Are You Sayin’ What I Think You’re Sayin’?

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Pastors talk a lot! We preach, we teach, we counsel, we invite, we visit, we direct, we lead meetings, we lead small groups, we meet one-on-one…and we often talk to our spouses and kids! All of this involves communication. And one of the biggest sources of team dysfunction and disunity is poor communication.

Relationships are primarily made up of the connection between two or more people or entities. And the connection is strengthened or weakened by communication. Good communication will build the connection. Bad communication will hurt it. It’s that simple. So it’s important to build and strengthen the connection regardless of what else is happening.

Do you remember when you were in school and some teacher said something like, “Learning how to communicate is one of the most important things in life.”? How true this is. Human beings have an almost infinite capacity for misunderstanding! Most problems involve a “failure to communicate.”

Many pastors are master communicators. Most of us have had teaching and training in communication. But are we modeling and teaching others how to communicate, especially how to do so when it’s difficult? I dare say that most people had less than great role models for communication when growing up. From parents that didn’t know how to communicate well, to siblings and peers….we weren’t taught well. And it is quite apparent when it comes to difficult conversations or conflict.

People avoid conflict. The typical reaction when faced with a conflict is one of the following:

Fight, flight or freeze.

Our experience has often been negative when there’s conflict so we react with one of those F words, rather than respond in a positive or redemptive way. You can hear teaching about this and read books, but unless you practice it, you won’t do it!


Here’s just one well-known tip that will make a huge difference if you actually use it: reflective listening. When the other party says something that you don’t like or don’t understand or is challenging in some way, before you react with fight, flight or freeze… try reflecting back:  “Bob I hear you saying this, ‘(then repeat what you think Bob said and especially what he meant)’   We often misinterpret. So when we reflect back, once the other party hears us, that person can say, “No I meant this…”  then, if that’s not a problem you can say, “Great!” rather than try to diffuse an argument or negative discussion that was based on misunderstanding. Regardless, once you’re clear on it, you can respond appropriately. Using this technique will also SLOW you down a bit and that will help prevent overreacting and help you RESPOND in a godly way, with patience and wisdom (wouldn’t that be nice?).

Here’s the deal:

The first time you do this it will feel awkward and artificial. Do it anyway. Soon it will feel natural and as you’ll be encouraged as you see the connection with the other person strengthened as you have more positive interactions.

Now the key is to teach your team how to do it – through modeling and direct training. But people have to practice. I suggest doing role playing at first. Practice is essential or in the heat of the moment, people will resort to those F words rather than communicating clearly and positively. Take 30 min with your staff or team and teach and practice it. Have people do this is pairs. Have one person talk to the partner about something the partner has done that is a problem. For example,

Bill: “Don, I need to talk to you about something.”
Don: “Sure”
Bill: “ I felt like the way you were handling that situation with Jim and me was not good. I’m pretty angry. You really cut me off and didn’t support me at all.”
(typical response: Well Bill, if you hadn’t said _____ or done _____ I wouldn’t have said that…”)
Don: “Wow. Let me understand. You felt like I wasn’t supporting you and that undermines your leadership.”
Bill: “Right. I have a hard enough time trying to lead this small group.”
Don: “You felt like I didn’t listen to you or stand behind you.”
Bill: “Yes. At times I feel like you don’t respect my ability to lead or trust me to lead.”
And so on. This enables the person with the problem or grievance to feel safe and respected, and for the other party to really hear what’s going on rather than simply react to the surface level things.

Click here: great link on Reflective Listening and Practice Exercises

Once you work with your staff or primary team, you can do it with your small group leaders. Do it with your kids and spouse. Do a class or workshop for parents. Do it for teens. Everyone can benefit enormously from this.

There are many great books and resources on communication. I recommend Brave Communication by Dann Farrelly, and anything by Danny Silk; Danny Silk has great teachings on communication, such as his book and video series, Loving on Purpose. BUT you can get started right now meeting with your team and beginning to practice reflective listening through role playing – see the link above. The key is to PRACTICE it! If you don’t practice it – for example, by role playing – you won’t use it when you need it.

Now I think I hear you saying, “I’ve heard this before.” Yup … and did you try it?

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