Posted in Communication Skills

The Art of Clarifying

clarifying ideas

My husband, Jonathan, has the worse luck with drive through restaurants. There is something about the pitch of his voice that makes it difficult for the person on the other end of the speaker to hear him. It doesn’t matter where he goes or who is there to take his order, his experience is the same.

“I’m sorry, would you say that again.”
“I can’t hear what you’re saying. Please repeat that.”
“Ummm…Have you said anything yet? I don’t hear anything.”

If I were Jonathan, I would quit trying the drive through and go directly inside. But he isn’t deterred in the slightest. He keeps going back, determined to enjoy the convenience of staying in the car, and work through the inconveniences of communication difficulties.

Effective communication is rarely easy. Most of us don’t have problems ordering at a drive through. However, sharing an important concept on the job or working through a relational issue can create quite a challenge. But it’s worth the effort for the sake of our personal or work relationships.

As a young woman I used to imagine being married to a wonderful, thoughtful, romantic man. He would sweep me off my feet and know what I was thinking without me needing to say a word. In fact, the more he loved me the more his mind reading abilities would increase. I went through a lot of disappointment and heart ache before I realized how unrealistic my expectations were.

I am married to an amazing man who loves me very much, but he is no mind reader. After almost 32 years of marriage I realize more than ever how important it is to invest time in effective communication.

Each of us brings our own experiences and mindsets to the table, but we must be careful not to assume that others, even those closest to us, have the same perspective. Assumptions stand in the way of communicating well.

When we do not assume, we are more comfortable practicing clarification. Clarification is a type of reflection that seeks to remove ambiguity, confusion, or misunderstanding.

Don’t be embarrassed to ask for more information. In some settings, I can hear words but I don’t grasp the concepts. I can either pretend that I understand, or I can ask questions in order to understand. To me, effective communication is more important than looking intelligent. I set aside “my image,” to ask questions because I want to truly understand.

What did you mean when you said ____________?

What does that look like to you?

When, where, how, or why questions are great for helping to clear things up.

Also, don’t be in a hurry. Hurry is another obstacle that hinders effective communication. If it’s important, you can’t rush the process. Approach the subject when there is time. The clarifying statement is another tool to guide the conversation.
I hear you saying __________. Is that correct?

It sounds like you feel _____________. What else would you like to add?

Let me summarize your main points. __________ Did I cover them all?

Practicing clarification requires courage and time. A crucial part of effective communication, the goal is to promote understanding, so that you and I can be on the same page and work together.

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry (James 1:19).

May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer (Psalm 19:14).

Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets (Matthew 7:12).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, help me to communicate clearly and with grace. Teach me how to treat others the way I want to be treated and to build understanding with those around me. May I become good at clarifying. I long to be an ambassador of peace, representing You in speech and action. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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Posted in Teamwork, Vision & Goal Setting

The Benefits of Seeking Advice

My husband and I pray regularly for God to open and close doors in our lives. We ask Him to open the doors He desires us to pursue, and to close the doors we should avoid. Imagine my surprise and delight when I received a job offer for a position for which I had not even applied. I was flattered to be sought out. It seemed to be a good fit in terms of skill and experience and had a great potential for advancement. I could only see the advantages, and there were lots of them. However, I also felt a sense of uneasiness that I could not pinpoint.

As I shared about the opportunity with those closest to me, they expressed support. My uneasiness increased. Only one friend shared reservations which led me to seek the opinion of a trusted authority outside my immediate circle. He asked me questions and pointed out the difficulties with accepting the position. I was shocked at my inability to see the things so readily apparent to him, and I felt grateful for his insights.

As nice as it is to be an independent thinker, there are times when I am simply shortsighted. I need the perspective of others to develop a fuller understanding of the issues at hand.

God’s Word says it like this…

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice (Proverbs 12:15 ESV).

It is harsh to be called a fool. I certainly don’t want to be one. However if I believe that I do not need the input of others and that I can figure things out all by myself, that’s exactly what I am. A wise person listens to advice from trusted advisers.

