Month: December 2015

Communication Gaps

Good communication is so critical there have been mountains of books written on the subject and countless seminars delivered. If communication is so important, then why do we struggle with it so much. I believe one reason is we lose sight of the core purpose.

As leaders, the most common purpose of our communication is to change behavior. This might be delivering a rousing sermon on Sunday to encourage discipleship, or coaching a staff member to learn a new skill. If we measure the quality of our communication by the resulting behavior, it changes our perspective.

The meaning of your communication is the response you get.

They Just Don’t Get It

Too often as leaders, we put the burden of understanding on the receiver. It is their job to understand our thoughts, dreams, biases, and personality. If they would take the time to understand me better, then they would surely grasp the message and do what I asked.

As you might imagine, this line of thinking often takes us down the path of judging others for their inability to get with the program, because they are not smart enough, talented enough, or bought-in enough. If we go further, it might lead us to believe they are even being malicious because they won’t get on board.

When they just don’t get it, there is a gap between your intent and their behavior.

Mind the Gap

I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant. – Alan Greenspan

In any simple exchange between two people, there is a chain of translation and the message can get lost anywhere along the way.

  1. I have an idea in my head, made up of pictures, feelings, words.
  2. I translate the je ne sais quoi of that mélange into concrete words and pictures to share.
  3. You hear most of those words and probably lose a few.
  4. The words you hear have a different meaning and significance for you, potentially triggering a response that is very different than I hoped for.
  5. You then create your behavior to match the internal response (more pictures, feelings, and words) generated in this exchange.

With all those potential gaps in communication, it is a miracle we get anything done! With all that signal loss, how to we communicate in a way to close those gaps?

  • Stop Talking and Listen. At each of those transition points, stop and ask how they are receiving. It is important to ask what they received, not just “are you keeping up?”. Most of the time, people are not lost in the discussion, they are translating incorrectly. For practical suggestions on how to actively listen to someone, I recommend this blog and video by Greg Salciccioli at CoachWell.
  • Get Flexible. Each person is going to respond better to different language structures or examples of the point you are making. As a leader, the burden is on you to be the most flexible communicator in the exchange. If you naturally draw pictures, can you learn to tell stories, or share a heartfelt emotion effectively? If you were born in the city, can you learn to share a rural example? The more flexible you are as a thinker and communicator, the more likely you will elicit the response you are seeking.

Your Next Move

Think of the last time you shared a message and didn’t get the response you anticipated. Identify where the communication broke down and use your flexibility to close that gap.

Navigating Your Vision

In addition to my role on the leadership team at Church Community Builder, I have a somewhat unique set of skills. For most of my life, from childhood till today, I have been involved in ballooning. I am a hot air balloon pilot and spend much of my free time flying and participating in ballooning events. On the surface, the experience of flying balloons may seem unrelated to my day job … but in reality, it has helped me be a better leader. When we launch the balloon, we frequently have the intention of landing in a specific place. Unfortunately, balloons don’t have steering wheels, so we have to use the winds available to navigate to a landing. Much like leading people or implementing system change, there are some variables that a balloon pilot can control and many circumstances they cannot. I have learned how to plan for the things that I can control and respond to the forces that I cannot, while still aiming at specific target. Here are three lessons leaders can learn from piloting a balloon.

Make a plan, but keep it fluid

Prior to any flight, there is a plan. You don’t want to get in the air and then just ‘figure it out’. We could plot a path on a map and use a ruler to draw that line, but our actual journey won’t work out that way. There are obstacles along the way we have to go around, and there are well-worn paths we can use to move a little faster or a little more easily, even if they are not perfectly on track to our destination.

Flight Path 2014_10_06

Look at the path above. I started in the top left corner of the map on that flight, and landed within five feet of where I wanted, after 40 minutes and 5 miles. Something interesting to note about this path: If you look closely at my launch, it initially took me backwards from the goal. This is common in ministry as well. There are times we have to close down a ministry and shrink before we can grow in the right direction to achieve our vision. Planning is important — it is a must. But even in the best plans, there will be things that come up that were not anticipated. We don’t know what we don’t know. Planning is not something that is done once and complete. There are always in-flight adjustments that must be made.

You can’t always head straight for the target

When we see our vision, or our landing place, we usually cannot just go straight there. You can’t tackle every problem straight on. You may notice that the first half of the flight was very straight, but not in the right direction. If we had continued in that direction, we would have missed our target by a long shot. That path was not direct, but it was setting us up for the last half of the journey. I recently worked with a church that was growing a teaching team to reduce the dependence on the senior pastor. The quality of the preaching went down for a time, but it set them up in just the right way to really thrive.

