CORPORATE MAKEOVER SERMON SERIES
UP CLOSE AND PERSONNEL
Communicating Effectively at Your Job
SEPTEMBER 27, 1998
Education doesn’t teach it. Aptitude and IQ tests rarely measure it. The corporate world doesn’t even champion it. Yet, it is the most vital thing we need in order to succeed in the marketplace and in life in general for that matter. What am I talking about? Communication. Communication is an interesting subject and it is especially interesting to talk about it from this stage during this time in history. It is a rather strange paradox. We have the most advanced communication systems in the history of the world right at our fingertips. Cell phones. Fax machines. Pagers. Yet, in our techno-driven and techno-dominated society, they more or less detract rather than help to develop this skill.
Did you hear what I said? Skill. Communication is a skill that can be developed in your life and in mine. We spend so much time staring into computer screens and screening phone calls and playing video games and surfing the net that we have forgotten what to do when we get up close and personal or up close and personnel.
The communication equation is simple. It really is. When you factor in the amount of time that most of us spend watching television and then you add the fact that we are a very transient and mobile society, throw in technology that isolates and separates us from others, the net effect is that you have got a misguided marketplace littered with estranged relationships. I think that communication effects us all in so many different ways.
This Monday morning at 7:30 am I walked out of the front door of my home. I intuitively note that every time I walk out of the front door of my home to go to work that I need to negotiate something called the drool zone. I have a couple of massive bullmastiffs with a combined weight of about 300 pounds. They take slobbering to another level. One brush against your pant leg or clothing and you have got to go back inside and change for the rest of the day. As I approached my truck I saw something that shocked me. Something was unfolding before my eyes that really took me back. My two dogs, Brute and Apollo, had four feet of the chrome that runs along the driver’s side of my truck in their mouths pulling it off the truck. I was not happy. I scolded them. In fact, I tried to chase them down. “What are you doing. No. Bad doggies. Bad doggies. No. Daddy doesn’t like that.” I got in the truck and as I made my commute to the office, people on 114 and 121 were pointing at me since there was four foot piece of chrome hanging off the driver’s side of my truck. Little do they realize that I own a couple of truck-eating dogs. But the story, believe it or not, continues. The next day, Tuesday, at about 9:30 pm, Lisa and I and the family drive up in the truck. I park the truck where I always do, in the driveway in front of the garage. There are so many toys in the garage that I don’t even think of parking there. We get out of the truck. Lisa, in her sweet voice asked me, “What would you think about pulling the truck inside the garage because the dogs might tear it up again?” I said, “Lisa, I watch the Animal Planet and I scolded the dogs. I told them no and that daddy didn’t like what they did. They will not touch my truck. Trust me.”
One hour later, the chrome on the other side of the truck had been ripped off. Documented evidence is on the side screens. In that picture Apollo is closest to the camera, then there is LeeBeth, my daughter, then Brute with the chrome in his mouth. Obviously, we have a communication problem. There has been a breakdown, a barrier erected between myself and the dogs. There is no telling, ladies and gentlemen, how much money is spent, time lost and careers and canines canned due to miscommunication.
You have heard it, so have I. One party heard this. Another party heard that. He said. She said. They said. No one knows for sure. It is like the guy I talked to last week. This young man is in his early 40s and he has about 270 people working for him. I asked him one question. What is one of the biggest challenges you face? He said, “Ed, that’s a no brainer. Communication. I have a hard time communicating with the different personalities that come my way. But I have learned something. If I am dealing with a detailed person, I try to talk in a detail fashion, a creative person; I will use word pictures and so on.” A brilliant guy, a true leader, a great businessman who is dealing in and struggling with communication.
Earlier in this series we talked about communicating difficult things to difficult people. Do you remember that? We all face those irregular people, those jerks and it is tough to say those difficult things to those difficult people. Well, today we are going to talk about communication in a great way, a positive way, an affirming way. We are going to learn how to compliment, how to say words of affirmation that will energize and help those we rub shoulders with every single day. Today we are talking about the positive aspects of communication.
Let me stop right here and ask you a quick question. I want you to think about three or four of the closest colleagues, co-workers, family members that you know right now. Let’s say that you have photographs of all these people you are so close to. What if you walked up to our media department and handed them the photographs and they scanned them onto the side screens like they scanned the photograph of the dogs and me. There is Sally Smith and there are three of the people who work with her and their photographs are right up there on the side screens. Then, what if, you could express your feelings in written form and what if the people in our media department with a character generator could write out how you really felt about them. Wouldn’t that be wild? Their pictures and how you feel about them. What do you think the response would be from those people with whom you are really tight? It would probably go something like this. “Whoa. Man. Unbelievable. I didn’t know you felt that way about me. You are really something else.” And then suddenly the smile might change to a smirk. “Wait a minute. You felt that way about me but never told me. Why didn’t you express it? Why didn’t you say it? What’s the deal? What happened? What was the problem, the hang-up?” Most of us for some reason kind of cower when we have opportunities to affirm people. I can understand saying a difficult thing is hard, but why a positive thing, words of affirmation?