And again…

Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed (Proverbs 15:22 ESV).

I may be gifted at strategic thinking and skilled at developing plans, but my insight alone is limited. Multiple ideas from various angles come from well-rounded teams. Plans succeed with many godly, wise advisers.

What are other benefits of seeking advice?

Objectivity. It is hard to see clearly when we are deeply invested in the situation. Emotions can cloud judgment. Effective advisers stand back to help us see the things we miss.

Feedback. We are not the best gauge of our progress. Advisers instruct us, pointing out areas needing correction. We learn from others as we listen to them.

Encouragement. Even with a good plan, sometimes it is difficult to move it forward. Advisers see where we are and exhort us to keep going. They remind us that there is value in what we desire to achieve.

As a young woman, I thought it was a sign of wisdom and strength to make decisions on my own. Now I firmly believe the opposite is true. Seeking advice is a sign of great wisdom and strength.

Are there areas in your life and leadership where advice would be beneficial? Who do you consider to be your wise, trustworthy advisers?

Posted in Character, Faith

How to Love Your Crazy Family–A Book Review

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I love books, and God has a way of speaking to me through them. In every area of life—spiritual growth, marriage, parenting, leadership, coaching—I often find the answers or the inspiration I need in the pages of a book. I just finished reading such a book and heartily recommend it to any woman desiring to thrive as she leads her family. It’s called How to Love Your Crazy Family: 52 Quick Reads for No Ordinary Days by Angela Howard.

Motherhood is a high calling, whether you are a career woman, stay-at-home mom, or somewhere in between. The influence of a mother reaches deeply into the lives of her children. And yet, with all the love and best intentions, marriage and family can feel crazy at times.

Angela Howard has discovered powerful truths that she passes on to the reader in a heart warming and down-to-earth way, offering practical inspiration for navigating every kind of crazy you may encounter with the family you love. It all begins with a relationship with Jesus Christ. If you want to love your crazy family, Christ must first be central in your own life. Angela’s writing style is humorous yet convicting, light-hearted yet challenging. Angela goes beyond the “what” and “how” of day-to-day tasks and relationships, and looks at the “why”—the motivation for your attitudes and actions.

Using vignettes of her own heart and home, Angela invites you to view real life examples up close and personal, along with important lessons learned. Each chapter provides encouraging insights that, when put into practice, will take your parenting, marriage, and life beyond ordinary. Angela emphasizes the power of Jesus to transform lives every day and the beauty of extending grace to those you love. The bonus chapter at the end shares Angela’s story and struggles with Bipolar disorder in her own marriage, offering hope through Christ to those walking through family difficulties.

Wherever you are in the marriage or parenting seasons, you will glean timeless wisdom from the pages of How to Love Your Crazy Family.

Find out how to purchase How to Love Your Crazy Family

Learn more about Angela Howard

 

Posted in Character, Servant Leadership

Learning to Love Mondays

Once a month my husband and I go to Costco to stock up on groceries and other essentials. Usually we find the cashiers to be friendly and cheerful, contributing positively to the shopping experience. However, this is not always the case. On one particularly memorable occasion, I have no doubt our cashier was struggling. She wore her heavy heart on her face. She huffed with exasperation as she scanned the bulky items and slid them to the assistant to load in our cart. My husband and I tried to encourage her, to somehow lighten her emotional load. She shook her head with resignation and declared, “Today is my Monday.”

Even though it was the weekend, we understood what she was saying. Monday—the first day of the work week, the end of relaxation and joy, and the start of another dreaded weekly grind. Monday—where Murphy’s Law is bound to be unleashed. Nothing good can possibly come from Mondays!

I’m not trying to discount the difficulties our cashier was encountering. In this broken world I can imagine some pretty heartbreaking and infuriating scenarios. However, I also know that as leaders—people to whom God has entrusted influence—we are called to a different approach.

