Clear as mud…

Did you ever play the game telephone as a child? It’s that game where you, and like, four people get in a line, and someone tells the person in front of them something, and they’re supposed to pass along the same information? Ideally, the same sentence that started the game makes it to the other end of the line.

It almost never happens.

That game demonstrates one truism I’ve heard (and said) a lot: if you have 8 people in the room, there will be 8 different things heard.

Communication is one of the most difficult things to do in leadership. Whether we’re teaching, training, or laying out the goal/mission/vision, getting everyone on the same page is difficult. And despite being a public speaker for a living, I would say that communication is one of my biggest weaknesses as a leader.

There are always challenges to communicating clearly. Some of them are common communication errors I make routinely, while others are mistakes that just come from being different people. And communication is something that all of us will need to work on, because we will always be coming in contact with new ideas and people all the time.

Fill in the blanks: I spend a lot of time brainstorming and think about different ideas or projects. I have ideas for almost every aspect of the church; hospitality, worship design, music, leadership, nursery, etc. If it’s in the church, I have an idea about it. And I have usually spent a good bit of time thinking about each idea. Usually, I’ve thought through most of the idea.

But when I go to talk about the idea with the team involved, or key leaders, or really anyone else, I seem to assume they heard my thoughts on the idea. So I begin to get a bit confused why they’re bringing up concerns I’ve already addressed, or why they can’t see the benefit from implementing this idea right away. I don’t understand why people have so many questions about my, obviously brilliant, ideas.

It’s because they’re trying to fill in the blanks that I haven’t told them.

As leaders, it’s tempting for us to assume people can follow our ideas along easily. Assuming saves us time and energy, so it’s a natural default.

My best solution for this is to stop and think about explaining this to someone who isn’t a part of your organization. How would you explain a change to your worship service to someone who doesn’t attend your church? What questions might get asked? Take your time and prepare your idea from that perspective, and it helps immensely.

Who needs details when you can be vague? There are certain words that mean different things to different people. For example, ‘a lot’. How many is ‘a lot’? Is it more or less than ‘quite a few’? Or what about ‘huge’? Like, how many people have to attend before you have a ‘huge’ church? What makes a change ‘big’ or ‘small’?

As leaders, it’s easy to “vague up” something, as an easy way to not do more research (I’m guilty of this). I’ve noticed this tendency in the churches I’ve served as well.

“A lot of people think you’re changing things too fast” while “quite a few people like the tinkering you’ve done”.

Leaders will propose “just a few small changes” without talking about specifics, and it gets them burned. They get burned because “a few small changes” to you may be huge transitions to someone else.

You are much better off being specific. People will naturally fill in the vagueness with whatever they want (either positive or negative). If you give more details, you ensure that more people are on the same page, at the same time.

Same song, different tune: For a few decades, the church was a place that served as the community/social center for the neighborhood. Had a birth in the family? Let everyone know on Sunday. Having medical issues and want prayer? Tell everyone in one fell swoop during prayer concerns during the service. Have a community event coming up? Announce it at church and everyone will be invited.

Over the years, however, technology has drastically changed, and along with it, so has communication. Phone books have given way to the internet, newspapers are making room for Twitter and blogs, and community event boards are losing out to Facebook pages. Technology has changed how we communicate with each other, making it much easier to communicate quickly with a large number of people. It’s an entirely different model of communication.

And that different model can create a fairly big problem for some people.

Now, to be completely fair, technology hasn’t perfected communication. You can very easily miscommunicate with someone via text or email.

It’s important to find a good balance in your approach to communicating, and use the best model for the information. Sometimes you need to use every means of communicating (announcements, flyers, tweets, texts, emails, phone calls, carrier pigeons, etc) for something, while other times might only call for a Facebook posting.

Communication is a tricky skill that is a lot like a moving target; just when you think you’ve got it figured out, it changes on you. Good, clear communication requires focus, intentional effort, and work. But I hope these three things help.

I know there are more things I’m missing, so please feel free to let me know what I missed in the comments.

I love you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Let me know your thoughts down below.

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