Current communication skills used by leadership

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In assessing the current communication skills used by the leadership team of Spencer Memorial United Methodist Church where I am presently is assigned as Sr. Pastor, being empowered by what I have learned from this course, I was able in a meeting on January 19 to demonstrate to my Church Council that there was a need to overhaul, restructured or shapen our leadership communication skills to be able to become effective in meeting our goals as a church. In fact, what I have learned pertaining to communication and listening skills in these five days of intensed studies is far more precious to me than all that I have learned in my entire life's vocation.

My place of assignment is blessed to have a cross sector of various ages group: Seniors(65+), Middle Age (50-65), Adults (40-50), Young Adults (25-40), Teenagers (13-25), Youth (8-13) and Children (4-8) of which communication with these groups had been my major ministry challenge. Besides reaching out to these various ages groups, we also have severals nurturing ministries within the church blooming with the opportunity to nuture about fifty persons at any given time but was lacking the necessary communication and listening skills to make these ministry effective. However, with such acquired skills and the approval to impliment it, I intend to introduce to my church's leadership team what will be known as "System Approach to Communication" using the " Seven Skills of Communication" as outlined in the Training Manual written and taught by Dr. Jim R. Wadford entitle: " Communication Skills that Build Relationships." Such approach is expected to be launched in late May 2011 as approved by the Church's Council through workshops, training and empowering seminars.

When presenting this idea to the Council a member asked me, why such approach? I inturn responded that a systems approach to communication and listening skills was necessary at such a time for it helps us as church leaders to take a wider view of the overall ministries by using such exceptional and practical tool in achieving our theological goals as a church. The key for achieving a long-term success within this approach is for us as a team to focus on continual improvement to make it better.

But first, let us determine what a System is? A system from my prospective can be defined as a method or set of procedures for achieving something. On the other hand a system can be defined as an interdependent group of people, or processes, or functions, and activities that work together for a common goal. All parts must work together if the system is to be effective. If we as church leaders are desirous of strengthening our skills to becoming better communicators the following has to take place: first we must identify the various parts of the system; second we must look at the relationships among the various parts, and third, we must critically review our aim to determine how the system is accomplishing our aim. If we aren't getting the results we want in all areas, then we need to rebuild the system or improve a part of it of which we we as a church have agreed to do.

Consider as an example, a garden which is in my view is a system. The inputs include dirt, seeds, moisture, sunlight, etc. The transformation of such system involves seeds sprouting, growing, and finally bearing fruit which is the outcome. If we want to improve the yield of our garden, we must first look at the overall relationships including the processes. A better brand of seeds or perhaps more water might bring the results we want. On the other hand, stronger fertilizer as compare to "miracle grow" which is mild might help the plants grow faster, but it also might poison the soil! What we often do is to examine processes or repair them only when they are obviously broken. But if we are to have an effective system of communication, we will need to improve our processes constantly, even when the system seem to be working which is not in our case.

Our primary task as a local congregation, especially church's leaders is to be effective communicators as well as good listeners in order to achieve the purpose of the church. Now if we as a church are to design or improve both communication and listening skills within its fabric, then we must consider the following seven proven communication skills that yield maximum results as outlined in Dr. Wadford's Training Manual:

1. Behavior Identification - naming and identifying observed

2. Rephrasing-restating in your own words what the other person has said without

parroting or quoting the person's own word for word.

3. Emotional Awareness- is a skill used to check out with the speaker, if your

awareness of the person's feelings or emotions is accurate based on the messages

transmitted by the person words, voice tone, and body language (primarily tone and

body language).

4. Powerful Creative Questions - are questions that take on an appreciative approach.

They are structured or worded in such a way to acquire additional information from

the speaker which enhances communication. These are not "yes" or "no" questions.

5. Listening to Criticism - is another acquired skill that gives one the ability to

respond non-defensively to negative or critical feedback.

6. Beliefs Structures - are skills using powerful questions to uncover life-convicting

beliefs that are being held as life's commandments by people.

7: Listening for the rest of the Story- is a listening skill acquired based on listening to

the personal and third party stories told by the speaker. Story telling is universal and

beyond age limits. Most stories contain deep truths that are unaware even to the

person telling the story. Such truths are often hidden in the unconscious of the

person.

