By Gary Spicer
5 minute read.
The second of the only two man-made spacecrafts to enter interstellar space, Voyager 2 was a brave move by the National Aeronautics & Space Administration [NASA]. Launched in the 1970s at a cost of 895 billion dollars, this was a lengthy and costly venture. Destined to study the edge of our solar system, this craft was 12 billion miles from earth when in July 2023 disaster struck. Forty-six years into this ground-breaking mission, the whole endeavour was in jeopardy. With a spaceship lost in space, NASA was forced to go public with their problem. In a somewhat feeble attempt to explain the challenge they faced, their problem was summed up in just two words – ‘Poor Communication’.
Whether involved with a company, charitable enterprise or church, Christ-followers are on a mission to bring heaven to earth.
While our endeavours are commendable, there is one area in which we’re all vulnerable. No matter how praiseworthy our venture, we’re all potentially one poor communication away from losing touch with our mission.
With this in mind, let me suggest Seven Laws of Great Communication.
- Make and Maintain the Connection
Although communication itself is a form of connection, great communicators know the importance of making and maintaining interpersonal connections. In his classic book, ‘Everyone Communicates, Few Connect’, John Maxwell writes, ‘Connecting is the ability to identify with people and relate to them in a way that increases your influence with them.’
To treat people as individual cogs that keep the organisational wheels turning is deeply offensive. As Christian entrepreneurs, we have to value every employee, volunteer or church attendee as a gift from God. Although some individuals may not come ‘gift wrapped’ with the language and lifestyle we’d prefer, we should remember that we are all made in the image of God, but due to our waywardness, we are all flawed individuals. To view individuals as a means to an end is simply wrong. Such actions serve only to silence the melody of heaven amidst the mayhem of a secular approach to church, commerce and charitable enterprise. In that all communication is 60 per cent non-verbal, no listener wants to feel that a conversation is a mere tick-box exercise. Treating people as distant relatives with whom we occasionally engage in small talk at a family wedding or funeral will ultimately cause heaven’s mission to fail.
‘The ability to connect with others begins with understanding the value of people.’
Joe Girard was, for twelve consecutive, years listed in the Guinness Book of Records as ‘The World’s Greatest Salesman’. Not that this sales entrepreneur came from a privileged background. Joe was abused by his father as a child and lost jobs as an adult. Before landing a job at a Chevrolet dealership, he also experienced bankruptcy. In selling more vehicles than any other dealership, Joe’s phenomenal success was the result of his relational, rather than retail approach to sales. More than profit or product, people mattered to this salesman-extraordinaire. Sending handwritten cards to each of his past or prospective customers, his monthly communications, were never about products or sales, but words of appreciation and encouragement. Over a period of fifteen years, he sent 13,000 handwritten cards. People actually began to look forward to their monthly correspondence. And when in the market for a new car, guess who was their number-one-go-to-salesman – Joe Girard.
To me, this practice of ‘relational marketing’ highlights the importance of Making and Maintaining the Connection. For only when we truly connect, can we truly communicate.
- Listen to the Listeners
More time spent listening to the listeners will improve both our connectivity and ultimately our communication.
When communication becomes a masterclass in missing the point, the problem often lies in our inability to listen to the listener. In this instance, we might learn something from a particular style of couples counselling in which the practitioners operate the practice of ‘Pass the Teddy Bear’. Only the person holding the teddy bear is allowed to speak. When one person has finished talking, the cuddly toy is handed to the listener. Only then do they have the opportunity to repeat what they have understood by the words spoken to them and state how they would wish to response. No matter how life-changing we believe our words to be, if the listener fails to understand, our communication will fall into a meaningless void of misunderstanding.
Communication is an art form developed over time. While words are couriers transporting our thoughts, those driving up a one-way-street of all talk and no listening will fail to reach their desired destination. Often, those with control issues might appear to be listening, but the truth is, they’re only waiting for a pause in the proceedings to enable them to download more of their own thoughts. Besides being disrespectful, one-sided communications devalue the listener and will ultimately sever the connection. Great communicators make listeners feel the most valued person in the room who leave feeling they have been heard.
‘The most effective communicators are great listeners. Often, we listen with the intent to reply, when we should really listen with the intent to understand.’
- Don’t Assume
Assumption is a killer of great communication.