When you divert, it is easy to get distracted

I remember this flight. After I had crossed the river and was in the wide open spaces again, I almost gave up on the vision. There were many great landing places that would have been ‘just fine’. I had to keep my mind fixed on the destination. Specifically, I had special guests on board and I wanted to show them a great picture opportunity.

As you approach your target, you may be tempted to let down. It has been a hard and long journey getting here and you may find yourself asking if this is close enough. This ‘good enough’ syndrome is tempting for all of us, but should be resisted. If I had landed somewhere else, my guests would have had a great day. They would likely not have known what they missed out on. But by pushing on to the target landing spot, they had much more than great day. They had a spectacular experience that was awe-inspiring. Even when your path twists and turns, you have to keep your eye on the prize and go the whole distance.


Your Next Move

You have a vision; now plot a path. That path will have diversions and convenient stopping points, but you can ensure your path gets you to the goal. Identify those distraction points as best you can so that you can remind yourself and your team there is a bigger destination in mind, even though this one seems nice enough.

Becoming a Discipling Leader

This is a post I wrote earlier this year and published at the Vision Room in October.

Over the years, I have worked in a variety of fields, gaining exposure to many different industries. Each industry has unique jargon. Have you ever worked on a cat cracker or executed a turnaround? If so, you probably worked in a refinery. In church, we throw the word ‘discipleship’ around like everybody knows what it means. We talk about needing more of it and how we are really going to focus on it next semester. I was not well versed in church terminology, so I did a bit of research on the word. In addition to discovering this funny video from Tripp and Tyler, I found the major theme of discipleship was ‘following in the ways of someone else’.

I love the practical nature of this approach. It is not about reading more books and listening to more sermons or getting another degree. In fairness, I love knowledge and I loved school while I was there. However, real life happens in, well, the real world. What, then, is a disciple?

Disciple = Learner

I had a friend boil all that down for me: to be a disciple is to be a learner. I again went back to our old friend Chris Argyris, who stated (with Donald Schön) that learning is the ability to detect and correct error. We are striving to change our behavior to follow in the ways of Jesus. The best way to do that is to discover when we miss the mark and then get better. Sounds easy, right? There are a few key steps to making that happen consistently for you and for those you lead.

Build a Learning Environment

  • Create safety. The foundation of a learning environment is safety. Learners must feel safe enough and confident enough to admit mistakes. First to ourselves, then to our community (family, friends, coworkers, bosses, employees … you name it). This begins with the leader and sets a tone for all disciples. Exposing your own failures, fears, or questions is a sign not of weakness but of strength. This does not mean exposing every detail of your life to everyone; you must use judgement when being vulnerable. We are all disciples together, sometimes in the role of teacher and sometimes in the role of learner, so we need to consider how we create the environment for others to learn. Find a learning partner that you can listen to, guide, and hold accountable, and who can put their trust in you.
  • Embrace your mistakes. Too often, the concept of being a disciple of Christ is associated with having everything together. This is not how we think about a student. No one thinks the third grader can calculate the velocity of a moving object on the first day of school. Calling yourself a student begins with acknowledgment that you don’t have all the answers and are prone to mistakes. As disciples, we need to see our mistakes not as failures but as opportunities for growth. We must learn to enjoy our mistakes. Those may be errors in judgement, poorly chosen words, or a swing on that golf club that didn’t work out just right. Remember, mistakes are better teachers than success.
  • Check your emotions. Think back to the last time you realized you had made a mistake. The bigger the better. Without focusing on the error itself, revisit the experience of that realization. Is that a positive feeling? For most, this is an unpleasant feeling and leaves us running for the hills, thinking, “I will never do that again.” I recently had the chance to hear Brené Brown talk about this sense of being ‘emotionally snared’ and how it limits your ability to think clearly or learn anything new. That mistake you made — can you think clearly about it or are you staying wrapped up in the emotional response?
  • Talk less, act more. Great, you analyzed your mistake. Unless you translate that into action, you are likely to find yourself in the same position again. Often, through introspection, the learning we gain from a mistake can be applied to numerous situations. Don’t just learn from the individual circumstance. Look for the themes, causal factors, and unique things about your personality that make that situation difficult. Now experiment with new behaviors to see what works. Trying new things helps you know how best to engage with others and get a better result.

Is it possible to enjoy your mistakes? I think so, and it happens when you have experienced more good from your errors than bad. When you have presented a mistake to the world, and you got better as a result, that leaves a mark. Lather, rinse, repeat. Over time, reframe the experience of error from fear to excitement.

Your Next Move

Take a risk and admit the next mistake you make to the most dangerous person in the room. Detect your errors and share them with a close friend you can trust, then ask them for help in changing your behavior. To walk in the ways of someone else, to become disciples of Jesus the Christ, communicate your weakness and strengthen it for the next encounter.

© 2018 Dave Bair

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