dimensional communication

I am wondering whether I should rename this blog ‘Nickipedia’ as it is full of the thoughts and ideas that I have had during my life which are not necessarily backed by rigorous empirical research. Sometimes they are thoughts I have had that develop in a stream of consciousness. Sometimes they are reflections based on observations. Today’s bloggage is one of the latter bloggages… it’s something I have come up with, but I do apologise if someone else has already come up with it somewhere!

Good communication is vital – unless we are a hermit we humans need to communicate with one another. When it works well it is wonderful, but when it is not so good it can lead to all sorts of difficulties and problems. I have observed this when advising clients in matrimonial cases when I was a lawyer, in helping couples as a local church Minister, and in helping churches as a Regional Minister.

Thinking more particularly of organisational communication (but it could equally be interpersonal) I have come up with a rule of thumb for communication. It’s all about whether communication ought to be 2D or 3D. 2D communication is via a flat medium – a screen (email, text, messaging…) and 3D is in person (or at the very least by phone).

My rule of thumb is this:

thumb print
not my thumb print so don’t bother trying to use it to nab my identity!

2D communication is best for Disseminating information and Diary work.

thumbs up 2

 

 

3D communication is best for Discussion, Discerning and Decision-making.

2D communication on a screen or on paper is brilliant if you are sending out an agenda or the minutes of a meeting. It’s great for sending someone an invitation or expressing thanks. It’s a good way to share dates for meetings. If it’s important that there’s a record 2D is great. If it’s a fact and you need to share it, it’s really good.

But 2D communication is bad for interacting with other people. When something is in writing on a screen or paper there is no intonation in what is written so you don’t know what mood someone is in when they are writing it (and you don’t know the mood of the person reading it). Even emojis are open to misunderstanding. And there is no opportunity for correcting misunderstandings or developing a thought. It’s there and that’s it. 2D communication is open to interpretation.

2D communication is really bad if you want to have a conversation with more than one person. I have witnessed all sorts of complicated email threads where a group of people have been trying to discuss things and because the different participants have been engaging with the discussion at different times the discussion bounces backwards and forwards and following what is being said becomes even more difficult. 2D communication is abysmal if you want to tell someone something negative or critical because the words are so open to misinterpretation.

That’s when 3D communication is needed. 3D communication (face to face ideally but over the phone is better than 2D) is really good when you need to discuss an idea and develop it. It’s really good when you need to listen well to one another and what is being said through one another. It’s really good when you need to reach a collective decision and are able to respond quickly to one another and develop your own thoughts along the way.

But 3D communication is not so good when you need to have something on the record – that’s why we have 2D records of meetings (we call them ‘minutes’ even if the meeting goes on for hours). It’s not so good if there is a lot of information to be communicated (there’s a link between how comfortable the chairs are, the length of the meeting and the amount of information that is retained).

Some more general words of advice:

In your 2D and 3D communication take time to choose your words carefully. Don’t shoot from the lip or send in haste. If it’s 2D, re-read what you have written before you have sent it and delete anything that could be misunderstood or received in a way that you didn’t intend. If someone has sent a long e-mail, do you need to reply saying ‘thank you for that lengthy email’? The word ‘lengthy’ may have been intended as a light-hearted nudge at the other person but it could be received as a criticism. If it’s 3D think before you say it. Ask yourself whether the words are going to build up or tear down. If it’s the latter, try to find the best and most positive way of framing it rather than letting the person have ‘both barrels’.

Don’t default to your comfort zone. If we spend a moment in advance of communicating to work out whether it is best done in 2D or 3D we may well end up communicating better. Remember that this is a rule of thumb. It’s not perfect. There will be times when you can’t use the right form of communication and the other will have to do.

And I do recognise the irony of writing this in a 2D bloggage. It will also become part of a 3D training session that I am offering to leadership teams in local churches under the heading ‘leading by following’ (co-written with a friend).

Be blessed, be a blessing

seeing things

I wear glasses. They are varifocals – correcting both long and short-sightedness depending on which part of the lens I look through. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly my eyes and brain adapted to this (I doubted I would ever get used to such a strange thing but it happened almost instantly).

glassesWhen I am not wearing my glasses some objects will be in soft focus. If you ever see me without my glasses and it looks like I am frowning at you, please don’t be offended it’s just that I am trying to work out who you are.

