I was recently in a conference and, after I had spoken during one of the breakout sessions, was returning back to the main session. It had already begun and the first speaker was up. I looked for a seat in the back, but there were none available. My wife was standing beside me and, after scanning the auditorium, I spotted some seats towards the front. I glanced over my shoulder and said authoritatively to my wife, “Lets go.” With those words, I took off like a general leading an army. I walked confidently down to three rows back from the front. I turned into the row and sat down in my chair, but where was my wife? She was no where to be seen. I turned back and didn’t see her anywhere. What happened?
She came in several minutes later and asked why I had left her. Left her? I didn’t leave her. I had told her to follow me. I had communicated; the fault was hers. Or was it? I sat there for a moment reflecting on my departure from the hallway and my march towards the front. As I sat there and realized that there had been a breakdown in communication, I pondered where I had gone wrong. There were three things that I failed to do.
- I didn’t seize my audience’s attention. I didn’t notice that my wife wasn’t paying any attention to me. She was actually speaking to a lady standing beside her. I spoke and assumed that I had her undivided attention, and you know what they say about assuming. If we are going to be effective communicators we must get our audience’s attention from the start and we must hold it. It is interesting that when Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount he started off addressing the “poor” in sprit. Most of his audience was poor, and I can guarantee you that this caught their attention. I recently heard a story of a preacher who was preaching at the courthouse in Hartwell Georgia in the 50’s. No one would listen to him. So he put his suit coat on backwards and proceeded to run around the court house three times. By his third lap he had everyone’s attention and he was then able to preach his message. How did his ploy work? A church was started as a result.
- I only halfway communicated. I threw my communication over my shoulder. I did not look at her, I did not turn my body towards her, both of which are essentials in non-verbal communicating. My body was turned towards the door, I turned my head over my shoulder, I saw her in my peripheral and quietly said “Let’s go.” Since the visual sense is dominant for most people, eye contact is an especially important. The way you look at someone can communicate many things, including interest, affection, and aggression. Eye contact is also important in maintaining the flow of conversation. I only halfway communicated and then expected my wife to follow me. I know of many men that become frustrated because their people are not doing what they would like or how they would like them to do it. Recently a pastor was complaining about the bus route at his church. He told me that when he ran the route he would stop and blow the horn. If no one came out he would go up and knock on the door. When the men of the church ran the route they just blew on the horn. If no one came out they drove on, then the pastor would get a call a little while later from people asking where the church bus was? He complained that his men did not work the bus route like he did, but when I asked him if he had made it clear and had taught them that that is what he wanted them to do, he said that he had not. We must be plain, simple and direct in our communication with people. We can’t halfheartedly say something and hope that they get the gist of an idea.
- I didn’t receive confirmation that I had communicated. I didn’t get an “OK” or a nod from my wife indicating that she had heard and was ready. As a supervisor for UPS there were times when I didn’t feel like the person I was giving instructions to was either listening or understanding what I was saying. Sometimes I would have them repeat it to me just for confirmation that they understood. When I read the Bible or tell my children stories I ask them questions afterwards to make sure they understood. George Bernard Shaw said “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” We must confirm that the communication not only took place in our minds but in their minds as well.
I endeavored to lead my wife. My endeavor was thwarted because of my poor communication. It has been said that everything rises and falls on leadership, and I will add that much of leadership rises and falls on communication.