Posts Tagged ‘communication’

My dad has a saying, “If you can’t dazzle ’em with brilliance, baffle them with [a compound word starting with “bull”]. While I don’t necessarily concur with all of that, I have heard many speakers who seemed to be trying to dazzle the audience with their brilliance and have left me feeling like Dad might be right. At the very least, I had no idea what they were saying and as such, by my judgment, they failed. The purpose of communication is to be understood, period.

Take my experience this week. I’m ministering to adults with developmental disabilities. This is a tough balance to strike. They aren’t kids, they are adults, so making it “kiddy” will not work. These folks are worthy of my respect and of my very best. The key is to present the information in a way they understand. After all, I am bringing them the most important message of all, the Gospel. These folks don’t need to know how smart I am. They don’t need to be dazzled, they need to hear the truth, the simple truth, in a way that they can understand, a way that honors God and them. I owe them that. I owe God that.

You owe your audience the same thing. An audience is a privilege. Not everybody gets one. Make sure you honor yours by giving them what God has given you in a way that they understand. That usually means it’s best to lead with the simple truth.

After all that’s what everyone needs to know and understand.

I’ve been called upon to do a 6 foot by 8 foot live painting for a camp here in PA. This is a different situation for me in some ways, because usually when I do a live painting I am also the speaker, so I’m also there to talk the viewers through what I’m thinking. This time I’m only doing the painting. My first run at a sketch just didn’t work so for the next run, I went classic. Their theme is on finding fulfillment, so I just did a straight up Jesus, since He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, He is the fulfillment of the OT law, of Scripture and, at least in my view, the ultimate source of fulfillment.

Why am I cross posting this one? Art is communication. If we want people to get our meaning, we need to make it speak clearly. My first run at this was misunderstood or maybe more correctly was just not understood and while, as I stated above, had I been the speaker, I would have been able to explain the piece to the audience and they would have gotten it. That’s all well and good if that audience is the only group to see the piece, but this piece will be kept and displayed probably for quite some time to be seen by people who were not in attendance when I made it. They need to get it too if I want the art to fulfill a greater purpose. Sometimes it’s best to keep a piece simple so it can be understood. An open armed Christ speaks volumes.

Many people believe the main desire of the human soul is to be loved. I can agree with that sentiment, but before that, I believe there is something else. To be known? Yes, but more specifically to be understood.

Have you ever had a time when you were trying to communicate something and words just failed? You just couldn’t get your point across. Isn’t it maddening? I think we all want to be understood and if that is ultimately our goal, then we are all in the communication business. We’re trying to help people to see things our way. We’re trying to communicate something that we feel is urgent or essential and the more we care about the recipient, the more urgent the need becomes.

How can you make yourself understood? Well there are a couple things to keep in mind.

Language. Now I’m not just talking about whether you speak English, or Spanish, or Mandarin, or whatever. I’m also talking about those subtle nuances that help our words to connect. My wife will often tell me after I speak that she felt I used a slang or a figure of speech that some of the people didn’t understand. Humor doesn’t always translate and of course there are things that just simply should not be said. The audience understood you perfectly but they were offended or appalled and so they tuned you out. Also, and this is a huge one, don’t try to impress people with how smart you are. If you talk over people’s heads, using words that they will not understand, it may make you feel intellectually superior (you might even be intellectually superior) but when it comes to being understood, you failed. The dirty little secret of communication is it’s not about you. The story may be, but the object of communication is ALWAYS the audience.

Listening. One of the best ways to communicate is to start by shutting up. Listen to what the other person is saying, (because it’s about them, remember?) then when you have some understanding of where they are coming from, then speak. Otherwise you run the risk of answering questions they’re not asking. Again this may satisfy your ego, but it will do precious little to help you be understood. If communication is always about them (and it is) then what’s in it for them is paramount to being understood. The best teachers understood this. It took years to understand why I ever had to learn algebra.

Love. The old adage rings true. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. While this is essential in all modes of communication, it is essential in communication of God’s message. The admonition to speak the truth in love comes to mind. Without love we come across like a bunch of holier-than-thou know-it-alls and you would never have that many hyphens in your title. Remember the purpose of communication is to be understood and in order to be understood, you have to be heard, and in order to be heard the other party (the one it’s all about) had to be listening. Turn them off and they’ll do the same to you.

