Author and former Presidential speechwriter James Humes once said that, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” It took me a few minutes the first time that I read this statement to understand the truth in the confusing, albeit clever, wordplay. A leader is someone who MUST understand how to communicate or they will be unable, in spite of any other talents they possess, to lead! If one does not have the ability to convey the “what”, “why” and “how” to others, they also lack the ability to get people to do what needs to be done! This doesn’t mean that a leader needs to be a great speaker. It does, however, mean that they need to have mastered a method of communication that enables them to effectively distribute the information needed by those that they lead.
The same is true for those that may not have the word “leader” in their job title. Whether we are dealing with relationships, raising children, succeeding at work or any other important life pursuit, “the art of communication“, as Humes called it, is a language in which we must be fluent. A great personality, work ethic, and motivation are all important qualities, but unless those qualities are coupled with the ability to convey the “what”, “why”, and “how” to others, we will always struggle. This doesn’t mean that we all need to become great speakers, only that we need to master a method of communication that enables us to effectively distribute the information needed by the other people in our lives.
Technique, the communication method, will be different from one person to the next. Method may even change depending on the situation. There are principles, however, that apply regardless of the method. Find YOUR technique, but use these principles to guide its use and communicate effectively.
6 Principles of Effective Communication
1. Speak the Truth in Love
Ephesians 4:5 tells us that we need to “speak the truth in love.” When we think about communicating effectively, we need to start right here. Two principles are given in this one very simple phrase.
Speak the Truth
The goal of effective communication must be truth or it is not communication as much as it is manipulation. Before we ever start talking, or writing, or doing anything else that conveys information to others, we need to make sure that WHAT we are communicating, at least to the best of our ability to understand, is true. Far to many people use the tools of communication to manipulate the thinking or actions of others instead of communicating what is true. Without truth there will not be trust and without trust you will lose the ability to get people to listen to what you want to say. Effective communication is built on a foundation of truth.
Do it in Love
This second part, LOVE, makes the first part, TRUTH, able to be received (receivable? palatable? acceptable? choosing the right word can be hard but you know what I mean!). Love, as I have written before, is premised on doing what is best for the object of your love. This means that you do what you do, when it is out of love, so that the person you are doing it for will be helped. And when we speak truth from a heart of love, that truth will be free of harsh language, unnecessary accusation or manipulation. Love is what keeps truth from becoming a weapon against the person receiving it and makes that truth helpful and constructive.
2. Take time to understand the truth
This may be clear, but in case you were wondering, before you can SPEAK the truth you need to KNOW the truth! We are so quick to communicate what we believe to be true without taking the necessary time to investigate what it actually true.
A couple of thoughts on this point:
- Emotions are rarely helpful when determining truth. Take the necessary time to “calm down” (a phrase that rarely helps people to calm down) before communicating something that you will later regret. Emotion can convince us that anything is true because of how it feels. Remove the feeling and you can more clearly see what is real.
- Be curious and ask the right questions of yourself and others to determine the truth before attempting to communicating it. Not only will this help you to communicate more clearly, it may keep you from embarrassing or defending yourself when more facts (overlooked by you) are presented.
- Don’t be afraid to admit that you may not have all of the facts. If you are not sure what is actually true but feel like you need to act, be quick to acknowledge the areas that your understanding may be lacking.
- Unless someone is in imminent danger follow these two rules:
- Be very quick to communicate encouraging truth.
- Be very slow to communicate confrontational truth. I am not suggesting that you avoid confrontation, only that you deliberately determine it is necessary before hurting the person you intend to help.
3. Understand your motivation and goal
These all work together of course, but be clear on your goal in communicating truth before you begin. It is important for you to understand where you hope to end up before you begin to speak (or write, etc.). This will keep you focused and will help you to get back on track if something happens to push you off. We often end up saying more or less than we intended simply because we did not first define our communication goal.
4. Choose the right time
It doesn’t matter how good you are at communicating if you communicate at the wrong time. Communication involves to parts that must work together: giving and receiving. If the receiver is not in a good place to receive than what you are giving will not be as effective as it otherwise might be.
Some thoughts on choosing the right time:
- Work through 1-3 above BEFORE attempting to communicate. Few things are as urgent as they feel and you will be glad that you took a little extra time to get your message right before delivering it.
- Clarity requires focus. If you or the one you are communicating with are distracted, than the message will at best be diluted and at worst lost altogether. Find a time and place free from distractions so that there is as much clarity as possible.
- Fatigue, like distraction, makes it difficult to communicate and receive communication effectively. If what you are communicating requires involvement beyond just a simple “yes” or “no”, whenever possible, until everyone is rested.
- Give others space to transition. When we have something to share with someone else it is hard for us to consider that they may have other things going on in their lives that they are personally working through. This is why I like to schedule meeting and speaking times whenever possible. Scheduling allows us to compartmentalize the other areas of concern in our lives and focus on the conversation at hand.
5. Begin with affirmation
Create a positive environment by beginning all communication with positive affirmation. This will set the tone and put the listener in a position where they are more likely to accept what is being communicated.
6. End with affirmation
Regardless of what may have been said, if the goal is to “speak the truth in love”, than you should end the communication with positive affirmation. We cannot make people think and feel what we want them to, but we can do our best to let them know that we care about them, have their best interest in mind and believe in them. Knowing that we are going to end this way keeps us focused as we communicate and diligent in our preparation.
While there are many methods that we can utilize to communicate, we need to allow the right principles to guide those methods so that we are as effective as possible. The art of communication is more than just the language of leadership. It is the language spoken fluently by anyone who hopes to influence others in the best way possible.