Many time those of us in leadership are so over-enthusiastic with our advice that we often do not take into account the hidden messages which Dr. Wadford refers to as behavior identification or hear the rest of the story that is being shared. By providing genuine listening techniques such as rephrasing, emotional awareness, asking powerful creative questions, and belief structures we will become better equip to serve those in our ministry settings.

However we must also be responsive of how we listen to and accept criticism which sums up our completion in using the seven communication skills and techniques that prepares the listener to satisfactorily take into consideration what is being transmitted to him/her.

One of the steps to being a good listener according to Dr. Wadford training manual begins with maintaining good eye contact as the speaker speaks to you. Looking away may often give negative impression that you are not interested, in the conversation. On the other hand being physically engaged in the conversation allows the speaker to continue with their story and allows you also to provide the necessary feedback which is of great importance especially when you are a part of a church's leadership team.

Far too often we in leadership missed out on important messages and clues because we are not engaged in the conversation around us for the fear of being criticised. However, being able to respond sincerely and effectively as well as being open and receptive to criticism are key points to maintaining an involved conversation.

Body language shows the person that you are actively engaged in the conversation. The nodding of your head, leaning forward, touching on the arm, and most importantly eye contact shows the speaker that you are communicating with them. If you are involved in a task, it is important to stop what you are doing and provide the speaker with your undivided attention. This makes the person to feel that what they are transmitting to you is important.

Maintaining an active focus on the speaker ensures them that you are engaged in the communication process with them and that you acknowledge what is being said as well as respect what they are transmitting to you. If active eye contact is not maintained, the opposite result may occur resulting in the speaker trying to determine whether you are listening to them or not. The use of good eye contact and body language are skills that assist in showing the speaker/listener that you are actively involve and are committed to assisting them in settling any concerns transmitted in the conversation.

As leaders we must provide our speakers with our fullest attention which allows them to understand that we are listening to them and what they are transmitting is important to us. In maintaining and providing an effective listening ministry, a leader must become an active listerner to what is being transmitted. Another important skill to help enhance eye contact is being able to rephrase what is being said to you in conversation in your own words to the other person ensuring that you are not misquoting or misinterpreting what is being said.

Following the introduction and teaching of the above communication skills, the "Bridge to Communication" which is another viable tool needed to influence one's communication skill will also be introduced and taught. Written also in his training manual Dr. Wadford reveals that the bridge to communication is built on the concept of the uniqueness of every person's ability to communicate.

He further gives insight as to how this occurs by illustrating what takes place when communication is working well and how a person can uniquely communicate with others around them. Using a Bridge to Communication Model, he explains what is taking place between a speaker and a listener. Since Communication is a two way process, as the speaker transmits words to the listener; the listener receives the message and then transmits the message back to the speaker.

In his manual, Dr. Wadford shared some thoughts particularly on the concept that the bridge is where communication function; on it all of us transmits message to others each day, sometimes over the telephone, on the computer, and sometimes one on one in person. Besides the positive side of the bridge, he cautioned that miscommunication can also take place on the bridge.

In naming some of the reasons for communication failure, he listed the following that: everyone has a deep desire to have things their way; everyone processed communication through different filters and everyone hailed from different (perhaps) famlies background. And should all of this is taking into consideration, one will learn to be sensitive of the unique way people communicate and use all the skills we have to insure that the message is transmitted by way of the bridge to the other person.

Now what is the function of the bridge? The bridge helps the transmitters to clearly communicate the message as well as assist the receiver to clearly comprehend what is being transmitted. Through every speaker has his/her private dreams, hopes, attitudes, thoughts, values etc yet it is easy to view their public behavior through words, tone and body language when they are transmiting their messages on the bridge. More over, the Listener hears and watches the speaker's public behavior while receiving the message such in turn produces either a cloudy or a clear message from the speaker.

But in order to clearly receive the correct message from the speaker, the listener has to put aside their individual assumptions. On the other hand should the listener make their own assumptions concerning what the Speaker is transmitting then the communication from the Speaker breaks down and the wrong message is received.

Finally, learning these skills will greatly help our leadership team to become more effective both in our communications and listening skills. With the overwhelming support presently being received from the Church Council as well as the leadership team, and their enthusiasm to implement such plan in the coming month, I foresee a more effective approach to enhancing our ministries in the area of communication, one that will yield high dividen.

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