Caveat: I am not a licensed therapist, and I don’t play one on TV. Read at your own risk.
Yesterday, at the age of 99, my grandmother passed away and went to be with the Lord. She had a wonderful and full life, and she had a great impact on me.
Her age also got me to thinking about when she was born (1913).
A lot has changed in 99 years:
- The crossword puzzle was invented in 1913.
- The Wright brothers flew their plane only 10 years earlier.
- Adhesive tape would not be invented for another 10 years.
- The Band-Aid would not be invented until 1920.
In 1913 relatively few methods of communication existed, but today the list of methods is long and varied:
- Face-to-face conversation
- Snail mail
- and many more . .
Since (thanks to Apple) we have all of these options at our fingertips, what methods of communication should we choose?
If my office is a 2 minute walk from my colleague’s office and I need to tell them something brief, how should I do that?
If I have to challenge someone on a difficult topic, what is the healthiest method to use? When should I confront them, and where?
I have struggled long and hard to communicate in the right way, at the right time, and in the right place with my loved ones and close colleagues.
If you are struggling with the same issue, here are a few things to consider.
Consider the geographical and emotional distance.
Geography: If someone lives in another part of the country you obviously are not going to be able to talk in person, but how about using Skype? If you need to talk to your colleague down the hall, what is stopping you from taking a brief walk? You need the exercise, and in person conversations mean you can see someone’s body language, which is at least 70% of communication.
Emotions: Never communicate when you are overheated emotionally. Put some distance between you and the event so that you can communicate clearly and kindly. For some things all you may need is a minute or two, and for others you may need a night’s rest. Just don’t wait too long.
Consider the details.
Don’t attempt to have a detailed conversation via texting or email or Facebook messaging. You need to see someone’s body language, and you need to be able to enter into a deep discussion without being delayed by typing . . . and waiting . . . for a response . . . and then . . . getting the rest . . . of the message.
Find a place where you can sit down together and not be distracted, and make certain you have set aside enough time so you are not thinking about where you need to be next.
Consider the delicacy.
If you know that what you want to communicate is sensitive and could bring an emotional response, avoid technology. Period.
A friend once told me that if you need to use more than one smiley face 😄 in a text to lighten up your otherwise heavy or difficult message you should stop texting and pick up the phone. That rule has been extremely helpful to me.
Also, the more delicate your conversation the more diligent you should be to speak in “I” statements. “When you do such-and-such, I feel this way;” not “You are arrogant and I’m angry about it.”
Is it a decision?
Decisions must be made in person, face-to-face, unless emergency and distance prevent that. Truth be told, there are few emergencies in life (a sale at your favorite technology store or shoe store is NOT an emergency!).
Decisions must also be made with all of the key personnel present. If someone cannot make the meeting, don’t make the decision. If you are overhauling something, always involve the person or people affected. Otherwise you risk division and bitterness.
Consider the delivery.
Give the grace you wish to receive. Just yesterday a drummer called me and said he might not be able to make rehearsal because of a family change in transportation. I had the choice to either get in his face or to help him. I gladly jumped in the car and made the hour round trip, and the resulting connection and camaraderie was awesome.
We as leaders can get so frustrated with feeling like volunteers are bailing on us. Just remember you are in ministry for people and not to turn out a product.
Finally, consider the potential for damage.
In relation to what medium you use, do you really want to use Twitter to ream someone out? Is Facebook the best place to vent your frustration with your job? Do half a billion people really need to know what is going on in your bedroom? Really?
Communication is a learned art for everyone and has the potential to build up or destroy relationships and the people you love.
It’s up to you.
How can you communicate more effectively and compassionately with your colleagues and loved ones?