One of the things that is easy to forget is that each of us sees the world around us, and other people, through our own eyes, but other people see things differently. I am not really talking about literal vision and sight, but the way in which we experience, interpret, filter and infer.

For example, someone who loves fast cars might be really excited to see and hear an Aston Martin roaring up the street. Another person might experience the same event and be concerned about the safety of pedestrians. Someone else might experience the same event and wonder how anyone could afford such a car. Do you see what I mean.

When we forget that we ‘see’ and experience life in a unique fashion that can lead us into difficult and uncomfortable places. By way of an illustration, I sometimes forget that not everyone is into performing magical illusions to the same extent that I am. I might think I am being entertaining and engaging but to someone else I am a bore and tedious. You could replace ‘performing magical illusions’ with almost anything else and it can work out in a similar fashion…

Not everyone enjoys the same TV programmes / films / music / books as you do. And even if they do, they may not enjoy them in the same way.

Not everyone is an interested in crocheting as you are, and may not appreciate how much work went into your full-sized crocheted African Elephant so don’t be too disappointed if they simply say, “Oh, that’s nice.”

Not everyone enjoys sport (watching or playing) and even if they do they may not enjoy the same sport and even if they do they may not support the same team / individual as you do and even if they do they may not agree with your perspective on their performances.

Not everyone understands your interest in Mongolian Tree Frog Worship* or (more conventionally) shares your perspective on Jesus.

So what do we do?

A little self-awareness goes a long way. Be aware how you see things and realise that not everyone has had the same experiences, enjoys the same things and understands life in the same way as you. That’s called individuality.

Recognise that if you only ever mix with and talk with and encounter people who are broadly similar to yourself you are seriously limiting your ability to grow and learn and perhaps also limiting the opportunities for others to learn and grow through you. To realise and embrace that is called diversity.

Recognising that people see and experience things differently, and becoming comfortable with exploring that in conversation with them without fearing that it will contaminate the way that we see and experience things is called dialogue. (If you are tempted to think that you should not be influenced by others see the outcomes of a lack of ‘diversity’ above.) Communication and Community have the same root for a reason!

Now, before you start lobbing virtual stones in my direction for heresy let me be clear: I am not saying that there are no absolutes. I am not saying that I believe that all truth is relative. This is not a bloggage to embrace a pluralistic view of life, the Universe and everything. There clearly are some absolutes. For example: being outside in the rain without an umbrella or a coat means we will get wet; bald-headed people have less hair on their heads that people who are not bald… and so on.

I think I am coming up for some rules of engagement on issues and subjects that some of us believe are absolutes but which are not shared universally, even if we believe that they should be.

Should we share those with others? Absolutely. (pun intended)

Should we try to persuade them? With grace and respect, yes.

Should we force others to believe what we believe? No.

Should we insist that they accommodate our beliefs? Not to the detriment of others.

Should we listen to what others have to say about their perspective on things? Definitely.

Should we be offended if they disagree? No, although they may disagree disagreeably which may cause offence.

Should we be offensive if they disagree? No.

Should we be willing to change our minds? Maybe, but because it feels right to us, not because they tell us to. A closed mind can never be expanded.

Should we be open to learn new things and see things in new ways? Absodefinutely.

These rules of engagement are very much a work in progress. They have come out of the mush that is my brain as I have typed so have not had a lot of thought applied to them. But behind them all is an attempt to acknowledge that part of being in community is to sensitively encourage a creative balance between expressing individuality, embracing diversity, and exploring through dialogue. That is not something to be afraid of because if your truth is true it can survive those things and probably be enhanced by them.

If you have ‘absolutes’ you need to recognise that there may be different grades for you: my convictions about who Jesus of Nazareth is are absolutes that exist at the foundational belief level of who I am and how I see and experience things and shape what I do. I have that in common with a lot of people. But the way I express that through the Christian church of which I am a part differs from the way that others who share that same foundational belief express it in their church. To make non-foundational beliefs more important than they are opens us up to ridicule. And for that purpose I refer you to a joke by Emo Philips:

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!”

He said, “Nobody loves me.”

I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?”

