In part one of this two-part column, I wrote that healthy churches give considerable attention to a full process of communication that includes: quality of decisions, quantity of messages, accuracy of information, and consistency of practice. In part two, I will explain the pitfalls of giving inadequate attention to the full process.
Symptoms of weak communications include statements such as:
- “I thought…” “I thought we decided to paint the room gray.”
- Accusations. “When did we change the time for…”
- References to the nebulous “they.” “They just decided to do it anyway.”
Statements like these represent confusion, which is the first warning sign of failure to communicate well.Of course, a little confusion will always happen in a church. Leaders must, however, pay attention to the level and regularity of confusion as a barometer of effective communication. The more people operate on faulty information, outdated messages, and false impressions, the more opportunity for potential problems. We cannot assume confusion is the fault of the members.
If left unaddressed, repeated confusion always – always – leads to anger. When people are embarrassed because their confusion resulted in a mistake (like missing the meeting), or because they were left out of an event, or if their opinion was discounted by a sloppy process, anger is a possible outcome.
If you only understand one thing from these two articles, let it be this cycle:
- Poor communication leads to confusion.
- Ignored confusion leads to anger.
- Regular anger leads to conflict.
Consequently, conflict often finds its roots in a failure to communicate. This type of conflict represents a self-inflicted wound of the church. It was easily avoidable.
Additionally, it takes more communication to correct confusion than it does to communicate well in the first place. Not only does confusion increase the number of messages that you now need, it changes the style of your messages. What may have been avoided by simply coordinating calendars in staff meeting, or by taking the time to do your homework about a church policy, now requires increased personal interaction to repair hurt feelings or wounded egos.
Once confusion gives way to anger, the level of communication needed to resolve the situation goes even higher. Now, extra tweets, emails, and announcements by themselves will not resolve the damage that is done. You will have to invest time in phone calls, visits, and hall conversations. The amount of spiritual energy needed to abate anger is different than the amount needed to communicate well. And, if you allow anger to escalate to conflict, increased communication alone won’t resolve it. Now you have to practice relational damage control.
A quality communication process (remember all the component parts!) may be a boring task to leaders. Yet, investing time and energy in the process from the beginning is much easier that repairing the problems that stem from our neglect.Instead of seeing communication as a mundane administrative task, recognize it as your front-line effort to provide good congregational care. Surely, avoiding unnecessary confusion and anger qualifies as the essential work of a minister.
If you want to assess the health of your communication processes, perform this evaluation:
- Do we practice genuinely collaborative decision making? Do committees and boards feel ownership? Do members have a chance to participate appropriately? Do our processes build trust?
- How many times do we announce significant events and changes? Count them. How many methods do we use to get the message out? Do we allow adequate lead time for the message to work its way through to the entire fellowship?
- Do we hear any messages from members that can be interpreted as confusion? What did members not know or misunderstand? Do we blame members for their confusion or ask how we could have communicated better?
- How many times in the last quarter did we publish conflicting information? Where are the breakdowns in this process? How do we coordinate better?
- Do we honor the procedures we’ve established? Are we consistent in our practice so that no one can justifiably accuse us of not being true to our word or being uneven in the way we treat people? What are the implied messages of our actions?
Healthy Churches operate effectively in all the component areas of the communication process. They create buy-in with collaborative processes. They provide accurate and constant information about events, opportunities, and changes. They recognize when members are confused and take efforts to abate confusion before it escalates to anger. They are self-aware enough to recognize when implied messages damage trust. They recognize effective communication as a ministerial responsibility for the care of the congregation and give it the priority it deserves.
Honest answers to the questions above can help you evaluate the health of your communication process. While you can ask these questions yourself, the consultants of CHC use their training and experience to help evaluate processes across the full life of a congregation. We can help move you toward effective communication that builds trust and care for your congregation.
Thanks to fellow CHC Consultant, Bill Owen for his collaborative insights on communication.