Have you Overlooked this Key to Communication?

Have you ever heard yourself speak on an audio recording and said, “Wow! I didn’t know I sounded like that?” If you have, you are not alone. It’s a brain thing. We actually can’t hear our voice and tone the way it actually sounds. [That must be why some people with really bad voices think they can sing and try out for American Idol.] This simple insight is an often overlooked communication key.

Boy and girl used the Internet communication

Just above your ear lies a part of the brain called the superior temporal sulcus (STS). In a baby up to four months old the STS attends to all sounds. Yet at seven months the STS triggers attention only from human voices. And when emotion accompanies that voice, it really gets activated. God created that part of our brain to help us understand language and read tone and meaning.

However, when we speak, the STS actually turns off. In other words, we don’t hear our voice the same way others hear our voice. That’s the reason we’re surprised at how we sound when we hear an audio recording of it. Some scientists believe this happens because instead of listening to our voice, we listen to our thoughts. And since the brain can’t pay focused attention to more than one thing at a time, it defaults to listening to our self-talk.

So how is this an overlooked key to communication?

Because tone matters greatly when we communicate. One of the world’s leaders in communication, Dr. Albert Mehrabian, believes that tone contributes 38% to spoken communication. 

So if tone matters that much, we must pay attention to it, especially if we are leaders.

How can we match our tone to our intended message? Consider these  ideas.

  • Ask someone who will tell you the truth how your tone comes across when you speak. Is it harsh, condemning, condescending, weak, insecure, positive, upbeat, etc.
  • Occasionally record yourself in a conversation and listen to the recording right afterwards. Ask yourself if your tone matched your intended message.
  • If a conflict around miscommunication arises with you and your spouse or someone you work with, ask the other person if your tone influenced their perception. If you see patterns in miscommunication, you may find that your tone is the culprit.
  • Sloooooow down when you speak. Sometimes we can appear pushy when we talk fast when we’re actually trying to economize time. Space and silence between sentences is OK sometimes.
  • Smile when you talk. Research has confirmed that smiling, even when forced, can reduce stress and make us feel happier. And happier people usually convey happier tones.

So the next time you’re in a conversation, try one or two of these ideas and see what happens. Your STS will be glad you did.

What has helped you improve your communication?

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See Thanks for the Feedback by Heen and Stone for a fuller explanation of the STS.

A Counter-intuitive Way to Manage Ministry Pain

Pain and ministry go together like peanut butter and jelly. Once you make a PB&J sandwich, there’s no separating the two ingredients. Neither can we isolate successful ministry from the pain it inevitably brings. I don’t like rejection, disappointment, or criticism. I don’t know any pastor who does. Sometimes, however, I do everything I can to avoid them. However, this woman approached pain in a counter-intuitive way.

Portrait of a man with fist and eyes closed on black background

A French nun who lived in the late 1800s, Thérèse of Lisieux (known as “the Little Flower”), practiced a simple way to draw closer to Jesus.

It is, in short, to seek out the menial job, to welcome unjust criticisms, to befriend those who annoy us, to help those who are ungrateful.

Thérèse didn’t allow those experiences to help her grow only if they came her way; she actually sought them out and embraced them. As difficult as that seems, perhaps the Lord would want you to consider this unusual tool to help you become a more effective pastor and follower of Jesus.

What are your thoughts on what Thérèse did? Does it seem too ‘out there’ or was she onto something?

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The Original Jesus

My friend Daniel Darling just released his latest book, The Original Jesus: Trading the Myths We Create for the Savior Who Is. Daniel is a great writer and provides an insightful look at the myths we create about Jesus. I highly recommend it. I’ve included an excerpt below.

orig jesus

Who is Jesus? The answer to this question is the foundation of Christianity. His deity is enshrined in all three major Christian creeds and has been held by the church for its two thousand years of history. Tozer says, “For more than sixteen hundred years this has stood as the final test of orthodoxy.” Theologian Michael Bird writes, “All in all, the testimony of the Christian tradition, based on its exegesis and experience, is that Jesus Christ is both fully human and divine.” John Frame says the deity of Christ is a “pervasive doctrine of Scripture,” and he sums up Scripture’s claims with three statements:

  1. Jesus bears divine attributes: holiness, perfect truth, wisdom, almighty power, immutability, glory.
  2. Jesus performs divine acts: creation, providence, miracles, forgiveness of sins, final judgment.
  3. Jesus in Scripture is an object of faith and worship.

Every generation faces new temptations to diminish or doubt Jesus’s deity. As you read this book, Newsweek and Time are likely working on the “Scholars Debunk the Supernatural Jesus” feature they run every Easter. This thin gruel of journalism will once again be answered by the most basic evangelical scholarship.

But red-faced skeptics and timid doctoral students are not the only ones tempted to flinch at Jesus’s unpopular claims. Even those who claim to be true believers have trouble grasping who Jesus is. It’s less hassle for us to just place Jesus where we want to, in a long line of inspirational religious figures. But for the Christian story to work at all, Jesus has to be more than a first-century Gandhi-like figure.