He said, “A Christian.”

I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?”

He said, “Protestant.”

I said, “Me, too! What franchise?”

He said, “Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”

I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

In the book of Proverbs in the Bible we read (chapter 3 from verse 13):

Blessed are those who find wisdom,
    those who gain understanding,
14 for she is more profitable than silver
    and yields better returns than gold.
15 She is more precious than rubies;
    nothing you desire can compare with her.
16 Long life is in her right hand;
    in her left hand are riches and honour.
17 Her ways are pleasant ways,
    and all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
    those who hold her fast will be blessed.

It’s worth pointing out that in the book of Proverbs ‘wisdom’ is a way of living, relating, understanding and perspective, not mere knowledge. And the writer of Proverbs says that a right perspective on who God is and who we are (aka “the fear of the Lord”) is the beginning of wisdom.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*A fake religion I made up many years ago when I was trying to come up with something obscure as an illustration. I don’t even know if there are any tree frogs in Mongolia.

a brief history of communication*

communicate

Technological advances have provided us with so many new ways of communicating with each other. It probably started with Thag and Ug gesticulating to each other and making sounds that they mimicked – gradually evolving into a spoken and comprehensible language. Cave paintings at that time of history were perhaps the earliest form of strategy planning – this is what we are looking for and we’re all going to attack it when we see it.

But Thag and Ug could only communicate with each other when within earshot. Maybe blowing into an animal horn or big shell helped with vague instructions and rallying calls, but you still had to be able to hear. Until some bring spark (!) invented fire and then we had the possibility of warning beacons and someone else thought about making smoke signals.

Technological advances from this point onwards seem to have been accelerating at an almost exponential rate. Written language (and the invention of the quill and paper) enabled people to write things down and send them to someone else, perhaps attached to a person or a pigeon (which also provided a tasty snack for the reader). Semaphore and flags enabled more specific communication over distances.

Books and then the printing press were a quantum leap in mass-communication – enabling more people to read the same thing. (Assuming they had been taught to read).The invention of the tin can, coupled with string, gave a brief opportunity for people to speak to each other over distances – limited only by the length of the string and how empty the can was.

And then telegraphs and telegrams and telephones meant that you could speak to anyone, anywhere (so long as they also had access to a receiving unit). Radio enabled longer distance communication without the need for long wires. The next step from radio is television where you can see the person speaking to you.

Innovations on these themes led to satellite communications to speak in (almost) real time around the world. For a while we had pagers (remember them) enabling people to send us a message when we were not at home or in the office. Computers and the Internet then created a whole new way of communicating (email) and bringing that together with the phone produced mobile phones and texting. Video conferencing expanded rapidly at this time, and the ability to create simple websites meant that almost anyone could put their opinions out there for anyone to see: people have visited this blog from almost every country on the planet!

And yet, with all of the technology that we have now, and with all of the innovations that will come, nothing actually beats Thag and Ug in each other’s presence communicating face to face. If you want to communicate best with someone it’s best to be in their presence.

And so, dear bloggists, I give you the reason for Christmas: if you want to communicate best with someone it’s best to be in their presence (cue sounds of a baby being born)…

Be blessed, be a blessing

*I don’t claim any particular expertise in this area. Don’t rely on this as rigorously researched wisdom, it’s light-hearted speculation to make a point!

the parable of the misunderstood inattention

Crazy Little Game Called... FootballA long time ago, in a football league far far away, I played for my church football team. I was still a teenager and had not yet settled on the idea of being a goalkeeper, but rather fancied myself as the next Paul Mariner*. I read lots of books about playing football, about tactics, skills and training. I used to spend hours kicking a football against a wall at home: practicing my shooting accuracy and ability to control the ball when it bounced back.

I used to train with my church football team, who played in the local league. And just occasionally, when they were desperate, I would get a game. I can remember the joy I experienced when I was picked, the enthusiastic running around that I did, and the happiness when the manager had substituted all of the players he could substitute during the match and I was still on the pitch!

There was one occasion I can remember when I was in the opposing penalty area and the ball rebounded towards me. My team mates were shouting at me to control the ball before hitting it, but I had memories of slamming a football against the wall at home and was confident that I would be able to slam it into the back of the net. I ran towards the ball and thundered it high and wide. You can draw your own conclusions about why I developed into a goalkeeper. It may have something to do with me never scoring a goal, but I am not sure.