Why do we do this? I will give you some rhymes and reasons why most people have a hard time saying positive things. There is no way I would know what to say. There is no way I would know what to say because my family of origin didn’t affirm me. And because they didn’t affirm me, I might get tongue-tied when I talk to you so I just won’t say a word. That is why most relationships are in neutral right now, especially in the marketplace, in the family, around the neighborhood.
Here is the second rhyme or reason. I dread that they will get the big head. If I complemented them, gave them a verbal high five, they would walk around saying, “Look at me, I am something else.” I have lived 37 years on this planet and I have discovered something. Most people can take a compliment, a word of affirmation, without freaking out, without jumping on a jet and going on an ego trip. Most people can take it, so go ahead and say it.
The third rhyme or reason. I need the right event for the compliment. It has got to be over a five-course meal with Celene Dion in the background. “Baby, I want you to know how I feel about you.” Or it has to be on the fifth-year anniversary of the company. “We have worked together for so long and I know I have been hard on you. But now I am going to tell you….” Or, “I will wait until I am on the family vacation and then ….” Some believe that when the event is right that the compliment will just kind of flow. It doesn’t happen that way. You have got to make time, get in there and say it.
Here is the fourth rhyme or reason. It wouldn’t matter with my idle chatter. It wouldn’t really mean that much. My words certainly wouldn’t put any wind in his sail or her sail. It wouldn’t help or assist him. It wouldn’t bring them along. That line of thinking is false.
Recently the management team of our staff met together for a couple of days. In one session we simply went around and affirmed each other, told words of truth, words of feeling, words of meaning and you could see what it did for those who lead in a strategic way in this church. Don’t wait for someone’s funeral. Say it now.
There is a man in the Bible by the name of Barnabas. Barnabas had a great nickname, the Son of Encouragement. I am going to tell you something that might blow your doors a little bit, especially some of you who think that you know the Bible pretty well. Are you ready? Barnabas, in a way, is responsible for most of the New Testament. You may say that that Barnabas never actually penned a book. You are right, but he is responsible for a lot of it and I will tell you why. He saw the Apostle Paul one day and Paul was down. I mean he was down, dooby, doo da down. And Barnabas, being the son of encouragement, walked up to him at the risk of his life and encouraged him and energized him and ministered to him and affirmed him and gave him the verbal high five. Because of that, the Apostle Paul penned most of the New Testament, inspired, obviously, by the Holy Spirit of God. What if Barnabas had said, “There is no way I would know what to say. I dread Paul would get the big head. I will wait until the right event for this compliment. It wouldn’t matter with my idle chatter.” What if he had said that. He would have missed an incredible and supernatural opportunity to empower and inject affirmation into this great man of God’s life.
Listen to what Paul wrote later on. I Thessolonians 5:11. “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up just as in fact you are doing.” Hebrews 3:13. “Encourage one another daily as long as it is called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
Now let’s look at the how. How do I do this? How do I make it real in my life? First, I have got to communicate visually. The Bible talked on and on about the importance of someone’s eye, the importance of a look. We can rip people apart, we can nail them, with harsh looks. A lot of us are carrying around in our relational portfolios harsh, ugly and demeaning looks. Some of us had them from our parents; some from a manager, a coach, a teacher. Conversely, we can give looks of affirmation, looks of love, looks that say you matter, you are important, you are doing a great job. Oftentimes when I walk up here on stage, right before I stand behind this Plexiglas lectern and speak, Stan and I will make eye contact and we give each other that affirming look. We are in the business of being used by God; it is a trilling thing. An affirming look is a great look. Stan has given me many affirming looks and I have given him those looks, too.
Think about it, parents. What kind of looks are you giving your children? What kind of looks are they carrying around in their relational portfolio? How about it managers? What kind of looks are you giving to your employees or those who report to you? Hey, children. What kind of looks are you giving to your parents, especially you children in junior and senior high? What kind of looks? Connect and communicate visually.
Also, connect verbally. Say it. Speak it. Articulate it. One of my favorite verses of scripture is found in James 3:10. “Out of the same mouth can come praise and cursing.” I thought about this verse when the dogs ripped apart my jeep. I’m just joking. I didn’t think about the verse. I don’t curse anyway. But something is staggering to me. We can go to church and be part of a really moving service. The music can speak to us. We can have a drama that illustrates what we are dealing with. Then we can hear a rendition of How Great Thou Art, stand and applaud. Then hopefully hear a message that is relevant. Yet, we walk out to our cars and get into a fight about where we are going to eat or we fight and jockey for position in the traffic. Out of the same mouth can come praise and cursing.
I want to teach you something that I learned a while back on affirmation. Don’t get into generalizations when you affirm somebody. Don’t say, “You are a great worker around here.” What does that mean? Say, “You are a great worker because you bring such great creativity to the table and since you have been leading this work team you have taken our corporation to another level.” Don’t just say, “Honey I love you, you are so special.” That is fine and dandy. But be specific about it. “You are so other-centered. You take care of me. You serve me. You help me especially when you take out the trash without me asking.”
