How To Have Better Conversations (Defining The Goal)

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I believe that communication is one of the most undervalued skills in church leadership, or any leadership for that matter. Communication is everything! In this context I don’t mean primarily, the ability to stand up and speak to a room of people, I mean all our communication. Most of the stressful moments in our lives come from miscommunication or confrontation or some other form of difficult conversation. Sometimes the problem is actually the lack of communication. My favourite communication quote:

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. Bernard Shaw

Building something significant, helping people grow as disciples, building a team, protecting your church culture, modelling health and freedom – all of these require the skill of communication. Not to mention that often our words are where we either display love to others, or not.

Yet how many of us have invested serious time to grow in this area? Most of us simply learn to cope using the high end, sophisticated, communication skills we learnt on the school playground. We survived and so they must be OK, right? Well, if we are honest, the truth is that many of us pick up bad habits along the way. What worked at age 7 when someone stole your toy generally doesn’t work in adulthood. Though that doesn’t stop many of us trying!

When I speak to other leaders, without a doubt the hardest challenges they face are people challenges. That is where we feel the anxiety build up and that is where we lose sleep.

Unfortunately I can’t promise you the perfect nights sleep but I can encourage you that today, wherever your communication skills are at, you can grow.

Communication is a skill (or perhaps a skill set). It is not an area you are either naturally good or bad at. You may need to overcome some self-limiting beliefs to realise this.

Personally I’ve been on a journey for the past 10 years to try and grow intentionally in my communication. Once I started to see the fruit in my own life it was incredible. My naturally tendency is still to want to avoid the hard conversations yet with practice I’ve discovered the importance of these conversations and the peace that comes from having some skills to rely on. I can’t control the outcome of such conversations but by gaining skills I can certainly improve the chances.

I owe a large part of my learning to Dann Farrelly – the Lead Pastor at Bethel Church in Redding – who introduced some of this content under the title “Brave Communication”. His content on the topic is well worth a listen/read.

So where can we begin today?


Goal of Communication

Firstly it can be helpful to get clarity. In any given conversation, what is the purpose behind healthy communication.

Dann frames it like this:

“You are able to own and mean what you say and understand what you hear”

A simple statement but with a lot of depth. Communicating is about conveying a message that is true to us and something which we will take responsibility for in the future. Communicating is not just about speaking however – it is supposed to be a two way street. So the goal of communication is also that we listen in such a way that we truly understand the other person.

What this statement excludes is almost as important as what it includes. Healthy communication does not have agreement, harmony or peace as its fundamental goal. Though in a culture of healthy communication these things become more likely.

The particular conversation you have in mind may have a more specific goal, to encourage someone or to heal a hurt or to build a bridge or to address an issue. However it all begins with the more general goal of speaking something that is honest and true for you and then genuinely seeking to listen to another person.

This is actually really hard to do in practice. I nearly always have another goal in mind that unfortunately contaminates a healthy conversation. If my goal is to persuade someone, generally I will suck at listening. I will be spending the time they are talking thinking up my next witty come back. If my goal is to look good, I may be tempted to say things that I can’t truly own or mean. If my emotions overtake me again – I may say things I don’t want to take responsibility for later.

The best communicators, communication ninjas as I like to call them, are able to masterfully keep the true goal in mind. These are the people that get called in to deal with conflicts; the hostage negotiators, the peace makers.

The journey of owning and meaning what you say is a journey of self discovery. It requires us to become better at naming our feelings, being honest about them yet without letting them dominate our behaviour. It requires us to approach conversations asking ourselves the deeper questions like – what do I really ultimately want from this conversation?

Often we have to let go of the school playground techniques we have learnt. Speaking louder to get heard, trying to overpower others with intellect, pretending we are not hurt or perhaps just giving the silent treatment. I’m sure you, like me, would never be guilty of such dysfunctional and childish behaviours… if only!

So getting a healthy goal in mind is a great start. Next we need to think about the kind of values that shape our approach to conversations.

I would love to hear from you – what helps you have better conversations?

NEXT POSTCommunication Core Values (Part 1)


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