In the book, Loving Mondays: Succeeding in Business Without Selling Your Soul, John Beckett describes his journey of discovery that transformed his approach to work and leadership from drudgery to meaning and purpose. By integrating faith into leadership he brings an attitude of worship and joy wherever he goes.

Whether you’re called to the marketplace, ministry, your family, or some other place of influence, it is possible to love Mondays.

Here are some tips to get you started on the road to loving Mondays (and any other day of the week).

Start the day with God. This really is where it all begins. You may not be a morning person, but establish a way to connect meaningfully with Jesus. He has given you life and breath and strength today. He abides in you; you abide in Him. Through the power of His Spirit you can declare, “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:4).

Search for the good. If your mind is set on finding the negative, that’s what you will see. Fortunately, the reverse is also true. You can find the good in any situation. Consider the perspective of eighteenth-century Bible scholar and preacher Matthew Henry after he had been robbed.

Let me be thankful, first, because I was never robbed before; second, because although
they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was
not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.1

Step out first. As influencers we are also initiators. People look to you and will follow your example. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity or until you feel like it to act. Be the one to initiate kindness. Brighten the day of someone else. Remember “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), and it’s contagious.

Learn to love Mondays, and others in your circle of influence will learn to love Mondays, too.

 

1. James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited: A Topical Collection of Hundreds of Stories, Quotations, & Humor for Speakers, Writers, Pastors, and Teachers, ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 1988), 264.

Posted in Character, Communication Skills

Watch Your Self-Talk!

Hope. It is one of the qualities that sets leaders apart. In the midst of difficult circumstances, unmet goals, or decreasing finances, a leader will inspire others with hope.

This isn’t the end of the story.”

“We’re still making progress.”

“We have something valuable to offer others.”

“We have what it takes to overcome!”

“Watch your mouth!” We’ve all heard someone corrected for their use of profanity. (Perhaps, we were on the receiving end of the correction.) As people of influence, we must indeed watch our mouths. In the face of disappointment, we must speak words of hope and inspiration. Our words carry power to turn the tide of negativity.

“Watch your self-talk!” While this saying is not as common, it is even more important. We must cultivate the habit of hope in our own lives in order to pass it on to others. Self-talk is where it starts.

Life is not easy. There are times when we all face discouragement. The things that we tell ourselves will determine whether we will wallow where we are or whether we will move forward in faith. Our approach will impact the others around us.

When you’re feeling discouraged and hopeless, take time to examine your self-talk. What are you dwelling on? What messages are you believing? I recommend writing down what you discover.

If your self-talk is negative, ask the Lord to show you the source of your negativity. There are many areas that can affect your perspective, ranging from fatigue and physical health conditions to self-defeating patterns developed in childhood. Seek God’s direction for a remedy. It may mean making some changes to your lifestyle. It may mean enlisting the services of a coach or counselor.

Whatever the remedy may be, empowering self-talk is based on the truth of God’s Word. Next to the self-talk messages you listed, I recommend writing down what God says about His character and your identity in Him. What God says is the truth.

Listen to the self-talk of the psalmist in Psalm 42:5—

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God (NIV).

In the same way, we can talk to ourselves. Put your hope in God!  As we establish our hope in Him, we pass on hope to others through our actions and words.

“Watch your mouth!” Yes. But first, “Watch your self-talk!”

Posted in Communication Skills

How to Build a Correction Sandwich

Servant leaders care about the growth and development of the people they lead. Few sectors are as relationship oriented as ministry. The Church is all about reaching people with the Good News and discipling them to become more like Jesus. This requires on-going intensive relationships. Nevertheless, within this relationship-rich setting I have noticed the reluctance of leaders to address areas needing correction.

It’s interesting that 2 Timothy 4:2 states that we are to “correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”  Many of us focus on encouraging; we shy away from correction and rebuke. We hope that by ignoring problems or praying hard they will eventually disappear. Speaking for myself, I dislike conflict and I do not want to hurt people’s feelings. However, over the years I have learned that failing to correct poor performance or address negative attitudes is dangerous, infecting both follower and others around them.

