Can We Speak Openly?
by Michael Williams
Today we have some of the greatest leaders in the United States and around the world. Arguably some of the greatest speaking gifts of modern history—effective at moving crowds of thousands in an effortless manner. We have all seen them in action and some of us know these great men and women of our era. My experience with some of these extraordinary individuals is that they are highly effective from the pulpit, but can be ineffective regarding interpersonal relationships and communication. They can speak on the principles of relationships, but lack the skills to foster those relationships. Sometimes they hire other professional communicators to do their interpersonal relationship work so morale doesn’t totally fail. For someone in a small setting, this may seem preposterous. However, many intact lack the basic communication skills to make sure their organization is productive. Even hyper-productive. It could be said, the glue of an organization is its communication.
Proverbs 27:23 says, “Be diligent to know the state of your flocks and attend to your herds.” Then in Philippians 2:3 says, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” Clearly, we are to be intentional about knowing the state of those we work with and the morale of our organization. To do that we will need a posture of humility as we consider others more valuable than ourselves.
Productivity is desirable by all who want to lead. However, a productive work environment comes about through intention and is only attainable by thorough and immediate communication. Before I jump all the way into this, please consider something. Many, because they are effective from a pulpit, feel their interpersonal relationship skills are impeccable. However, a captive audience is much different from a one-on-one relationship. There, the ability to listen becomes paramount to communicating. Let us begin with this in mind.
It has been said, “Communication is the basis of life.” In other words, without communication, life cannot exist. Science has proven this to be true. It’s a form of Sensory Deprivation. You might remember that from high school or college. The idea behind this is that without touch or communication, a child will literally die. We are so wired by god for touch and communication that without it, life is not sustainable. Therefore, it’s not a good idea but imperative that communication is to such a degree that it’s reciprocal and understood. In other words, it’s not that you have spoken, but that you have communicated so that others can reiterate what you said. The Type A personality or visionary may want to check out as soon as he or she hears this. They may think, “I don’t have time for all of that!” What I would urge you to consider is this: You do not have time to waste on an unproductive environment. Habakuk 2:2 says we should write the vision down but also make it plain. A great teacher is not interested in having spoken, but rather in the students having digested what was thrown at them. In order for others to appropriate what was communicated, it needs to be understood. It needs to be plain. Therefore, to say communication is the basis of life still leaves something out. The key ingredient of communication is understanding. So we could say, the basis of life is communication, but the basis of communication is understanding.
Proverbs 4:7 says, “Wisdom is the principle thing; therefore, get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding.” It’s not until you understand what I’m saying that you’re able to follow through on what I’ve given you. If you speak to me in Spanish, I may only understand a few words that you’re saying, because I do not speak Spanish. Having said that, many people think because their speaking in the same language as the other person, they ought to understand everything that is being said. However, there is a great complexity of perception. So many factors go into someone’s ability to receive and process what was spoken. For understanding to take place, often explanation is needed. To make sure you have communicated effectively, there has to be an open forum to dialog and humility must be at your core foundation. Without asking questions, we can never be sure communication has taken place. So great teachers will watch the eyes and the non-verbal communication of their students to make sure they have effectively communicated. There are obvious indicators when someone seems lost or there is a blank stare in the eyes of the listener.
However, in today’s mega-church environment, humility is often not fostered. That environment leaves people to “act like they know” when they really don’t. I would never put up with that kind of behavior as it’s highly unproductive. Except I would say, if that kind of behavior is going on, it’s your fault for allowing it. Your leadership must create an environment for humility and vulnerability. In other words, if you’re not humble and vulnerable, no one else will be. It begins with you. Do you listen well enough to understand where others are coming from? If the answer to that is “no” or “I’m not sure,” then don’t expect others to listen to you. Oh, they’ll listen in part, after all they need a paycheck; but I want people to be passionate about what I’m saying. A paycheck will fade away quickly but a vested interest will last. If I don’t listen passionately to my employees, why would I expect them to listen to me?
We’ve all heard the old adage, “If you sweep something under the rug, eventually you’ll trip on it.” If you head an organization of some size, this is all the more true. What is surprising is how common this is. Often fear wins over and leaders are unwilling to confront necessary disciplinary situations. The precursor for this kind of confrontation is a relationship that I’ve just described—one that is vested, communicative and reciprocal. There the foundation is laid for any kind of communication. Even communication that is considered to be more negative in nature, like confrontation. When your goal is to dwell with others with understanding, it opens the door for every kind of communication. (1 Peter 3:7)
[In October 2014, Michael Williams resigned after 10 years as the Executive Pastor of “The House Modesto,” to pursue the call of God. He launched a non-profit for the nations called Ethnos International Inc. Ethnos International’s mission is to see every nation hear the gospel. Everywhere Michael goes, the gospel is preached and signs follow. Michael is a consummate evangelist and speaks with a prophetic voice to revive the hearts of God’s people. ]