Perception Check

It Pays to be Careful with Our Communication

This is the second in a series of blog posts on Building Relationships. We began this series on August 3, 2016 with an All-too-Common Scenario that leads to this conclusion: it pays to be careful with our communication! Since most people are eager to create healthier ways of relating to one another, this series continues with the first of six sensible, practical guidelines that can go a long way toward helping you and the members of your congregation become more effective in building healthy relationships. Here are the guidelines we’ll consider:

  • Perception Check
  • Create Meaning
  • Diminish Defensiveness and Foster a Supportive Climate
  • Use both Verbal and Nonverbal Communication
  • Raise Your listening IQ
  • Face and Handle Conflict

Now, on to our first guideline: perception check.

I find that about 75% of careless communication happens when we unconsciously assume that we understand each other. In other words, without even realizing it, we wrongly assume that we understand one another. It’s like getting into an argument, and after 45 minutes of frustrating, spiraling conversation, saying, “Oh, is that what you mean?”

Unfortunately, when we assume we understand each other’s meaning, too often we fail to take the time to listen carefully enough to perceive accurately what each other means to say. A useful practice is to say something like, “So the way you see it is. . .” and put in our own words what we understand the other person to mean. We may also ask our conversational partner, “please tell me what you think I mean.” There is one further step we need to take. We need to be sure we wait for each other’s response, for often we haven’t accurately understood, to the other’s satisfaction.

So, rather than unconsciously assume we understand one another, it pays to check our perceptions by paraphrasing one another’s meanings. This is especially important when our conversation includes strongly held ideas or below-the-surface feelings. It may well be the case that pausing and taking the time to check our perception of what each of us is getting at is the single most important skill we can employ to help us create healthy relationships where we feel understood and taken seriously.

[Note: for a more in-depth understanding about perception checking, see Communication in the Church: A Handbook for Healthier Relationships, an Alban publication from Rowman & Littlefield, available October 2016]

*** The next blog post considers guideline 2: create meaning.***

Building Relationships

It Pays to be Careful with Our Communication

All-too-Common-Scenario

A worship ministry team gathers for its monthly meeting. Pleasantries and
greetings are exchanged. As the group considers new business, results of a
recently completed congregational survey reveal considerable interest in
diversifying their congregation’s style of worship and music. Many members
indicate they would prefer more-contemporary worship and music rather
than a traditional service.

In the discussion that follows, it becomes clear that the congregation’s
changing demographics, including growing generational, ethnic, and cultural
diversity, are driving this shifting opinion about the congregation’s worship
and music preferences. Worship ministry team members realize the congregation
is not big enough to have two worship services. They also are mindful of
the congregation’s commitment to being inclusive of all its members. Then someone makes a motion to change the congregation’s traditional worship
service to a blended one, a service encompassing both traditional and contemporary
worship and music.

Immediately, tensions rise and heated discussion ensues. Feelings are hurt
as irritation surfaces, and people become ineffective listeners and start engaging
in personal attacks. In short, communication and decision-making break
down, resulting in injury to relationships––and what could be a long-lasting
legacy of unhappy memories.

Careless communication causes needless breakdowns in relational health.
Barriers to building healthy relationships include feeling misunderstood, failure
to check perceptions, judgmental attitudes, discounting feelings, finding
fault, ignoring nonverbal communication, and ineffective listening.
Conversely, careful communication is vital to creating and fostering
healthy relationships. For instance, feeling understood, being taken seriously,
speaking for ourselves, expressing feelings, problem-solving, taking
advantage of nonverbal communication, and listening effectively all play
important roles in how we relate to one another.

While people’s understanding of the church varies, as does their interpretation
of its mission, communication is vital to creating and fostering healthy
relationships in our congregations. So, it pays to be careful with our communication!
Fortunately, most people are eager to become more effective in how
they relate to one another. In subsequent blog posts we will examine six sensible, practical guidelines that can go a long way toward helping you and the members of your congregation learn how careful communication builds healthy relationships