Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Communication According to James

As we seek to become good communicators as leaders, the best place we can start learning is the Bible. James in particular had a lot to say about communication.

James 1:26: If you claim to be religious but don't control your tongue, you are just fooling yourself and your religion is worthless.

And then there's the famous controlling your tongue passage of James 3, where we read stuff like, "So also, the tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do. A tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is full of wickedness that can ruin your whole life. It can turn the entire course of your life into a blazing flame of destruction, for it it is set on fire by hell itself. People can tame all kinds of animals, but no one can tame the tongue. It is an uncontrollable evil, full of deadly poison."

And with that...I think I should probably just shut up!

We will get to principles of effective communication throughout an organization and principles of communication through various written and verbal forms. But before we launch into communication guidelines for leaders, let's meditate for a while on the first verse in James that addresses how we use our tongue, James 1:19, "My dear brothers and sisters, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry."

The Message translation says it this way: "Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear."

That’s three easy rules: 1) Quick to listen, 2) Slow to Speak, 3) Slow to Get Angry.

Most of us are naturally wired to be slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to get angry. So how can we implement these rules?

Quick to Listen
As the Message says, “Lead With Your Ears.” About halfway through Lent, I told Ryan that I should have given up my opinions for Lent. I tend to be a pretty opinionated person, and I always have plenty to say on any given topic. In fact, I have a tendency to adopt any opinion that might lead to a good debate. But I think I could grow spiritually by fasting my opinions from time to time and refraining from sharing them unless asked. It would force me to lean into the other person and actually hear them at a deeper level.

Being quick to listen means seeking to understand the other person. It means not only trying to understand and comprehend the words they are saying, but also trying to understand their heart and motives. I know this is the typical leadership development stuff, but ask clarifying questions to help you listen better.

Being quick to listen also means being there for the person. Often, our minds are focused elsewhere. We are formulating our next opinionated response. We are thinking about where we are supposed to be. We are wondering why this person keeps going on and on. We are trying to make eye contact with someone across the room. Just stop and be there.

Slow to Speak
James encourages us to be “slow to speak.” Abraham Lincoln once said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

Ecclesiastes 3:7 says that there is a time to be silent and a time to speak. Before we speak out loud to another person, we should speak to God first. A wise pastor once gave me some good advice on how to deal with things that concerned me. I was encouraged that I should pray about problems more than I talk to others about them. If I was talking to other people about issues more than I was talking to God about those issues, then my communication was out of balance. Talk to God first.

Secondly, think before you speak. This will help you avoid saying things that you will regret later. The Bible gives us plenty of reasons to think before we speak. Take Proverbs 13:3, for instance: “He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.” Or Matthew 12:36-37: “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."

Thirdly, being slow to speak means that you don’t interrupt. I have a tendency to interrupt for two reasons: out of defensiveness and out of excitement. Sometimes I interrupt because I feel like I need to “set the record straight.” Other times, I interrupt out of sheer excitement and joy at what the other person is saying. In both of these situations, I need to go all the way back to Rule #1: Be Quick to Listen.

Finally, words should accomplish a purpose. When your mouth begins to move, consider what the purpose is. Are your words true? Are they uplifting? Are they useful? Be slow to speak and consider how you are communicating. How you say something is as important as what you say. We will talk about this principle more in the coming weeks.

Slow to Get Angry
I love how the Message says, “Let anger straggle along in the rear.” This is a character issue. It’s about growing in the fruit of the Spirit. Ultimately, what comes out of mouth will reflect what is in our hearts. And what grows within our hearts will be nurtured by the words that come out of our mouths. It’s a never-ending process. For some of us, being slow to get angry means counting to ten. Sound silly? It’s actually helped me from time to time. Counting to ten helps me to be quick to listen and slow to speak, giving me time to talk to God first. Typically, I have to keep counting beyond ten because God isn’t done talking to me yet. Ultimately, we want to become people who are instinctively slow to get angry. But until I get to that place, I need to keep counting to ten and talking to God.

Proverbs 18:21 tells us that our tongues have the power over life and death. Let’s make an effort to speak words of life this week. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.


At 3:11 PM, Blogger Elaine B said...

For a couple of years, I practiced a personal discipline of restraint in order to tame my own tongue. My rule was this: in every small group discussion, I would consciously withhold one thing I wanted to say. No matter how brilliant I thought it was (and I think everything I think of is brilliant), I steadfastly would withhold at least 1 thought per discussion. It was really helpful. I find it much easier to wait on my turn to speak now. I also developed this habit of evaluating my statements mentally BEFORE they came out of my mouth, so that I would only speak those statements worth hearing. (and for an extrovert, thinking about your statements before speaking them is quite a breakthrough...)


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