Orginally published on Sunday, May 20, 2007 at 7:00 AM
by Todd Rhoades
I recently ran across a secular leadership article by Jamie Walters titled "The Seven Worst Communication Habits." According to Jamie, "The big seven worst habits of communication are bad enough when they happen occasionally. They become "big and bad" when they’re practiced habitually. And they do, ultimately, exact a cost, whether it be in miscommunications, lost projects, lowered productivity, missed opportunities, or poor relationships." As I was reading, I began to think that these are the same bad communication habits that creep into church staff life and relationships…
Here are the top seven. How many might have caused a problem for you in the past week?
1. Contacting others only when you need something.
Is there someone in your life that you hear from only when they need something? Are you like me and find that annoying? Jamie says that this type of person "routinely surfaces when they're job hunting, when they've got a problem, when they need a reference, and when they want ideas from you." When they don't need anything, they don't call you. As a matter of fact, this person might not even return your calls or emails when you try to contact them.
QUESTION: Do you as a church leader only contact people when you need them to do something for you or the church? If so, you run the risk of making people feel 'used'.
FIX: If you feel guilty of this communication habit, make a list of people that come to mind and make contact with them this week. Ask for nothing; just touch base. They'll appreciate the contact!
2. Not following up, or closing the loop.
Ever given a gift and not received a thank you? Has someone promised to let you know the outcome of a certain meeting or conversation, but you never heard back from them? This type of person simply is not closing the loop or following up with you. This is a vitally important communication skill.
QUESTION: Is there anyone in your ministry that you recently promised to get back with or follow-up with that you haven't?
FIX: Contact that person this week and close the loop. They'll love the fact that you did follow-up.
3. Not returning telephone calls or email messages.
How frustrated do you get when you're trying to get ahold of someone and they simply don't return your call or email? Actually, this is a pretty common occurance, but it still is a very bad communication practice. It should be your goal to quickly acknowledge and return each phone call, email and note that you receive. (This is an especially hard one for me... this morning, I have almost fifty emails that I need to respond to (some from the middle of last week! (GUILTY!) It's hard not to fall behind!)
QUESTION: What pink telephone message slip do you still have on your desk? What emails have been sitting in your 'inbox' waiting to be replied to?
FIX: Take a few moments and clear your desk and your in-box. Your quick response will help you gain credibility in your communication.
4. Foregoing basic courtesy.
Have you ever been on the receiving end of a nasty email or phone call? Ever felt snubbed by someone? Do you know anyone who you feel is downright rude? This type of person may be self-absorbed; they may feel entitled to have a bad attitude; or maybe they just don't know better. But you know that when you come into contact with them, it's a real turn-off.
QUESTION: Is there anyone that instantly comes to mind that you've been 'discourteous' to? Maybe someone you avoided (obviously) at church yesterday; maybe someone you were short with; maybe someone you were just rude to?
FIX: You know the fix. Make it right with that person. Apologize for your behavior and do your best to get that relationship back on track. The lack of basic courtesy is a real communication stopper in ministry... and it happens much too often.
5. Not listening.
This is something we probably all need to work on. How many times are we so concentrated on things that are important to us that we fail to listen to others? Jamie says, "One hallmark of poor listening is that a person won't ask any questions. Another hallmark is that he or she might repeatedly paraphrase incorrectly, or "put words in your mouth" that you neither say nor agree with. On an interpersonal level, poor listening skills result in miscommunications, lost opportunities, lower productivity due to mistakes or redundant efforts, employee turnover, and other costly scenarios."
QUESTION: Did you catch yourself "zoning" yesterday while someone was talking to you? Have you had a conversation lately where you really don't remember what the other person was saying? Do you find yourself thinking of what you're going to say next rather than listening?
FIX: Work hard this week on listening and 'being interested' in what people are saying to you... (yes, even if you're not!) Ask questions. Re-state back to people what they are saying. Most of all... adjust your attitude so that you make listening a priority.
6. Telling lies.
Pastors and church staff people telling lies? Hopefully not blatent ones, I hope. But how many times do you tell 'little lies' to keep from hurting someone's feelings? And does any instance come to mind where you may have slanted the truth for your own gain?
QUESTION: Do you ever play with the truth? Do you shade a story or situation differently depending on who you're talking with? Do you withhold parts of the truth in order to sway people to your side?
FIX: Stop playing games with the truth. As the psalmist said "Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; Keep watch over the door of my lips (Ps. 141:3 NIV)
7. Spewing chronic negativity.
It's easy to be negative, especially if you're in a bad situation. But leadership requires that we step above the petty negativeness of our situation. Being negative, especially with the wrong people is a leading vision-killer.
QUESTION: Do you find yourself constantly being negative? Is your negativity affecting others?
FIX: Refer again to Ps. 141:3. Rather than dwell (and comment) on the negative, try to find solutions or speak positively about the situation.
There you have it... seven of the worst communication habits we go up against each day. The questions and fixes given are much easier to write down and type out than they are to live. Let's all try to pick one or two areas of weakness this week and try to improve.FOR DISCUSSION: Which of these areas do you have the biggest problem with? Have you ever been misunderstood? Have you ever suffered greatly because of one of these seven areas? Please feel free to share in the conversation!
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