I’m guessing if you’re reading this book you’re a believer like me. Chances are you found this at a Christian bookstore or through an online review at a Christian blog or because millions of your friends posted on Facebook about how awesome it is.

But maybe, just maybe you are not a Christian and chose this book out of curiosity or boredom or because a Christian friend recommended it. If this is you, then for the rest of the chapter I’d like to make the case for why you might consider Jesus.

While more gifted apologists could give you in-depth answers as to who Jesus is, my aim is not only to fill your head with more information but to see God by his grace penetrate your heart with the truth of his Word.

I hope to show why Jesus is less compelling as a mere guru than he is as the Son of God, the Savior of the world.

Excerpted from The Original Jesus: Trading the Myths We Create for the Savior Who Is by Daniel Darling, Baker Books, 2014, by permission.

9 Ways Great Leaders Communicate

Great leaders are great communicators. Communication certainly includes making a great speech, or for pastors, delivering a compelling sermon. That kind of communication is important, but it’s less so than communicating well one-on-one. I recently finished reading neuroscientist Andrew Newberg’s book, Words Can Change your Brain. His book suggests 12 key neuroscience based communication practices. I’ve included nine here with some brief comments.

Young brothers talking with tin can telephone on grunge backgrou

Nine ways great leaders communicate:

1. They convey a relaxed demeanor.

They’re not tense or frazzled. People pick up on our emotional tone, whether it’s good or bad. It’s called emotional contagion. So when we’re relaxed, it encourages the other person to relax as well.

2. They stay fully present for the person they’re talking to.

They’re not in a rush to move on to something or someone else. They don’t look over the other person’s shoulder. Rather, they make genuine eye contact. Eye contact stimulates the social networks of our brains, decreases the stress hormone cortisol, and increases the neurotransmitter oxytocin which has been called the trust chemical, all of which enhance communication.

3. They practice inner stillness and quietness.

This reflects the Psalmists words in Psalms 46.10. Be still and know that I am God.

4. They pay attention to non-verbal cues in the face and body of the person with whom they’re talking.

Our words seldom fully convey what we really think and feel. However, our eyes, face, and tone communicate much of what we do think and feel. If we don’t pay attention to the non-verbal, communication will suffer.

5. They express appreciation and gratitude.

People yearn to hear encouragement from their leaders. Authentic praise for a job well done makes huge deposits in the souls of those around us. And, when we give a compliment at the end of a conversation, it’s actually received better than one given at the beginning of a conversation.

6. They speak with a warm tone.

A warm tone can set the stage for effective communication whereas a harsh or negative tone can set up resistance in the other person.

7. They speak slowly.

When we speak slowly, those listening can comprehend us better and it can help calm an anxious person.

8. They speak briefly.

They don’t hog the conversation with their words. Since our brain can only hold so much information at once in our working memory, speaking for shorter lengths of time improves communication by helping the listener retain more of what we say.

9. They listen deeply.

To listen deeply means that we don’t let our minds wander but that we give our full attention to the other person speaking.

Try some of these practices the next time you talk to someone and see what difference it can make.

What would you add to this list?

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The 3 Kinds of People in Every Church

In Judson Edward’s book, The Leadership Labyrinth, he describes 21 paradoxes in ministry. He defines the ‘relationship paradox’ in this way: the people who like you the most will be the ones you try least to please. He then writes that these three kinds of people fill every church.

People praying in European church. Brezje, Slovenia
  • The energizers: their very presence makes us feel better, buoys our spirits, and fills our tank.
  • The regular folks: they may not buoy our spirits, but they don’t demoralize us either. They make up the largest group in a church.

The main difference between the energizers and the drainers are their expectations of us. The energizers don’t place great expectations on us. The drainers do.

We don’t measure up to the drainers expectations. Either our preaching or counseling or leading or availability is not enough. These subtle unmet expectations may not be overt, but when we are around these people, we feel their unspoken disapproval.

Edwards pens these profound words.

“When our credo becomes ‘I am as you desire me,’ we have lost the very thing that will enable us to minister effectively: our authenticity.”

Edwards rounds out his chapter with three insights into how Jesus responded to his drainers.

  • First, Jesus retreated from this drainers to refresh himself and seek God. He regularly sought renewal.
  • Second, Jesus balanced his drainers with his energizers.
  • Third, Jesus didn’t allow the drainers to deter him from his plan and purpose.

Although Jesus practiced a rhythm of renewal and time away from his drainers, he never got rid of them. He still had to contend with them, just as we pastors must do in our churches.

Not everyone liked Jesus. Not everyone will like us. But God’s grace gives us what we need to serve even the most draining drainers.

What other categories of church people would you add to this list?

If this post resonates with you, you may enjoy my third book that released last year: People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership. It was one of this year’s Outreach Resource of the Year Recommendation in leadership.

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