Whether in marriage, ministry or management, making assumptions will ultimately destroy the purpose of a set piece of communication. We fool ourselves into believing that our words will automatically fall on good ground and produce the required affect. Words are couriers delivering what the mind is thinking – but no amount of proverbial ‘door knocking’ will gain entrance to an unreceptive listener.
Those adopting the ‘trickle-down theory’ that assumes telling one person is equivalent to telling all, should rethink their strategy. The childhood game of ‘Chinese whispers’ proves the point. Verbal osmosis rarely happens and when it does, it rarely repeats the content and intent of the original message. Few communications cascade down to a group of recipients with the same intensity and intentionality of the original spokesperson. Ignorance is not bliss. Great communicators need to do whatever they can to get their message safely home. Never assume that people have heard the heart of a matter.
While ‘feedback’ is ‘the breakfast of champions’, ‘follow-up’
is the staple diet of great communicators.
Remember, ‘Passing the Teddy Bear’ is a principle that all communicators must operate is some way.
- Avoid Information Overload
In this information age, we need to accept people’s personal circumstances and capacity and communicate proportionately. Whether in the secular or spiritual sphere, information overload is a modern-day dilemma that needs careful monitoring.
With all forms of media bombarding us with information, we now have a word to describe our finite ability to process it – ‘Infobesity’. Great communicators understand that everyone has a limited capacity and they communicate their message accordingly.
Bite-sized pieces of information are better than information overload.
When the apostle Paul acknowledged to his readers that ‘There are … many … voices in the world, and none of them without significance,’ he was not only recognising the plethora of voices clambering for our attention, but encouraging people to analyse their significance. Listeners will automatically switch off when the message is not engaging them in a proactive way. In such instances the brain will tend to switch off.
- Avoid giving ‘Too Little’ ‘Too Late’
In the realm of poor communication, ‘too much too soon’ is a close relative of ‘too little too late’. While acknowledging the clear and present danger of TMIs (Too Much Information), drip-feeding information can equally weaken an organisation. Although some individuals might prefer minimum detail, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Adopting a last-minute.com approach to communication will inevitably cause cracks to appear in the motivational dynamic of any corporate enterprise.
When people are left precariously balanced between the unknown and the unsure, they soon begin to feel uncared for.
- Use Relevant Language
When an ex-public-school friend became a minister of a downtown church in Chicago, he found to his cost the failure to understand the sixth law of great communication. Having preached his Sunday morning sermon, he dismissed the congregations with the words, ‘Let’s go home and enjoy a Sunday joint.’
To an English gent, a classic Sunday lunch would consist of a roasted leg of lamb, often called a ‘joint’. In the right place at the right time, that term would be perfectly acceptable, but to a downtown, inner-city American congregation, the phrase had more risky connotations.
No matter how vital our message, knowing your audience is crucial. Knowing the age, cultural background, experience and expectations of those with whom we are seeking to communicate, is essential.
Using relevant language is the life blood of great communication.
- Look for the Sparkle in their Eyes
Great communicators are more interested in the recipient, than themselves. Constantly looking at the listener, they are asking themselves one question, ‘Are my words enlivening those I’m speaking to or are they closing them down.’ Put another way, all communication should be ‘Making the Mummies Dance’ – which is the title of my book I recently published on preaching and teaching, available through www.spicersink.com.
Great communicators adjust their terminology, timing and tempo to suit both the message and the audience. They speak with clarity, knowing that being vague will vandalise the truth. Great communicators never want their listeners to be left in the no-mans-land of confusion, misinformation or disinformation.
In Greek mythology, Achilles was a hero who fought in the Trojan wars. A central character in the writings of Homer, Achilles was seemingly invincible, that is, apart from his heel. Through a series of mythological events, he became vulnerable to defeat by reason of an unprotected heel – hence the phrase, ‘Achilles Heel’, being representative of personal vulnerability.
No matter how strong, successful and seemingly invincible an organisation looks, when it comes to communication, we are all vulnerable. Large and small corporations may boldly publish their successes, but a failure to communicate clearly and consistently will, over time, prove disastrous. From sales to customer service, all organisations rise and fall on their ability to communicate.
Whether leading a church, company or charitable enterprise, we each have to ask ourselves the question: ‘Has Communication Become the Achilles Heel?’