The Pulse: Outside of my Communicator Speciality

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The Pulse is starting a new writing exercise: we’re getting our EFCC Catalysts to offer your perspective and maybe even advice from within their area of experience. Brad serves as the EFCC’s Communications Catalyst.


Clearly, it was time. When our 3 year old son started to exhibit signs of frustration in his inability to get his ideas across, we needed to reach out for help. Apparently, his cute toddler-ish babblings had real intent behind them, and we just weren’t getting it.

With encouragement from caring people in his life, we signed up for a class offering training to specific parents whose children were behind their age-group’s expected ability, and yet who could be reached with relatively minor intervention — there weren’t medical impediments which would require surgery, for example.

For me, in some ways, it was a return to the basics — the beginning was stuff that I learned in the very first course of university Communications.

  • What’s the definition of a word?
  • What are the building blocks of communication?
  • What’s the difference between speech and language?

But quickly we departed from my area of education and experience, and began to ponder how speech interacts with the mystery of communication. Like so many things in life, it’s only when we’ve encountered a glitch in the process that we stop to examine what’s really happening. The physical and mental processes which go into talking are far more complex and intricate than most of us think about on a regular basis, or maybe ever.

For example, the speech therapists explained that to pronounce the word ‘church’ requires 42 different muscle movements. 42!

I was there for a practical reason — to get some resourcing and training for my son. And I did (those speech therapists are pretty special people!). But I also found that it was as amazing for me as a person, as it was for me as a dad.

It was a reminder that not only am I fearfully and wonderfully made, but that each of us is, and together, we are! Our ability to share ideas is a bewildering blessing (even if we sometimes turn it into a curse). How we share perspectives, inspiration and our whole selves with each other in the process of communication is worth considering.

Often.

Maybe even before there’s a crash! :-)

This journey with our son isn’t over. We’re taking time to practice the hard words with him. And there are still times when his speech is indecipherable. But the improvement he’s showing after some directed attention is remarkable. The way his confidence has increased is obvious. And the thrill he gets from us laughing at his jokes is unparalleled.

Communication and Leadership — Feedback

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IMGP9030Brad Jarvis is the EFCC’s Communication Catalyst. In previous posts in this Communication and Leadership series, he’s shared some of the choices we make as senders (including message and medium). He’s also shared some of the choices we make as receivers. This post marks the last of this series.

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OK, this is where all of this turns real. All of the responsibilities of a sender and receiver flip when feedback is deployed.

It’s where communication changes from a broadcast into a conversation. Let’s think about where the church’s communication is most typically one-way: the sermon-listener model. It is still very prevalent in church gatherings, all around the world. But isn’t it ironic to expect people to be passive information recipients, and then wonder why they’re not active enough?

Without feedback:

  • How do we ever get a sense of what people are taking from our messages?
  • How do we get people to evaluate what they’re hearing?
  • How do we help them make sense of it in their everyday interactions?

I was in a conversation with a young woman completely unfamiliar with church, and she asked me: “So, how long have you been studying?” It rocked me! I don’t often see church from a complete outsider’s perspective. Have you ever had it put that way to you?

It started me down a whole new line of internal questions:

  • What are you studying for?
  • What are you going to do with all the studying you’ve done?
  • How do you know if you’ve studied enough?

Perhaps asking ourselves questions like that would better guide our understanding of what church is about. Sadly, I often encounter leaders who tend to think of church attendance as a discipline which, if we do it right, will become a habit. What a terribly shallow view!

As we keep hearing, the value of church-as-habit is eroding. Whatever else that is, it’s certainly a wake-up call.

Because it can be — it should be — so much more!

It all begins with engagement, with dialogue. Every day I’m reminded that dialogue in the church need improvement. So many conversations are steeped in human nature: self-protectiveness, presuming other people’s agendas (most often in a negative light), and a slew of unexamined assumptions (which their holders often resist examining).

