NEAT Communication – Effective

How much time do you invest in your choice of words? If you’re like me, you really want to get them right the first time — and you are a little impatient if you have to repeat them. We want to be known as effective communicators.

Yet, what are the rights words? We have to judge the moment . . . and the audience . . . and the culture . . . and the impact of the eventual soundbite that will be distilled from what we say.

And, for most of our communications, this all must be done at the speed of sound.

In this mini-series on “NEAT Communication,” we are looking at the four elements that set us apart as excellent communicators: Necessary, Effective, Accurate, and Timely. One element, without consideration of the other three, can be devastating to our meaning. The effectiveness of what we say or attempt to convey is part of a broader package.

Memes.007To be truly effective, ask yourself these three questions before speaking (or writing a text or email). It’s an easy exercise with dramatic potential.

  1. Have I “listened to the end?” A major detractor to effective communication is our failure to fully hear the other side of a conversation. Don’t worry so much about when you can jump in. Pause. Reflect. If you’re not certain, ask curious questions.
  2. Do I want to nurture conversation or simply end it? Chances are, if you are wanting to end a conversation, your choice of words may be effective for that purpose. However, similar to the “win at all costs” approach to life, the lingering aura of negativity will limit your present relationships as well as those that will be preempted by your reputation. Respond in a way that keeps the conversation viable, even if you must interrupt it in the moment. Choose words that convey your thoughts in clear, but non-threatening language. A phrase that threatens only escalates the conflict.
  3. If I repeat what I am about to say, will it have the same meaning that I intended in the first moment? When confronted with their own hasty words, people often reply, “That’s not what I meant!” That sentence is not particularly effective, because it’s too late. (See the upcoming post on Timely.) After pausing and reflecting, speak slowly. Don’t be afraid of a little silence as you craft your meaning. If the other person is impatient, ask them for a moment to make your words right. In most cases, the first meaning assigned to your communication is the one that will survive.

Choice of words is a mixture of knowledge and wisdom. Words do matter and the right words will set you apart — and save your relationships and your reputation.

Opening the Package

A post Christmas post

The package.

Opening the package is a necessary part of the joy.

Christmas gifts can occupy a lot of our time. Coming up with just the right gift. Wrapping it in just the right paper. (Unless you’re like me and forgot to get wrapping paper — so, whatever scraps are left from many Christmases ago on the rolls still stacked in the closet.) Finding a complementary bow. Writing on the little, tiny Christmas tag. Blowing on the writing to keep the ink from smearing. Placing the package in just the right space under the tree — not right out front, but conspicuous enough to draw interest. And all of that is just Phase One.

Phase Two begins when the gift recipient notices the package . . . and begins to wonder about what’s inside. The left side of their brains begin to calculate size and possibilities. Perhaps, when everyone is away, they heft the package to get a better idea of weight and volume. And then, they wonder about the contents.

At the designated time for opening, we smile with pleasure as Santa’s designated helper places the present in the recipient’s hands. A wash of anticipation reaches peak velocity. And then, the decision. Should the package be unwrapped neatly, without tearing the paper? Or should the wrapping be fully exploited, ripped to smithereens? Most choose a thorough trashing of the paper, a messy exercise of exuberance. And that’s Phase Three.

Then, the moment comes. The somewhat unknown, but much-desired, treasure is in hand. For some, it is the object of wishes and hints. For others, it is a surprise, bringing pleasure from the thought behind the giving. Phase Four begins. Living with the package and all of its meaning and often its utility.

Christmas giving. Christmas receiving.

Our ultimate Christmas package comes in those four phases, as well.

For centuries, God’s people were told of a gift that was coming. A Messiah. A Savior. They waited with expectations of wonder. They dreamed of the way that God’s gift would be packaged. The thought and the meaning of the gift were incredibly complex and almost incomprehensible. Phase One.

Then, as the gift came near and as the Christ-child lived and walked this earth, people had images of what He would become. Some expected a military leader, one who would free God’s people from the captivity of earthly rulers. Others, perhaps those who came to know him best, fought confusion but relished the hope of something wonderful. An existence closer to God and His love. Phase Two.

With the gift in hand, all of us were faced with the choice of how to unwrap the package. Some do it delicately, with an elegant regard for all of the splendor and beauty. The rest of us rip through the wrappings, creating a mess with our lives, but keeping that hope that the content of this gift from above will bring us joy and peace. Phase Three.

Repeat the chorus:

Then, the moment comes. The somewhat unknown, but much-desired, treasure is in hand. For some, it is the object of wishes and hints. For others, it is a surprise, bringing pleasure from the thought behind the giving. Phase Four begins. Living with the package and all of its meaning and often its utility.

For many of us, we’re in that final time. Learning how to live with this gift, this Jesus. Discovering every day the value of the package. Understanding a little bit at a time about the waiting, the anticipation, the hope and the love expressed by God’s gift. For others, the package remains unopened. Still hoped for. Still anticipated.

Open the package.

Emmanuel. God with us.

 

Friends . . . Actually

Years ago, my decisions about who my friends were or were not were more simply made. I simply avoided you if you said or did things that I found disturbing.

You would think that the same principle would be involved in social media. I fully understand that it can be. I see posts all the time where people “unfriend” others and, if pushed hard enough, completely leave FaceBook or whatever their platform of choice is.