But the occasion that I am using as a parable came about because I had read in one of my many football tactics books that you could lull the opposition into thinking you weren’t a threat by behaving as if you were disinterested with the game. You would wander around, not looking at what was happening. You would not put your hand up or shout for the ball to be passed to you. You would look not pay attention. Except that in reality you were. You were watching with your peripheral vision and when the defenders had decided that you were not a threat you would burst into action, call for the ball, run past the surprised defence and slot the ball past the unsuspecting goalkeeper.

To me this sounded like an excellent idea and I resolved to try it in the next game I played. There was one flaw in my otherwise foolproof plan, but I will come back to that. It was not long before the team was desperate enough for me to be picked again and I was delighted to find that they had put me up front again (now I wonder whether that was to keep me as far away from our goal as possible). The match started and I did my best not to look interested. I tried not to look as if I was paying attention to what was happening in the rest of the game. I wandered around aimlessly. I did not look at what was happening. I did not put my hand up or shout for the ball. And the defenders started to ignore me. It was working!

Then (and this is where the flaw comes in) the captain of our team shouted at me to pay attention and get involved in the match.The flaw was that I had not warned my team that this is what I would be doing! My plan had been so good and my acting so believable that I had even fooled my own team and the captain’s shouting had drawn the defenders’ attention back to me. I felt disappointed that my team captain would shout at me and think I was not interested, but then realised that I could not blame him because he didn’t know what I was doing – I had assumed that he would realise that my apparent inattention was part of a cunning plan.

How often is that true? How often do we assume that other people know what we are thinking and why we are doing things? How often are misunderstandings caused by a failure to communicate clearly (or at all)? Nobody (regardless of what their publicity says) is actually a mind-reader.

Writing at one of the first Churches, Paul had these words of advice (1 Thessalonians 5:11ff, NIRV):

“So encourage one another with the hope you have. Build each other up. In fact, that’s what you are doing.12 Brothers and sisters, we ask you to accept the godly leaders who work hard among you. They care for you in the Lord. They correct you. 13 Have a lot of respect for them. Love them because of what they do. Live in peace with one another. 14 Brothers and sisters, we are asking you to warn certain people. These people don’t want to work. Instead, they make trouble. We are also asking you to encourage those who have lost hope. Help those who are weak. Be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that no one pays back one wrong act with another. Instead, always try to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. 16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Give thanks no matter what happens. God wants you to thank him because you believe in Christ Jesus.”

The passage speaks of what to do with those who are not engaged with what is happening but if you look at all of the advice it all presupposes good communication, doesn’t it? Very few of those things can happen if people don’t talk with one another and God!

Be blessed, be a blessing

*For those uneducated people among you, this is Paul Mariner’s Wikipedia entry.

communication

A piece of advice we were given before we got married was ‘always kiss each other goodnight’. As well as being romantic, it also ensures that there are no lasting grievances between you that are unresolved at the end of the day. Good advice I think – it’s worked for us for 25 years.

A couple had an argument that was unresolved. They were still not talking to each other when the husband stomped off to bed early because he had to get up to catch a flight. He knew his wife was always up early so he wrote a note and left it on her pillow:

“Wake me up at seven.”

He went to sleep and when he woke up the next day he was alarmed and then angry when he saw that the time was nine o’clock!

Then he noticed a note on his pillow:

“Wake up!”

I felt a little bit like that this morning. I have been expecting a delivery and it was coming by tracked mail. This morning, at 6.26, an email arrived in my inbox telling me that the parcel had arrived at the Colchester delivery office and would be delivered today. While I was still sleeping, blissfully unaware of this, an attempt was made to deliver the parcel. Thankfully my wife was up and able to sign for the parcel.

If the purpose of the email was to alert me that the parcel could be delivered today and to be ready for it, it failed. It was only Sally’s internal alarm clock that meant someone was ready to receive it.

How often do we fail to communicate with people? We think we have, but effective communication requires effective delivery and receipt. We might ping off an email but if it is not read it is useless. We might send a text message but if the phone is switched off it is not received. We could write a bloggage but if nobody reads it it’s just words on a website. We might talk to someone but if they are not listening then we might a well not have said anything.