If we want truly open dialogue, we have to engage in it prepared to change our minds. Most people don’t mean that when they claim this desire: they aren’t usually seeking to be convinced, rather to convince. They want the other person/group to be willing to concede to being wrong, at no cost to their own ideas/convictions. Line up two people with that kind of thinking on opposing sides of any issue, and you don’t get dialogue.

You get a brawl!

At any level, the most effective feedback starts with a willingness to be humble; to accept that we don’t know as much as we’re tempted to claim. It means we’re willing to learn from others’ experiences, perspectives, values and perhaps even beliefs.

And if we can do that, we can engage in conversations with people who are very different from us without fear, thereby avoiding its ugly effects.

If we can lower fear in dialogue at all levels, particularly in and around the Church, we’ll have much more healthy and coherent relationships, all of our communication will be more fruitful, and by extension, we’ll have a much more compelling witness.

This blog completes my series on Leadership and Communication. I hope it’s sparked some new thinking, or at least reinforced some positive values. If you’ve enjoyed it, please share it with someone you think would benefit from it. And if you have any comments, questions or suggestions, your feedback in the comments would be greatly appreciated! :-)

Communication and Leadership — The Receiver

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IMGP9030This is where the bad news starts. See, up until this point, this Communication and Leadership series has examined the influence and choices of those who initiate communication. Beyond choosing the content, medium and intended target for your messages however, you have very little control over who will actually receive your messages. Or how they will interpret them. Or what they will do with them.

A lot of people miss this, and end up blaming their recipients for not being interested or tuned-in. If we didn’t give our receivers the enough reason to care, or we didn’t provide ways that they couldn’t access, understand or follow through on our communication, that is not their fault.

In our emotionally-charged era of (armchair) activism, it is increasingly likely that people will actively take words out of context, and at least filter them through — if not twist them around — their own agendas. You simply cannot guard against that in all cases. What you can do is be sensitive to this tendency (so as to not unduly provoke it), stay consistently on message, look for chances to explain your choices, and be ready to apologise when you need to. In other words, stay humble and stay generous.

Everything in the most effective communication is focused on the receivers:

  • Where do they expect to receive this information?
  • How are they going to approach it?
  • How are they going to respond to it?

Thinking about your communications through your receivers’ perceptions requires imagination and empathy. Ironically, the first step of true empathy is recognising you will never know exactly what another person is going through, or how it feels. We can’t read minds.

We make certain guesses. The better we know someone, the better our guesses become. But they are always guesses. In light of that, we are better served by filtering our guesses through hopeful assertions about our receivers. This is what we call assuming the best, or extending the benefit of the doubt.

This isn’t to say that we know nothing about people.

For example, we know that people generally:

  • prefer messages which make sense
  • appreciate what is novel, original and creative (this and the above point are often in tension)
  • will bristle at a hostile or aggressive tone, no matter how much “truth” it’s carrying

That last is a really important point, and it’s way broader than the negative emotion I chose as my example. Indeed, people most often respond in whatever manner was initiated. Emotions are contagious. This isn’t always true, obviously. But as a person who affords a lot of dignity and respect to people I meet, I’m surprised at how many fewer issues I have with people than others do, even when analysing the same interaction.

Assuming the best of each other should be identifying characteristics of a people called to love and hope.

Considering the people we’re trying to communicate with doesn’t cost a lot — certainly compared to the cost of not considering them enough.

The last entry in this Communication and Leadership series is under way — it’s where we get to discuss feedback, and why that is so critical to any kind of effective communication.

Communication and Leadership — The Medium

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IMGP9030In this instalment of Communications Catalyst Brad Jarvis’ ongoing Communication and Leadership series, we get to talk about medium, or media (plural).

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It gets confusing! These days, people who receive a call may respond with a text, pick up the conversation on Twitter, broaden it on Facebook and wind up posting a confused selfie on Instagram…which other people will share on Pinterest.

The point is, we have a lot of channels available to us!

New services and ideas are springing up all the time, with new, unique features to try to attract users.

Accessibility
This is a key decision of the medium, and the content. Some channels are unavailable to some people, and some media are better for some messages than others.

