Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Leader Speaks with Care

Oh, the power of words!

God spoke the universe into existence and Jesus is called the Word. The Lord has infused human communication with supernatural power--the power to bless or to curse! Yet, how often am I careless with my words? More times than I care to count. A leader who cannot manage his/her tongue--a part of his/her own body--has no business trying to manage others.

We live in a world that is overly-verbal. We don't just speak and write letters anymore, we Tweet, we post status updates on Facebook, we send mass e-mails. With blogging, everyone has a platform for their words--for better or for worse. I know people who practically narrate their entire day through various on-line media. We're using words en masse these days--often thoughtlessly. Sometimes carelessly. Other times harmfully. We have an abundance of words, but have we lost respect for their power?

Once, when wanting to teach our children to be more careful with their words, we gave them each a small tube of toothpaste and a plate and told them so squeeze all of the toothpaste out of the tube. They happily complied. Then we gave them a wide assortment of utensils and told that they needed to put all the toothpaste back into the tube. We let them struggle with it for a while, and when they finally admitted that the task was impossible we told them that words are like toothpaste. They come out easy, but once spoken, we can't put them back.

I don't know where I first heard this acronym, but it helps me to THINK before I speak. Before I say something (or post something on Facebook!) I ask myself:

Is it RUE?




Is it IND?

TRUE--Leaders speak the truth! We don't tell little white lies to protect people--not even our children. We don't ask others to lie for us. We don't stretch the truth, or bend it, or distort it. If the words I am about to speak are not true, I'm better off not speaking them. Sometimes I'm tempted to fudge a response when the truth is, "I don't know the answer to that question." Sometimes I'm tempted to say, "I was too busy to get it done" when the truth is, "I didn't get it done because I chose to focus on other projects." Sometimes I'm tempted to say, "Sorry, I forgot!" when the truth is, I had no intention of doing it and I didn't want to deal with the other person's disappointment.  A leader's integrity is revealed through his/her commitment to speak the truth.

HELPFUL-- Everything that is true is not necessarily helpful. It may be true that a co-worker is having a bad hair day, but it is not really helpful for me to draw attention to that fact. Often those who feel strongly about being honest fail to realize that not every truth needs to be spoken. Stating the obvious to shame another person is not helpful. Being brutally honest about something that is irrelevant or irrevocable is not helpful. Speaking your mind when your opinion cannot positively influence the outcome is not helpful. But honest, helpful words are a blessing. Things like, "Excuse me, but I noticed your rear tail light was out." or "I just saw your child put something dangerous in his mouth!" or  "I noticed a mistake in your presentation, can I send you the correct information?" A leader's intentions are revealed through his/her commitment to say things that are helpful.

IMPORTANT--What do you care about? Sometimes I spend so many words on unimportant topics, that when something I really care about comes up, I've already spent all my verbal collateral. People have listened to me wax poetic about trivial things, and then when my passion flares for some critical issue, they have no way of knowing that THESE words are the ones I really want them to hear. Having to learn a second language has helped me so much in this area. It takes enough effort to speak that I will just keep my mouth shut until I feel really strongly about something, and then I will take the pain to open my mouth. Here's hoping I can transfer this skill back to my mother tongue. A leader's values are revealed by what he/she deems important. 

NECESSARY--Oh the senseless babbling we do! I often catch myself whipping off a frustrated reply to an email, only to pause and ask myself, "Is this really necessary?" Most of the time the answer is, "No!" A ministry partner misunderstands me on a minor point--do I have to correct her? A friend misspeaks, but I know what she meant. Can I let it slide? A family member overlooks a daily chore that he normally does without fail. Must I bring it up, or can I simply do it myself?  Should everyone on Facebook know that my dog has fleas? That my son got straight As? That I burned my dinner? A leader's priorities are revealed by what he/she deems necessary.

KIND--Kindness matters. I'm not talking about sugar-coating, I'm talking about genuinely caring. If my heart is not tender towards someone, then God will most likely NOT call me to speak a hard truth to that person. If I desire to shame someone, even the most helpful words will not provide assistance. Even when someone is clearly in the wrong, kindness is key, for kindness leads us to repentance. Sometimes I am shocked at the hateful words that Christians will post on Twitter or Facebook--in the name of God! Political statements, name-calling, gross over-generalizations that are simply unkind. If the words coming off your keyboard or out of your mouth are not kind, they should not be said. Period. A leader's heart is revealed by his/her commitment to kindness.

For thought and discussion: Which of the five--TRUE, HELPFUL, IMPORTANT, NECESSARY, KIND--do you struggle with the most in communication? 

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