Essential Skill #3
Great leadership depends on effective communication. A leader who cannot communicate well will not lead very well or for very long.
In his famous prayer, St. Francis of Assisi asked God to help him to “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
Understanding doesn’t come by talking, it only comes from listening and learning. Being a skilled listener is the most important part of being a great communicator. Learning to hold your tongue is a valuable skill for anyone, but as leaders this is a must.
James 1:19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.
To be quick to hear and slow to speak means having both humility and respect for others. It means you take the necessary time to sincerely listen to people instead of just voicing your opinion.
3 Keys to effective listening:
- Listen to God
Good communication with people starts with good communication with God. After all it is His people you are ministering to. Always keep in mind that you are the gift He has chosen to give to the people. Like St. Francis, if you will prayerfully seek Gods will and direction before ministering to others, inviting His involvement and be mindful of His perspective, you will tap into His wisdom and better express His heart in any given situation. If leaders will first practice this in their prayer life, the fruit of it will show up when communicating to others.
When leaders don’t first communicate with God they tend to lean too much on their own understanding or their own strengths and abilities which often leads to trouble like misunderstandings, offenses, broken relationships and eventually burnout. Trusting in God brings good direction and success.
Leaders must learn to first communicate with God before they even consider communicating with people. If you find this point being overstressed, it’s not. That’s the order that will produce the greatest level of effectiveness and success.
So often in the church we find too much counseling of others without first seeking God. Too many meetings in which the church’s affairs are discussed without first seeking God’s guidance in prayer, and far too many decisions being made without adequate preparation in prayer, and yet we still expect God to bless it.
Prayer is the most important part of any leader’s life. Not their talents, not their gifting and abilities, not their personality and charisma, but getting direction from The LORD on how to proceed.
“He who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader.” ~Aristotle~
The BEST leaders are ALWAYS the best followers of Christ. If a leader is not being led by the Lord, where and how is he leading those who are following? To be an authority with dynamic influence we must submit to God’s authority and invite His influence. Christians follow leaders primarily because of their relationship with God, a relationship that is birthed and cultivated in the secret place but is evident to all.
- Listen to people
Listening to people is more than just hearing words, listen with your eyes when people are talking. Pay attention to how they enter a room, to tone, body language, eye contact, emotions, and emphasis on words or phrases. Listening to people is about gathering information so you can provide the proper response. If you pay close attention and let people do most of the talking up front, the proper responses will usually become clear.
Proverbs 18:13 He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.
Give people plenty of time to share their thoughts and don’t interrupt. Interruptions send a message that we don’t value what they say. If we’re going to truly understand a person’s situation and honor them properly, we should always let them fully express themselves. Silence can be our friend. A nod and a thoughtful look will many times keep them talking and bring out more important details that they may be hesitant to share. The skillful use of silence can do some heavy lifting in a conversation.
A great little rule to keep in mind is:
“When we speak, it should be an improvement on silence.”
Making a habit of weighing what we say against the current silence will prevent us from speaking harshly or out of turn. It avoids offence and protects relationships.
Beware of the lobbyist.
Some people are not looking for answers or council, they are just lobbying for agreement. If a person uses phrases like, “God said, or God told me,” don’t get trapped into a debate or argument. If God truly did say something, that leaves no room for us to argue or disagree and we need to make that clear to them. If they insist on our opinion, we don’t give it to them, especially if we are in complete disagreement. This puts the responsibility of their future actions squarely on their shoulders.
We can ask questions like, “are you absolutely sure that God spoke to you?” If they insist that He did we can council them to be patient and pray for God’s will and purpose to prevail in the situation, but we shouldn’t speak against what they believe God said because it will give them a license to break fellowship and violate relationship.
On the other hand, if they are sincere and submitted to leadership, using language like, “I think God is telling me this, or I believe God is directing me to,” then we have an open door to lead and council.
- Listen to your heart
Proverbs 16:23 The heart of the wise teaches his mouth, and adds learning to his lips.
“Give your heart time to tell your mouth what to say.”
There is tremendous power in being slow to speak. It shapes the atmosphere, transforms relationships and allows us to hear the Holy Spirit speak to us before we speak to others. It’s so easy, when someone comes to us in a hurricane of emotions, to write them off because of their delivery and not listen to what they have to say. It’s times like this, we really need to lean on the Holy Spirit for patience, love, and grace so that we don’t respond in kind.
“Good communication is a two way street. Good communicators promote an equal amount of traffic in both lanes, understanding that the listening lane is the first one traveled.”
Question: Why is listening important when communicating?
Question: What is the first key to effective listening?
Question: What percentage of time do you spend listening when in prayer?
Question: How would you describe the communication in your prayer life?
Question: On a scale of 1-10 how would you rank yourself as a skilled listener?
Question: What can you change to raise that number?