The phrase seems to be imbedded in my life and role as a pastor. This past week, the phrase came up a number of times. We work on this all the time and we encourage our staff to be aware of how they are communicating – their words, body language, facial expressions and overall approach. It is the greatest challenge for our organization and we are growing improving. But this week, we stumbled. Better said…I stumbled. Every conversation I had about improving communication revolved around me and where I had blown it.
If you ever wondered what it is like to be a pastor, one concept you will begin to realize is that you will be misunderstood and conversations will go differently than you envisioned. You can’t control how others filter your words and actions but you have a great responsibility to communicate to eliminate as much “confusion” as possible. The instances that I learned from this week showed me once again the importance of slowing down – you can’t communicate well if you aren’t willing to give the time to the situation. What I thought was a “drop by” should have been a “listening moment.” I appreciate my good friend’s courage to come to me the next day and share their disappointment in my lack of interest in hearing their thoughts on the situation. As I am hearing the disappointment, my mind is racing to find an adequate excuse. Don’t we always want to find the reason and put all the blame on it. It only took seconds for me to realize that I was wrong because I didn’t recognize that I misread the situation and didn’t lead well. So, I took the first step in conquering bad communication – I owned it. They were right and I appreciated the chance to grow.
The other two situations came from people I don’t know as well but were bold enough to give me some feedback of their first impression of me. Frankly, both felt I came across “arrogant” and for two entirely different reasons. As each unfolded their impressions and how they came to them, I was pretty surprised. One was based on a comment I made (which wasn’t directed at them) and another was the fact that I can be pretty quiet in a group setting. As they shared, I went into growth mode. If someone has the guts to share something that difficult, I will listen to them. In the end, I might agree or disagree but I respect the fact that they care enough to share. I often make this comment – “All I can do is grow forward.” I believe that.
Let me point out one contradiction. These men in the infancy of our relationship wanted to re-establish a good foundation for our relationship and were willing to endure some painful moments to get the misconceptions out of the way. I respect that. Here is my contradiction – I will not listen to everybody who has a problem with me. After 24 years of ministry, I have learned that some people want to blame you for their problems and bad communication of their own. I will not own someone else’s stuff. I will be pleasant but direct and straightforward about the situation. I have seen pastors become the “whipping boy” for someone to dump their problems. It usually will come down to the person’s attitude and heart – if you are willing to grow as much as I am, I will invest in that journey. If you are communicating to find a new person to point a finger at so you can feel better about yourself, then it will be a short conversation.
Bad communication flat-out stinks. The growth comes when one or both parties are willing to call it out in an attitude of growth and humility. Tough stuff – but growth doesn’t come without a little stretching.