Friday, April 29, 2011

Effective Communication for the Smallest Organization

In a previous post I relayed some leadership principles from a pastor in Phoenix. One of the concepts was the following...
You HAVE to communicate. You have to explain why you're doing something, what will happen if you DON'T do it, and what you hope will happen if you DO do it. People often will not understand even your very simple ideas until you are sick of talking about it. That is when they are just beginning to hear it.
Why is this the case? Why is it that communication is so difficult in an organization? I mean, if the person leading the organization says something, even just once, every one should listen closely and respond, right? It is a strange reality that even when people are motivated by money, (i.e. listening to my boss may directly affect my pocketbook), they often still do not hear the mantras, the clear, obvious, repeated statements that shape an organization. (For example, try stating the 'core values' for your business/company right now.)

But this really shouldn't come as any surprise. Take the smallest organization that exists, the smallest unit of society, the family, and evaluate the way communication occurs there.

I love my wife, she loves me, we like each other, we live together, we share so much of life, yet  we still mis-communicate. We still do not always understand or fully comprehend one another's vision for life moving forward. We may not always talk about it, and even when we do we may not listen. Or we may avoid talking about big issues for a season out of fear, hurriedness, awkwardness, or uncomfortableness. We still have disagreements about little things like where empty recycling items should rest in the kitchen before departing for their epic journey to the elusively placed recycling bin in the garage. We manage to miss each other on some of the more obvious things, and this doesn't even include communicating well with our children. All the above sounds slightly dysfunctional, yet I would say, based on my extensive research of other families, which means watching/stalking and piously judging all my friends and their marriages, that we're on the above side of average when it comes to communication.

Communication, even within your own family can be difficult, but as I quoted Dennis Rainey in the previous post, communication is the life-blood of an organization. Communication is the means by which you lead, love, guide, and direct your family through life. If you are going to lead your family well, you must learn to foster good communication.

Here are some tips for improving your communication with your family:
1. Do a weekly date night: Even if you can't get out on the town, set aside at least 1 hour to just sit on the couch and talk with your wife. Listen to her. Nod regularly. look into her eyes. Ask clarifying questions. Talk about things that seem to creep up and take your family by surprise. Right now our set up is for Thursday nights. One of those a month we go out, two of the other three we talk about finances and ministry (separate nights). The final night is a catch-all - no predetermined subject. Our consistency since moving (for the last month) has not been as great as I'd like - but that's my job to make sure we hold to it.

2. Plan out your week together on Sunday night: On Sunday night, I try to take an hour to think through my week. A few times lately I have sat in the kitchen while my wife does the same and we end up having GREAT conversations about the week. We never really planned to do this, but it has developed naturally over time.

3. Go to bed together WITH NO TV, INTERNET, OR EMAIL, in the room (but books are ok): It is amazing how many good conversations occur as you are drifting off to sleep. Last year I broke this rule and spent many nights working late into the night to meet some deadlines. It was out of necessity, but I am glad it is over. It has been good to return to our routine of going to bed together, and it has helped me get more sleep! It is a simple connection point, but the connection can be strong. If you have electronic devices in the room, there's little chance of conversations occurring. They numb the mind and prevent good conversation. Books are OK, however, mostly because I like books and want to self-justify my actions and have you join me, but also because they are easier to put down when someone starts talking.
4. Pray with your spouse every night: The simple act of praying together can make a huge difference in your communication.
5. Plan a yearly get-away: Weekly and daily communication is a must, but you also need to get away from the rut and routine of life once a year and talk about big picture items that cannot be solved in one evening. Things like schooling, vacations, dreams for the future, mission trips, ministry activities, and family sports/activities. Putting a plan in place helps your family focus on the main priorities for the year. FamilyLife offers a book called Getting Away to Get It Together to help you plan such a weekend.

6. Milestone celebrations with your kids: Whenever your child hits a key milestone, plan a celebration of some sort. FamilyLife has the Passport to Purity kit to help you plan a weekend away with your pre-teen to talk about purity. Last year I did an event with our son before he became an older brother. These events give you an opportunity to reinforce values that are important to you and also allow you to go deeper with your child.

7. Develop a list of family values: I have not done this one, but it is something other speak highly of. Steven Covey talks about the process for establishing these values in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Communication is hard, even with a small group of people. The only way it will ever happen well is if you are intentional. But it is worth the work. The other choice is to just passively allow your family to plod along with no clear direction from you. And just as with any organization, this leads to chaos, frustration, confusion, and eventually, a break down of relationships. Try starting one of the above items this week. If you have not done any, then start with #1 or #4, or whichever seems easiest to you.

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