I’ve “unfriended” a few people in the past. To date, my standard has been to unfriend anyone who exhibits hate and discrimination in their personal posts. Oh, and anyone who has a fascination with the “F” bomb or taking God’s name in vain. (“OMG! Addicts,” you’re nearing the edge.)  I am “friends” with a wide array of individuals — many of them sensitive to such rubbish. Others are young and losing their innocence to what our greater society has begun to find acceptable. Enlightenment never looked so dark. I don’t choose for my internet spaces to be the place where they get further exposure to such things.

I am close to “unfriending” some others of you. You’re pushing the line by reposting things that you haven’t checked out and that are largely false or misleading. Just writing the word “Truth” by those posts doesn’t make them true. Others of you are posting things that do have truth at their base. However, by watching what you post day after day, I have to wonder if you choose to feature only stories that will escalate violence and hatred. If I unfriend you, it won’t be because of your view of what is right and wrong, but only because of the way your actions are perpetuating bad sentiment and behavior among others.

Because of my life experience, I have been honored to form friendships among diverse groups of people. Politically, racially, ethnically, spiritually. I have been stretched by that diversity and I am grateful. But lest you think that you are on the “right” side of my friend set and that you’re safe from the point I’m trying to make, I want to be clear that I’ve found people on both sides of the dividing line. The desire to incite negative outcomes seems to be an equal opportunity malady. I am not immune either.

I strongly believe that unfriending any of you (except for those who violate my standards about the personal bile and profanity) is not the best answer. No, I’m not keeping you on as friends because I think I can change you. I need my perspective to be broad. I need to have as friends those who think differently, see differently, and choose differently than I do. You make me uncomfortable sometimes. But that’s the point. I see goodness in you. And I hope you can look past my multitude of failings. Friends do that.

In fact, some of the discomfort you’ve blessed me with has caused me to pause and reconsider my position on some things. I’ve changed as a result. Thank you. Other things I don’t agree with have convinced me that I need to find ways to better understand you, because the ideas you are posting aren’t doing it.

My plea to you, my friend, is to be responsible. No matter how badly you see and know an injustice to be, remember that we, as God’s children, as peacemakers, are to be a peculiar people. Don’t escalate violence. Talk. Talk loudly if you must, but respectfully. March peacefully. Help bring change to this broken world. But please help stop this vicious cycle of retaliation and justification of the unholy — from both sides.

I say this as one friend to another.

“If just” — our answer to all things Ferguson

When I went to bed last Monday night with the images of mayhem in the streets of Ferguson burning as brightly as the fires in those streets, I knew that I would have to write something to express my feelings. So I did.

Thankfully, my writing session yesterday was interrupted repeatedly with meetings. I would return to my computer, read through the words that were there, edit a few, and then be called away again. What a blessing that turned out to be!

When I give advice to others about writing, I decry the evils of interruptions. Focus, write, close, ship! My advice is classic and echoes the lessons taught by many of the great writers of all time. And in this day of instant publishing, that outline for success could be seen as essential.

But it wouldn’t have served me well yesterday.

I wrote a long article. It had some great elements to it. But there was something haunting about those words. Slowly, I realized that I had fallen prey to my desire to judge and to correct from my sole perspective. That view is not simple — particularly when you add my thoughts on social and legal systems and my penchant for productive activities. Yet, I realize that my sole perspective should never be the only consideration. And I realized that I should never assume I fully know the perspectives of others.

Despite the fact that I invested several hours on that post, I couldn’t hit “publish.” This morning, just a few hours ago, I opened it one last time and then sent it to the trash. I thank God that it is gone.

Why?

Because, like most of the things I saw in social media and from the news media in the last 36 hours, it was from the “IF JUST” angle. If just people would do this. If just people would not do that. If just the prosecutor had done this. If just President Obama had used these words in stead of those words. If just . . .

“If just” paints my view and my judgment on everything. That’s the problem with most of our “justice” conversations. The concept of justice is self-centered. We agree to a set of norms or rules because, under certain circumstances, we want those rules to benefit us.

Honestly, every society in history has written laws and rules to benefit self. And the “self” that was benefited was always those who were in power at the moment. I’m not just talking Democrats and Republicans here. For the sake of continuity, the concept of legal precedent surfaced to help people make decisions — so they would know what to expect from their behavior and from society’s response to that behavior. And the laws and the precedents have shaped multiple systems that raise barriers and increase the likelihood that you and I will never have true relationship and understanding with those we perceive to be different from us.

Systems are efficient. But systems aren’t perfect. Some systems are just bad. One of the strengths of a system is its ability to resist change. That strength is also the biggest threat posed by systems.

We must change some systems in this country. I am of the opinion that we suffer from systemic racism. Maybe you don’t share that view. Yet, perhaps you would agree that we have some sort of problem. However, if your answer to that problem is preceded by “IF JUST” it has little chance of success in the long term.

I hope I haven’t urged “IF JUST” beyond what I hope is a clear statement of our need to make this conversation about more than our personal justice perspectives. Let’s truly scrutinize the things we do and the things we permit that discriminate and devalue others. And let’s do it in a spirit of building instead of destruction. And let’s take action.

You know, perhaps our conversations should be framed “IF JESUS.”