When problematic issues arise, I have found the Correction Sandwich to be an effective tool. As its name suggests, the Correction Sandwich has two “slices” of positive comments with the “filling” of correction. I like this tool for three reasons. First, it addresses a specific behavior rather than personality. Second, it builds relationships in positive ways. Third, it provides opportunity for instruction and learning.

Suppose Sam is on the team you lead. He is a dedicated and hard worker but is habitually late for meetings. Here’s how to build a Correction Sandwich for this situation.

Start with a positive comment. Sam, I would like to talk with you about something. I appreciate your dedication to the team. You are dependable, always attending meetings and contributing positively.

Follow with the behavior needing to be addressed. However, you are consistently late for important meetings. This is a real problem, because we often have to wait for you to arrive before we can start, or we have to fill you in on what you missed when you arrive. It inconveniences the others on the team and is a poor way to manage time.

Dialogue about how to change the behavior.  Ask coaching questions to discover why Sam is consistently late. For example: Think of a recent meeting. What happened that caused you to arrive late? Is there a pattern? What can you do to address this pattern? What support do you need to be successful? If Sam cannot think of options, offer suggestions and then have him identify steps that will work for him.

End with another positive comment. Thanks for discussing this with me. I really value your contributions to the team. You have great ideas and work hard to perform with excellence. Please let me know if I can help you in any way.

I have used the Correction Sandwich with good results at home, with members of my congregation, and with my direct reports. I encourage you to add the Correction Sandwich to your leadership tool box. It works well in any setting where strong relationships are important to success.

Posted in Communication Skills, Faith

Communication With Grace The Colossians Way

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6, NIV).

 

Mikki and I worked together at the juvenile department. She was a supervising case worker; I was the front desk receptionist. As the person at the bottom of the command chain, I took orders from everyone, and Mikki seemed to issue them the most. She was impatient and gruff, hardened by years of working with dysfunctional families, along with her own personal disappointments. Throughout her career, she had seen it all. On the other hand, as a young idealistic woman, I approached life with a fresh and hopeful perspective.

It’s sad to say, but the one thing I learned from Mikki was how not to communicate. Many days I would come home from work in tears because of her harsh comments. I would pray, asking God to help me respond with kindness and grace no matter what, that somehow my communication would make a difference.

Today I am grateful for Mikki, because by her negative example she taught me about the importance of leaders communicating with grace.

The verse in Colossians gives us instructions for grace-filled communication.

Let your conversation be always full of grace. In the New Testament, the main word for grace is charis, meaning unmerited favor. Our speech must always reflect value and respect even when it is not deserved or earned. We must grant favor to others with our words. In addition, will others know that we follow Jesus by the way we speak? Our conversations should reference the grace of God through Jesus Christ that is extended to all people.

Seasoned with salt. For thousands of years, salt has played an important role in the preparation and preservation of food. It enhances the flavor, texture, and color causing us to want to eat more. It also makes us thirsty. Whatever the topic, our speech ought to be fresh and inviting. The way we express ourselves must be full of spiritual flavor, causing others to be desirous, hungry, and thirsty to hear and know more.

So that you may know how to answer everyone. Grace-filled communication addresses the needs of others not ourselves. We seek first to understand others and not make assumptions. By identifying and learning about their frame of reference, we can tailor our words and approaches to appropriately meet the occasion.

Years later I ran into Mikki and I hardly recognized her. There was a softness about her that I hadn’t seen before. She shared that shortly after I resigned from the juvenile department, she had given her life to Christ. She couldn’t stop thinking about me. No matter what she had said or how she had treated me, I continued to respond with kindness and respect. Because my conversation was full of grace, she wanted to know more about this Jesus I had talked about.

Wherever we serve, grace-filled communication makes a difference. How can you add more grace to your conversations?