness of what you are saying.
- As the one listening: if it isn't a good time for you to hear or process what is being said, ask them to wait. Point out a better time to have the conversation.
TRUST And the result of paying attention to temperament, tone, and timing? Trust.
- When you care more about the people you are communicating to than the message you are trying to communicate ...
- When you care more about what they are going through and how they are doing ...
- When you are more interested in how someone is doing than what they can get done for you ...
- When you are more about building people than building programs or organizations ...
The most crucial piece to communication is trust. If people trust you, they will listen to you, especially when you are asking them to do something they don't want to do, or when you confronting them with a difficult message. Most people are OK with hearing difficult communication, what they struggle with is what comes along with the communication. This is especially true of volunteers. So many times people are loading up their responses to what you have to say based more on how you say it to them, and in that moment, thy are measuring whether they can trust you or not.
Paying attention to temperament, tone, and timing communicates to people that you care enough about them to notice the less than obvious. You are telling people that they are more important to you than your message is to them.
- As the one speaking: you'll be heard better.
- As the one listening: you'll hear better.