I have visited with numerous congregations over the years of my ministry. In recent years, I’ve focused my attention on leadership, and one of the most common issues all leaders face involves communication.

Effective communication must be priority number one for any leader in the Lord’s church. The key word is effective, and by using this word as it relates to communication, I am referring to the means we use to communicate. Let me clarify the significance of what I mean here in reference to communication.

If you are not careful, there can be a major disconnect between what you think you are saying and your actual words. An effective communicator doesn’t simply hope that what the other person hears is what the one speaking wants them to hear. Instead, they increase their awareness so the audience hears the message correctly. It is not always easy, and many times, this increased awareness comes when we learn from our failures. It is an important skill to master.

If you want to take this a step further, you can also factor in the challenges to your means of communication: email, texting, social media posts, announcements, memos, etc. Written forms of communication present difficulty because they lack the nuance of body language and tone of voice. Without watching a person’s body language or hearing their tone of voice, written forms of communication allow your imagination to run wild. When you read something in ALL CAPS, you assume a certain tone. The same is true when you read something italicized or in bold print. You also read a message differently when it is accompanied by an exclamation point or several.

Texting abbreviations also decrease effective communication. The result is an increased level of anxiety that leads to conflict. How many times have you stared at those bubbles that appear when someone is typing, waiting anxiously to see what they say? Alternatively, how anxious or frustrated do you become when you know the message, email, or voicemail was delivered, yet there is no response? Silence is also a means of communication, and sadly, it often increases conflict even further.

Since written communication allows for a wide range of interpretations by the reader, messages cannot always be effectively communicated through such means. I am not saying that certain messages are ineffective when communicated through various forms of technology. I am saying the use of these technological tools makes it more challenging.

A phone call can provide an avenue to effectively communicate your thoughts, but you may not always find a listening ear on the other end. You want to believe the other person realizes the importance of what you have to say. Yet, at the same time, you know that far too often, people get distracted by their attempts to multitask. They may set their smartphones on the desk or table, turn on the speaker, and listen while they read and respond to emails, surf the Internet, check out the latest on their social media pages, or complete other tasks.

The most effective way to communicate the importance of any message, directive, task, or urgent matter is face-to-face. A couple of critical things happen when you communicate one-on-one.

  • First, it emphasizes the value of the person you are communicating with. Nothing says “I care about you” more than sitting down with someone to have a conversation, even if it is a difficult conversation. You have each other’s undivided attention.
  • Second, the personal nature of this approach affords the individual an opportunity to ask questions. Asking questions lends greater clarification to anything that might have been misunderstood.
  • Third, as the one delivering the message, you have an opportunity to ensure that what you think you are saying is what you actually say because the other person has a chance to repeat what you’ve said or they can ask clarifying questions. While I know this takes time and a lot more work, the approach ensures that resistance––or the conflict that accompanies it––can be minimized. And isn’t this the goal of effective communication?

I realize that certain situations arise where face-to-face communication is not possible. When you must use other means of communication, work hard to ensure what and how you communicate is clear and concise. Use the most effective methods first, eliminating each one until you have exhausted the various means at your disposal. When a face-to-face conversation is not possible, try the phone; if that is not possible, use an email or text message. Know the recipients of your communication and use the methods that reach them most effectively.

Remember, communication is ultimately about understanding. The responsibility of every leader is to ensure the message is heard, but the recipients of the message clearly understand it. Simply speaking the same language as someone else does not ensure that we have communicated effectively. The ability to speak a different language other than your native tongue is an incredible skill, but it does no good if your audience does not know the language. Leaders have a responsibility to know complex things yet possess the ability to explain them on a level their audience understands. If not, you might as well be speaking a different language. Moving your lips with audible sounds is not enough.

Bob Turner
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Bob Turner is the current Director of SALT (Sunset Academy for Leadership Training). He teaches courses and conducts workshops in Leadership Development, Emotional Intelligence, Creating Vision, Strategic Planning, Communication, Conflict Resolution, Character, and Managing Change. He also serves as an instructor in the Sunset International Bible Institute’s master’s and doctoral degree programs. He and his wife, Sheryl, have been married for 42 years with more than 30 years of ministry experience. They have three grown children and ten grandchildren.