Interpersonal Leadership: Communication
“Choosing Your Communication Channels” (SL#46)
by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., adapted from SkillTrack® 7.3 - Interpersonal Communication

There are a rich variety of channels for communication between individuals and small groups. Effective leadership is developed by an inventory of available channeling and selection of areas for intentional development. Seek to improve your skill by awareness and selection of communication channels and media. The key is always to match the best medium to the message for its clear communication.

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.--2 Cor. 3:12

1. Personal Presence and Action
Your very physical presence and manner can communicate an interpersonal message beyond what you might say.

Sometimes you have to be silent to be heard.--Stanilaw J. Lec, Polish writer and aphorist, Unkempt Thoughts (St. Martin's Press, 1962)

Think about a time you have been with a group, said very little, even struggled for the right words in a prayer. When you left you thought: “Did I ever blunder my way through that! I surely let them down.” But later the deacon group-leader responded; “You were there at just the right time; and, by not telling us what to do you made us take our responsibility. Thanks!”
Reflect on the following possibilities:

That you are with a person at the right time and place. _____

That your emotional attitude is in sync with the situation: “Laugh with those that laugh; weep with those that weep.” _____

That you measure what you leave unsaid: a pastoral call at an emergency time does not bring up differences over church business or inactivity in deacon ministry. _____

Take a pie; give a Bible; buy the lunch; offer a ride. _____

Offer a warm, firm handshake (do not be a crusher or be wimpy). _____

On some occasions, a warm, discreet embrace or a pat on the back or touch on the arm--contemporary expressions of “a holy kiss.” _____

Respect custom, culture, or norms for standing, sitting, or making physical contact. _____

Take time to sit down if offered by another. Do not continually look at your watch. _____

Do not stand inside someone’s reasonable, social space while talking to them. _____

Perhaps, present a business card to clarify personal or congregation name, or to establish credentials. _____

Directly face a person, using an open stance (without crossing your arms) to send an open, friendly, attentive message. Watch your posture; do not slump or fidget. _____

Maintain attentive eye contact with one individual, or change focus in a small group. _____

Use gestures that add to the verbal message, not distract from the conversation or presentation. _____

[On communicating with foreign construction workers:] I learned to point in Spanish.--James Burke, Construction manager, Remark, Kensington, Maryland, April 1988

2. Visual/NonVerbal Messages
Remember, research has demonstrated that a message sent through visual behavior, signs, symbols, and movement most often really communicates the meaning. Since words heard are often effectively understood through congruent visuals, check up on your use of these elements:

We cannot ignore tone of voice or attitudes. These may be just as important as the words used.--Maurice S. Trotter, New York University, Supervisor's Handbook on Insubordination (Bureau of National Affairs, 1967)

Do you maintain eye contact? That is the way to a person’s ear. _____

Do you express your true feelings? Those significant to you often care about your “inner space.” _____

Does anger or fear take over your voice or manner? Be natural, normal, even controlling heated emotions. _____

Does your face express your true message? Saying, “I really like you” (with a smirk) doesn’t really help. _____

Do you smile and laugh freely? Humor, though not frivolity, smooths many happy and hard moments. _____

Do the tone and speed of your talking support your intended message? _____

Does your body say, “I’m comfortable talking to you,” or “I have time to listen to you”? _____

Do you use objects, pictures, graphs, “doodling” if it’s on the topic? (I sometimes do my best talking on a paper napkin.) _____

Do your gestures help carry your message? _____

3. Spoken Words--Person to Person or Group
Conversation may be the joy of social experience, but verbal communication is the centerpiece of business/working relationships (SL#47 and SL#48). Practice and improve the art of conversation as a critical channel; and develop the skill of “reporting” to others.

The Golden Rule--Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

What is the agenda or the occasion for this communication--social or business? casual or formal? open or structured? _____

Casual or directional, based on the occasion of the talk; there are times to “hang out.” _____

Brief or extended, again depending on the occasion. _____

Report or presentation: state the topic or nature of the report; its major points developed with information, visuals etc.; call for options or actions to be taken; and close on time. _____

Message: What do you have to say? Speak clearly, prepare well, close before others stop listening. _____

Share your ideas, feelings: set a trusting example; risk yourself and others may risk themselves to you. _____

Listen: What does the other person have to say? Listening is the critical element of conversation. _____

Are you responsive to emotions and context? _____

Feedback: How do you respond to others in conversation? _____

The location and surroundings, should support the conversation’s purpose. _____

Do not interrupt: let a thought be finished. _____

4. Messages in Written Format
Written communication as a channel may take several forms based on the nature of the message: letters, notes, memos, e-mail, fax, announcement, invitation, season greetings, reports, schedules, minutes, and the ever-present “post-it notes.” The advantages may stream from very personal contact to careful composition, to permanent record. Now, let’s review selected elements:

Care should be taken, not that the reader may understand, but that he must understand.--Quintilian, c.35--c.95, Roman rhetoric teacher and advocate, De institutione oratoria

Thoughtfully shape the message with words that do not depend on your presence and interaction; e-mail, fax and letters have this limitation. _____

Message: What is it you want to communicate? Is it worthwhile? personal? business? factual? _____

Clarity: Put your ideas into clear sentences that do not depend on verbal interaction. _____

Organization: Put the message in an order that makes sense to the reader. _____

Focus: Stick with your intent, your direction. _____

Brevity: Keep it short and simple and to the point. _____

Feedback: Seek, understand, and respond to feedback. Avoid cliché, “Does that make sense to you?” _____

Type: Choose a type of written communication that fits the occasion. _____

Types: Make your own list of options, such as: letters, faxes, notes, reports, memos, even telegrams, business cards (with a note), surveys or Q&A requests. _____

Third-party messenger: someone that represents you with a written or verbal message, report, or request. Caution: take care that your messenger is trustworthy. _____

Notes: Take written notes when someone else is presenting/talking; that adds to the permanence of conversation. _____

Responding to someone else’s correspondence--on their correspondence, like we do with e-mail. _____

Letters, though almost a lost art, sill represent a personal effort at “distance communication.” _____

5. Telephone/E-mail/Fax/Video
Additionally, this multifaceted channel offers long-distance media, often linked to the telephone and/or the computer. Used properly, each can contribute to your effective interpersonal communication. Reflect on these suggestions:

It is generally better to deal by speech than by letter.--Francis Bacon, 1561-1624, Lord Chancellor of England, Of Negotiating

The telephone is a great blessing (or blight) in the life and ministry of a leader/minister; though not face to face, it does give an opportunity for immediate feedback. _____

Take and make your own calls when possible. _____

Use an answering machine to add to the quality of communication--but not to build isolation. _____

Keep telephone conversations brief and to the point; make notes beforehand. Plan your essential points ahead of time. _____

The more complex the message, the less valuable the telephone is. _____

E-mail, linked to telephone and computer, is ideal for informal, immediate messages for individual or small groups. _____

E-mail may become “ej-mail” (electronic junk mail), so don’t contribute to that waste of time. _____

Fax could be used for personal matters, but it most often is used for business. _____

Video and TV conferencing are becoming more available to pull in personal elements. _____


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 © 2006; hosted and copyrighted by Lloyd Elder & Associates, Inc.
For full citation of referenced works, see Bibliography/Links at
Adapted by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., Founding Director, Moench Center for Church Leadership