Removing Communication Barriers in Ministry

RemovingCommunicationBarriersSo-called ‘bad’ communication is pretty simple. Bad communication is what happens when you’re not able to get your ideas and feelings through to the other person – when you’re misunderstood. For example, it’s obvious ‘bad’ communication has occurred if you ask two people to work together to find a volunteer and you get two volunteers (rather than one).

In order to overcome bad communication or unnecessary barriers to understanding, you need to have a goal for every important conversation. Making assumptions that others feel, hear and understand things the same as you do can be a sure way to ‘mess up’ a conversation. We therefore need to be careful not to focus on our own agenda, which is only half of the conversation.

For effective communication to take place, each person has to understand what the other is saying. At the very simplest level we need to use words which have a common meaning and we should check that meaning. For example, we often use words such as ‘quickly’, ‘soon’, ‘quality’, and so forth, but does the other person apply the same meaning to them as you do? Doing something ‘soon’ may mean a lot longer for kids than most parents would like. People are often frustrated because what they mean is not what others understand.

So, ideally you should think very carefully about the words you intend to use and then be specific about what some of the more ambiguous words mean. For instance, “I’d like this done by the end of the day”, or “If you finish the presentation by Tuesday, I will have time to read it before you deliver it on Wednesday morning” leaves much less room for misunderstanding or confusion about what is being said.

Things which can create barriers in conversations:

  • Using vague, ambiguous or confusing words, terms, jargon and phrases
  • Using body language that is inconsistent with the words we are using
  • Not paying attention to the other person in the conversation
  • Talking over the other person/interrupting
  • Being angry/irritated/attacking
  • Pretending (to be interested, friendly, sincere, and so on)
  • Talking down
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Knocking down ideas
  • Making the other person feel stupid

Of course, we may not do these things very often but even now and again, or engaging in just one or two of these behaviours, may have a highly detrimental effect on any communication. So what can we do to help a conversation or to assist the communication to flow more smoothly?

Things which remove barriers in conversations:

  • Planning our words, terms and phrases carefully
  • Talking in plain language wherever possible
  • Using body language consistently
  • Being welcoming/smiling as often as appropriate
  • Using introductory small talk in the early stages of a conversation
  • Maintaining good eye contact
  • Listening attentively
  • Sharing your experience where appropriate
  • Being open and honest
  • Asking for feedback
  • Being prepared to try to understand how the other person feels
  • Agreeing (when you do)
  • Checking your understanding as often as necessary

The above behaviours may seem obvious when you review them in a list like this but it’s amazing how few of them we may actually use in our everyday conversations, even though the impact on the overall quality of the communication can be significant when this is done well.

© 2012. Dr. Jon Warner. Adapted and used with permission.

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Colin Noyes

Colin Noyes is a Brisbane (Australia) based coach and consultant with extensive experience in the areas of organisational health and growth, change management, leadership development, recruiting/staff development and coaching. Read more

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