Communication is critical, urgent and always about the recipient. Keep that in mind.

idontcareIt was an important report, one that could have benefitted a lot of people and one that needed to be read by a bunch of people. I read it several times. I did this not so much because it was pithy and engaging, but because it was really hard to understand. I’m not a stupid person, it was just an extremely complex piece of writing. Others read it too. They also did not understand it and as a result, something that could have been quite enlightening and helpful ended up breeding some distrust and division.

Then there was the time I was reading an assigned text for a class. In one sentence, I had to consult a dictionary at least three times just to understand what the writer, a noted biblical scholar, was saying. Ironically, the sentence was on the importance of making your preaching understandable to the common man. Speaking of text books, did you ever wonder why college text books are so expensive? The answer is the only people who will buy them are those who are forced to buy them. Do you know who reads doctoral dissertations? Other people writing doctoral dissertations.

I am not putting down intellectuals here. Instead I am pointing out something you don’t have to be a genius to understand. Even if you are a genius, chances are most of your audience is not. Writing is a mode of communication and the purpose of communication is to be understood. You can lament that the people reading your work are less intelligent than you, or you can appreciate the people who will read your work and write it so they can understand it. I remember several times preaching in places where most of the people did not speak English. I could go there and preach with great passion and fire, but it would be completely meaningless without an interpreter. It doesn’t matter how much you know if people cannot understand you.

Writing (or speaking) over the heads of your audience is not very smart. Make yourself understood.

A little off topic today but this post deals with something that we will all face as we try to express our faith to a world that is often hostile to it. There are times, especially in the world of social media, when we will see something with which we will take issue. Sometimes those things really are an issue and we must take a stand, but then there are those other times…

You see something that you find upsetting, but rather than calming down and using your logic, you unleash the part of your brain that is best kept in check. The result is often catastrophic and it doesn’t need to be. There are a few questions you can ask yourself.

1. Do I have a relationship with this person? (a real one, not just Facebook acquaintances?) Here’s the thing, a person you don’t know, may not care at all what you think about an issue. They’re not invested in you, so there’s a better than even chance, they don’t care about your opinion. Weighing in on their conversation is probably going to do little more than instigate a flame war.
2. Is what the person says in line with their character?
Often, especially in a world of written communication, it’s hard to read a person’s intent. Without the benefit of hearing inflections and seeing body language, we have to assume how they mean what they say. How many times have you heard, “It’s not what you said, it’s the way you said it?” It’s really easy to read into a post more than is actually there.
3. Would I be better served posting something positive rather than entering into this discussion?
The best way to overcome negativity is rarely ever to enter into more negativity, but what if we went to positivity instead?
4. Am I speaking the truth in love?
It’s all about building up and growing into the likeness of Christ. That annoying person with their off the wall point of view is someone Jesus died to save. Will your comment bring them closer to that or further away. It is really tempting to verbally “pound” on people when they come against us, especially in matters of faith. It’s also really easy to see a lot of threats to the church and feel persecuted. The truth though is the biggest threat to the church is not external, it’s internal and it comes when people speak love without truth or truth without love. Love without truth is ignoring the Word of God to say whatever will make us more popular. The problem with this is God has not changed His mind. On the other hand, truth without love drives people from the truth that sets men free.
5. Will God be REALLY glorified by me entering into this discussion?
If the conversation will devolve into meanness and stupidity, the answer to this question is no.
6. Have I prayed for this person?
Your wit and wisdom will not be able to change this person and people are almost never fought into the faith. If you don’t believe me look at the crusades. Jesus changes people, so prayer is the first option.
7. Am I just adding to the noise?

Maybe this isn’t as off topic as I thought. We are all about communication here and that is the very heart of this issue. How will we put forth a message of love and hope that will shine in the midst of the billions of messages we see every day? All these questions are a good way to start. Scripture reminds us Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:23-26)

This issue is bigger than we think and the opportunities and consequences are as well.