Leading with Clarity
A few years ago, when preparing to launch a non-permanent church campus I asked an intern to wipe down the school’s water fountains. She smiled and nodded but sighed as she walked away. A little later in the day as we were unloading supplies I asked, “Did I upset you earlier?” She explained how sometimes she felt insulted because I dumbed things down, shared too many details, and tended to repeat myself. I asked for an example, and she laughed and said, “you told me, in detail, how to wipe down the water fountains, explained what happened the last time you asked someone to wipe down the water fountains and they did it wrong, and you’ve reminded me about six times today to wipe down the water fountains. I got the message loud and clear, you want the water fountains to be clean.” I cringed and quickly apologized. I thought I was bringing clarity when I was only creating frustration.
Over the years, I’ve learned clarity comes when you care enough about those you are communicating with to make a conscious effort to be cautious, clever, and brief. Let’s take a closer look at what that means.
As a child and teen my dad would say, “Just because it can be said, doesn’t mean it should be.” He taught me that before you speak you should run it through a filter. Ask yourself these three questions.
Is it TRUE?
It must be absolute, not just partially true, not an opinion that could and most likely will be subjective, but fully truthful.
Is it KIND?
Ask yourself, would you like for someone to say this to you or about you? If not, keep your mouth shut.
Is it NECESSARY?
So much of what we say is superfluous. It’s unneeded or useless. When we say too much, we often find ourselves regretting what was only meant to serve as a momentarily entertaining conversation.
Clarity starts with caution. Voicing the wrong sentiment or saying too much altogether can muddy the conversation and cause you to sidetrack. Use discretion when you speak. Don’t waste the time or relational equity focusing on nonessentials.
I’m not advocating for you to speak in rhyme or for every word out of your mouth to be a pun or parody, but in most circumstances, there is a way to create innovative language that is also memorable.
Here are some examples:
We want to engage kids and empower families.
This explains the priorities by narrowing the scope and limiting the distractions created by highlighting everything.
We don’t “have to,” we “get to.”
This expounds on the mindset of servitude without the ten-minute speech.
Create Wow Moments.
We repeated this to volunteers frequently to remind them to go above and beyond when serving families.
The most effective form of communication is unforgettable and implicit. Say what needs to be said but find sticky ways to get your message across.
I distinctly remember a British Literature class I took in college. Every day I would sit in the front row and attempt to focus and stay awake. The professor was highly intelligent, extremely knowledgeable, and immensely boring. It wasn’t because the subject matter was uninteresting; it was because my professor spent half the day chasing proverbial rabbit trails. She would start with Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales and within a few minutes we were listening to her recount her recent trip to England. By the end of the hour, most in the class was confused, bored and frustrated because it meant we were going to spend hours in the text self-teaching material that should have been explained to us.
We’ve all sat through a lecture, a speech, or a class and thought, “Why doesn’t he get to the point?” or “How does she not realize no one is paying attention?” Yet, most of us have the unfortunate tendency to over share the personal when only the pertinent is necessary. Personal examples, if relevant, can help to illustrate a point but only if they are concise and draw direct correlations from an intangible thought to a concrete experience.
Don’t assume your audience knows anything but say only as much as is necessary to clearly explain the point. In most cases, truth is straightforward and simple. Your speech should be as well.
The next time you find yourself leading a team meeting or preparing for a difficult conversation ask yourself how you can be more cautious, clever, and brief.