I wonder if that’s how God feels sometimes about us. He tries to communicate in so many different ways, but if we are not switched on, listening, reading, alert or waiting to encounter him then there has not been effective communication. I think we all know which end of the line is at fault!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

1001 a blog oddity

Not much happened.

I posted my 1000th item on my blog and there was no fanfare, no fireworks display, no laser show. I did get an automated message from WordPress congratulating me on having 1000 posts, but other than that not much happened.

I wasn’t expecting anything to happen. Indeed the message from WordPress, automated as it was, was an unexpected bonus. And yet…

…and yet the fact that not much happened felt a bit anti-climactic. It felt as if someone important had forgotten my birthday. I think the problem is that to me the milestone of the 1000th bloggage felt significant but to everyone else it did not have the same level of significance. In fact to everyone else it was irrelevant, unimportant, insignificant.

I wonder if sometimes we have that problem with other people. We, or they, build something up in our mind to be much more important than the other person does. To one person it is of great significance and to the other it is of little interest. And that is a recipe for disappointment, disharmony or even worse.

So how do we avoid that? I suspect that a significant part of the answer is in effective communication. While I can perform ‘mind reading illusions’ I find it very hard to read people’s minds in normal circumstances. Indeed all of us have that problem: knowing what someone is thinking is very difficult, if not impossible, if they do not tell us what they are thinking.

Can you blame someone for failing to understand that we have attached greater or lesser significance to something than they have if we have not told them about it?

And even though God knows our thoughts even before we have been able to articulate them ourselves, if we don’t articulate them to him in prayer and listen for his response it’s hardly surprising when our plans and his don’t coincide either.

It is said that God gave us two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak. Actually he gave us two ears so we can find it much easier to locate the direction from which a sound is emanating. I think the lesson from having two ears and one mouth is not so much about how much we listen, but about whether or not we focus our attention on someone else and communicate effectively with them.

And the art of good communication is that it is two way. We need to be open, honest, available to listen, sensitive, interested in the other person, willing to be flexible, responsive and honest. That is in both speaking and listening.

Yes I know I wrote ‘honest’ twice. That’s because we need to be very honest with each other if we are to communicate effectively!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

connectivity

networkSomething very interesting happened yesterday. I posted my sermon joke that I had planned to use on Sunday morning but then didn’t use, along with a picture of a sign about the procrastinator’s meeting being postponed. A friend saw the picture and asked me via Facebook where I got it. I was able to tell her and noticed that she posted it on her Facebook page soon afterwards.

(If you click on the picture from yesterday’s joke it will take you to the source website. Getty Images have made many of their images free to use on blogs and social media, but ask that you use the links to embed the image so that it links back to their site. They aren’t free for general use, though, so do pay for them if you are using them elsewhere).

By the end of the day another Facebook friend ‘shared’ the same image which he had seen on one of his Facebook friend’s page – someone I don’t know at all. It had come full circle. I would love to follow the trail to see where the sharing led me but I don’t have the time. But it did remind me just how interconnected we are in the modern social media era.

I have commented before on how surprised I am at the countries from which people view the bloggages I lob out into the ether. Do you know where the Aland Islands are? Me neither, but someone from there seems to have inadvertently landed on my blog (if it’s you and you have come back, BLESS YOU!).

So how can we make the most of this interconnectedness? (I mean more than sharing jokes, funny pictures of cats and wishing friends happy birthday without having to buy them a card…) I can share ideas and thoughts and get reflections from others that I would probably not have considered myself – using the collective wisdom of a cyber-diasporatic community (a new phrase I have coined – you can work it out I’m sure). When I see a friend’s post and comment on it or reply that can remind them that I am thinking of them, or that I exist and it will enhance the connectivity.

And, for me perhaps the most significant thing, when I see a friend in need (and that can be anywhere in the world) I can pray for them. And seeing a friend’s post of good news can also be a trigger for prayer. In fact I could spend a whole day praying for friends who post online. I don’t think it would be a day wasted…

So next time you see a friend’s post online (or even one of mine) why not use it as a prompt to pray for them?

Be blessed, be a blessing.