I had a learning moment this past weekend. I’m learning that what I think and what people understand can be two very different things! My mind never stops thinking about something. As those thoughts become words and eventually spoken words, the people who hear them can walk away understanding something different.
Clear as mud?
This picture has recently helped me visualize the communication gap I’m talking about:
This past weekend, I asked a question from the pulpit. I understood what I meant, but all I got back from the congregation was a dazed, “I don’t have a clue what he’s asking…” look. In good fashion, my wife explained to me after the service:
“You asked us: ‘Does anyone have lost loved ones?’ I, and maybe others, thought you were asking if we had loved ones who have passed away.”
In context, that understanding didn’t really make sense, but the wording left everyone confused nevertheless. I was trying to ask: “Who here has loved ones who don’t know Jesus?” I could have easily been clearer.
The clearer we are, the better chances we have of getting our point across, and the less likelihood of confusing someone or, heaven forbid, offending someone.
How will I be clearer in the future?
I have to be honest, I thought I was getting better at this. No doubt I am, but perhaps I should actually live by one of my own values and continuously improve. I’ll share five ways I’m going to improve, but I’d also love to hear from you as well. How are you becoming a great communicator?
1. Formulate thoughts on paper first.
This is true for any form of speaking. It’s true for speaking to a big audience or in a small staff meeting. If I was honest, my unclear question was “off the cuff” and not in my notes. I’m sure unwritten statements will still happen from time to time, but my goal will be to keep them to a minimum.
2. Assume those listening don’t know the ‘lingo.’
I grew up attending Sunday services and I know all the ‘church lingo.’ It can be very difficult to stop using words and phrases that seem to be very natural. However, everyone in the room may not come from the same background, and therefore, we have to keep our ‘lingo’ in mind. For example, the word ‘lost’ can imply several different things – everything from ‘death” to ‘confused.’
3. Vet it before you ask it.
I attempt to vet as much as I can through others before I speak or post. My wife hears many versions of sermons long before the congregation does. I also have a review panel for my blog before things are published for the first time (especially the controversial posts). Is it a perfect system? No. Will it help in being clearer? I think so. Vetting will, at the very least, prepare for you for any possible backlash.
4. Allow for time, space and prayer.
Sleep on it! I am passionate about many things and would love to write a post, responding to all of them. However, after giving my thoughts some time, space and prayer, it often flows better, sounds clearer and often much softer in tone. In fact, I challenge myself with making sure I allow for as much time, space and prayer as possible.
5. Assume others are working on their communication skills as well.
This is VERY difficult to do. My success with this is found in listening to my wife (don’t tell her I said that). She is very quick to point out that others are working on their communication skills just like I am. What you thought someone said, might be completely different from what they were meaning to say. If we can assume others are desiring to be better communicators, we’ll assume the best, not the worst from people.
What are some other ways we can become better at communicating our thoughts? What has worked for you?