Mind the Gap: 2 Ways to Prevent Communication Breakdowns

Good communication is critical. There have been mountains of books written and countless seminars delivered on the subject. If we know that good communication is so important, then why do we still struggle with it so much? I believe one reason is because we lose sight of the core purpose.

As leaders, the most common purpose of our communication is to change behavior. This might include delivering a rousing sermon on Sunday to encourage discipleship, or coaching a staff member to learn a new skill. So who is responsible if the behavior does not change, or results are not meeting expectations? If we measure the quality of our communication against the resulting behavior, it could change our perspective on the issue.

The meaning of your communication is the response you get.

They Just Don’t Get It

Too often as leaders, we put the burden of understanding on the receiver. It is their job to understand our thoughts, dreams, biases, and personality. If they would just take the time to understand me better, then they would surely grasp the message and do what I asked.

As you might imagine, this line of thinking often takes us down the path of judging others for their inability to get with the program, because they are not smart enough, talented enough, or bought-in enough. If we go further, it might lead us to believe they are even being malicious because they won’t get on board.

When they just don’t get it, there is a gap between your intent and their behavior.

Mind the Gap

I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant. – Alan Greenspan

In any simple exchange between two people, there is a chain of translation, and the message can get lost anywhere along the way.

  1. I have an idea in my head, made up of pictures, feelings, words.
  2. I translate the je ne sais quoi of that mélange into concrete words and pictures to share.
  3. They hear most of my words and probably lose a few.
  4. The words they hear have a different meaning and significance for them, potentially triggering an internal response that is very different from what I hoped for.
  5. They create their behavior to match their internal response (more pictures, feelings, and words) to the perceived message.

With all of those potential gaps in communication, it is a miracle we get anything done! How do we communicate in a way that can close those gaps with all that signal loss?

  • Stop Talking and Listen. At each of the above transition points, stop and ask yourself, “how are they receiving my message?” It is important to ask what they received, not just if they’re keeping up. Most of the time, people are not lost in the discussion; they are translating incorrectly. For practical suggestions on how to actively listen to someone, I recommend this blog and video by Greg Salciccioli at CoachWell.
  • Get Flexible. Each person is going to respond better to different language structures or examples of the point you are making. As a leader, the burden is on you to be the most flexible communicator in the exchange. If you naturally draw pictures, can you learn to also tell stories or share heartfelt emotions effectively? If you were born in the city, can you learn to share a rural example? The more flexible you are as a thinker and communicator, the more likely you are to elicit the response you are seeking.

Your Next Move

Think of the last time you shared a message and didn’t get the response you anticipated. Identify where the communication broke down and use your flexibility to close that gap.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dave Bair

Dave brings a unique talent for system and process implementation to the Leadership Team at Church Community Builder and also leads our team of coaches. His history of consulting with major corporations to implement change has enabled him to build an impressive coaching framework to guide church leaders towards operational effectiveness. Dave and his wife of many years have a daughter, studying chemistry in college, and a son in high school who's passions include saxophone and drums. In addition for finding Dave at DaveBair.co you may occasionally spot him piloting his hot air ballon in the western sky.

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Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> Are there any reliable statistics about the percentage of church plants that fail after 3 years in the US?
 
— Jon Moore
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 

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