The Richest Medium Available
Despite all of the attention given to new apps and services on electronic devices, face-to-face communication is still the richest medium. This is one of the most important realities of communication which is also one of the most easily missed. When it has to be understood, go for in-person.

What you need to do is lead people to where they can get the information that they want/need from you. Make the barrier to entry as low as you can. A mailing list is a great example, because then people are receiving your information, rather than having to go somewhere to get it.

Because they usually won’t. And I’m not bitter, just realistic.

A well-designed blog/website is another good option — no-one needs to sign up for a new service to view your information and pictures. (On the other hand, where there’s a strong relational commitment, it may be appropriate to ask people to join a proprietary service together.)

The medium carries a lot of the weight of communication. But the only concern isn’t about getting people to see it. It’s also about getting them to process it, and do something with it.

Why Medium is an Important Consideration
Have you ever been in a conversation where 5 people were trying to simultaneously write and edit a document, all by e-mail? There’s a short word to describe that phenomenon: chaos! All of a sudden there are 27 different versions of the document, and no-one knows which is the latest and/or most accurate. Someone entering that conversation has no idea where to pick it up, where it’s going, or what’s been decided. In fact, most times those already there don’t know, themselves!

E-mail is the wrong choice for something so procedurally complicated. There are way better choices. (Comments are open if you need suggestions!)

Prioritise your medium based on your values for the message, not on what seems easiest. Take a look at what’s available in your church. Maybe the new message would work in something established. Maybe it needs something new.

  • What are the goals of the communication?
  • How do you want people to respond?
  • Where’s the quickest/closest medium to that response?

If you can’t select the medium, then the message needs to be tailored to its strengths:

  • When it comes to e-mail, think brief. No, briefer!
  • Video has visceral impact, but it also works best in short bursts.
  • In graphic forms, design well so it’s attractive and is easily understood.

Communication Lives Between Tensions
The abundance of potential media choices available to you is not important. You cannot apprehend all of them. Give up. Stop trying. I absolve you from the effort!

However
I can assure you that pretty much everything you’re trying to do with communications has an effective tool already built. Sticking with what you know (a.k.a inflexibility) can rob you of the chance to improve the effectiveness of your communication. (Yep, e-mail, I’m looking at you again.)

Be careful that your investment isn’t locking into something which is holding you back.

Developing a strong understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of media is a crucial component to effective communication. You may find that you’re creating less, and that people are understanding more. There’s a short word to describe that phenomenon: win!

Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL)

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CASL
We have been working hard to try to figure out how this pertains to us as an organisation, and by extension, each of our churches. The only thing we can tell you for sure is that, well, we don’t know for sure. There are lots of organisations that are interpreting this in lots of different ways – in our estimation, from underplaying it to going overboard.

One things we do know is that non-profits are not the primary targets of this. This is designed to give the authorities teeth to go after the larger spam offenders. There will be due process and deliberation as cases are brought to authorities on these matters. However, the reality is that these laws are going into effect, and we are subject to them.

Implications
What we all need to be doing is keeping records which show that people have opted-in to our communication. The process where people sign up to Pulse records a date stamp for us, which demonstrates that a reader initiated contact. At this stage, these laws only affect commercial messages. But the definition of a commercial message is broad: it can include any information about an event, service or product that costs money (this is a grey zone).
Curiously, Messages with the express purpose of fundraising have been exempt from this law given that most non-profits would suffer heavily if restricted.

For people who have a relationship with us, we have implied consent to send them messages. This lasts for 2yrs, during which we need to work to migrate our people and our systems to express consent. It means that we need to build consent into the ways that we’re asking for e-mail addresses, whether on contact cards, or online e-mail sign-up pages.

To create effective e-mail protocols, we need:
• To go from implied consent to express consent.
• To quickly identify the sender of each message, and what its purpose is.
• Provide an unsubscribe mechanism for mailing-list type services.

If you’d like to dialogue about this, comments are open, and we can process it together there.