Also, communicate and connect physically. Read the gospels. Jesus didn’t have to touch the people he healed. He didn’t have to touch those with leprosy. He did not have to touch those who were blind. He didn’t have to touch the children. But Jesus knew the power of an appropriate touch. There is some force in touching someone appropriately. The Bible is not telling you to become touchy-feely – appropriate touch.
Now let’s talk about another aspect of communication that is a critical component in the process. This is not talked about you or discussed very much. Education does not teach it. IQ test and aptitude tests do not measure it, the corporate world rarely champions it, technology takes away from it, but here it is. Listening. The Bible talks on and on about the art of listening.
A lot of people think that if they are listening and someone else is talking it means that they are passive and the other person is aggressive. No it doesn’t. Both should be aggressive. Both should be active. How active a listener are you? I am going to list some categories of listeners. The first is someone you probably know, someone call the Promoter. Promoters kind of make eye contact when they are talking to you but they are so thinking about what they are going to say next that they don’t hear you. Everything revolves around them.
Two months ago I spent a block of time with a Promoter. This guy was unbelievable. He had a PhD in talking about himself. Finally I got so tired of it that I started playing a game with him. I began to just bring up any subject, like aluminum siding, and sure enough he would bring that subject back to himself. When I was talking, I knew he wanted me to shut up so that he could talk about himself. He kind of messed up the entire session. How many times do you mention the word I in conversation? How good a listener are you? When the talker pauses do you just jump in and begin to talk about yourself? Do we have any Promoters in the house?
Then you have another type of listener called the Flat Liner. You don’t know where you stand with the Flat Liner. No response. No body language. And when they talk there is no expression. They are just kind of there, rather benign.
Another listener is a favorite of mine called the Wanderer. Wanderers manifest themselves in two ways. The first way happens when they are in a social gathering or perhaps at the office with a lot of people. The wanderer might look at you now and then, but they are looking over your shoulder to look at another more important person than you to improve their conversational lie. When you are playing golf, you get near a hazard and you can improve your lie sometimes. A lot of people improve their conversational lies. They are wandering always. Another way they manifest themselves is through poor eye contact. I had breakfast with a man three years ago. I was having my bran cereal and he was too. I was asking him questions and I could not make eye contact with him. Half the time I got real low behind my cereal bowl looking, but I never could connect with the guy.
Another one is the Distracter. The Distracter usually manifests himself or herself on the phone because they always use the speakerphone when anybody calls them. When you are talking to them and going through an in-depth situation at the office or about your life, you hear them banging away on their computer. They are not listening. Or maybe they are shuffling paper. Or worst, eating.
Think about God. Talk about the ultimate listener. God listens to you and me. He doesn’t butt in, He listens. He is not a Promoter, He listens. A Flat Liner? No, God speaks back to us through situations, events, services, leadings, and the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. A Wanderer. God doesn’t say to me, “Hey, Ed, you are praying to Me, but Billy Graham is praying too. I will see you later.” He doesn’t say, “Hey, Billy Graham, there is a hurricane down south, sorry Billy.” God is a God who listens. He is omnipresent. I don’t care if you are talking to Him about the pressure you are feeling regarding the geometry test you will be taking Tuesday or that you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. He listens. He is not a Wanderer. A Distracter. He is never distracted. He is always engaged, always active, always God, always listening.
Let me segue into the how behind listening. How do we listen? Let me read you a verse of scripture. Proverbs 18:2. “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinion.” Think about taking some notes mentally. Think about when you are talking to someone and the other person is talking. Think about doing your own mental Cliff Notes. Remember those Cliff Notes? Do they still come in the yellow and black covers? Do that mentally. It will improve your listening.
Then do something else. The Bible says in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” After you use the Cliff Notes mentally, just take off your shoes. How many here wear size 11 or 11½ shoes? Come on down front. OK, take your shoes off, please. These are my shoes. Peter, just before you put these shoes on I am going to tell you what will happen. OK, I am talking to Peter. He is telling me something. I am taking mental Cliff Notes. Then I take my shoes off, give them to him and I try to put myself in his shoes. So if Peter is listening to me right now, he should put himself in my shoes. He should picture himself in my family, with my background, with my situation, to feel my feelings, weep when I weep and rejoice when I rejoice.
So, Peter I will put on your Doc Martins. And you are putting on my shoes. Put them on. How do they feel? A little sweaty! That OK. Peter, do you have athlete’s foot? Do you? No. Well, you do now. I’m kidding, kidding.
So take the mental Cliff Notes, put yourself in someone else’s shoes, empathize with them. Then the last one, give them feedback verbally. This is huge when listening. Don’t just stand there and stare blankly. Summarize the conversation and give it back to them in sound bites verbally. When you do so, let me tell you what will happen. You will see the person’s self esteem begin to soar. You will see them thinking that what they are saying matters. Then you will be able to actively listen and not forget what they are saying. You will not be looking over their shoulder or be thinking about what you have to say. Great things will occur. Do you realize the power that we have in communication? It has been given to us by God Himself and we are to use it. And when we use it, we will always know what to do when we get up close and personal or up close and personnel because, who knows, maybe your communication ability can open opportunities to share about the most important subject known to man, a personal relational relationship with Christ.