You may have the quickest website, most dynamic social media presence, and best bulletin in town … but how are you communicating? We mean really communicating. It’s one thing to present a charming face to the community in print or online, but what do people experience when they pick up the phone to call your parish office? Is your ministry team generally positive or passive-aggressive? With a myriad of personality and information-retention styles, clear communication can be challenging.
Here are ten of our tips to communicate clearly, confidently, and faithfully in your parish community.
1.Be Clear and Confident
If you have a message to convey, make sure it’s delivered accurately! Low volume, excessive filler words, and roundabout sentences will bring more confusion than clarity. Don’t speak in roundabout ways to “impress” or prove your competency. Speaking specifically and directly will go much farther towards gaining the respect and trust of others.
2. Always Listen
While most outward-facing church communication is a one-way street, that’s not so with interpersonal dialogue! It’s equally important to allow those around you to respond. Allow for pauses in the conversation so others can fully collect their thoughts. Above all, don’t interrupt! If you’re seeking an equitable conversation, ask open-ended questions and allow the answers to come forth. As you listen, pay attention. Practice active listening to better understand what the other person is trying to say.
3. Clarify When Necessary
If you’re in the middle of a planning conversation, make sure to confirm periodically that everyone is on the same page. “Just to recap, what we’ve got so far is…” There’s nothing worse than walking away from a meeting with two separate plans of action, especially when nobody realizes it!
4. See Dignity First
When asked about a particular pastoral matter, Pope Francis famously quipped, “We must always consider the person.” Sometimes, our consideration of the person doesn’t go further than “this person annoys me!” However, as people of faith, we’re called to respect each individual person and recognize their inherent dignity. This comes before any other trait that might frustrate us. It’s also a great equalizer — the person you dislike has the same dignity as your favorites!
5. Remember Everyone Has a Story
After recognizing that each person shares fundamental dignity, we also need to recognize that each person has a unique story. The frustrated mom on the phone? Maybe she’s at the end of her rope from trying to “do it all” that day and failing miserably. The awkwardly fumbling person who seems to have wandered into the parish office? They’ve walked through your doors for a reason. Remember the person underlying the immediate moment. Clear communication is nothing without charitable communication!
6. Understanding Leads to Empathy
Whether it’s a frustrating phone call or a disagreement with an employee, try to understand and respect their point of view. Even if you plan on telling them something they might not like, a simple phrase like “I understand where you’re coming from” can help someone feel heard. Make sure, of course, that you do understand! Ask questions to clarify what is unclear to you.
7. Resolve Conflict Like Jesus
In many workplaces, gossip is a real problem. Slights — real or imagined — can quickly become the next topic around the coffeemaker. Sadly, churches are often no different. When it comes to conflict resolution, Jesus himself offers a simply model guaranteed to improve communication, build trust, and cut down on passive-aggressive behavior. Here it is in Matthew’s Gospel: “If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.” If something is wrong, go to the person directly! For Jesus, you should appeal to higher authority only after this method fails.
8. Choose The Best Medium
Everyone has their preference between face-to-face, email, a phone call, or simply texting. All of these have their place in effective communication, but they ought to be used wisely. If there’s difficult or complex information to convey — something that could result in plenty of clarifying questions — an in-person conversation is probably best. If it’s an important but generic communication going to a number of people, email is a good fit. Texting should only be used for a quick question and answer. Even something seemingly innocuous like “Where are the extra envelopes?” could lead to a lengthy back-and-forth unless the responder is incredibly precise. “In the supply closet” (when the parish has three) is a lot less helpful than, “Office supply closet, next to Pam’s desk. Third shelf from the top. Kind of on the right, I think?”
While most of this list is focused on verbal communication, written communication is equally important in a church community. When you need to communicate in writing — from emails to fliers to text messages — look back over what you wrote. Check for typos, grammatical errors, or factual mistakes that could lead to misinterpretation. If it’s a written piece of greater importance, read it aloud to make sure your sentences flow and their meaning is clear.
10. Charitable Communication is Key
A final reminder on an essential point! As a Christian and dedicated parish staff member, you are representing faith to others. Your witness to love and respect — or lack thereof — could make a lasting impression on another person. Use the person’s name, look them in the eye, and smile. Even if the conversation is difficult, do your best to maintain calm and positivity. Every conversation is an opportunity to show the love of Christ!