Spiritual Messages and Teachings for LDS Youth and Youth Leaders

Effective Communicating

By: Shane Barker

From the book: Youth Leading Youth

It was third down and inches. Ahead by a touchdown, Hillcrest had the ball on Myton’s forty-eight-yard line. A first down now could give them the field position they needed for a final drive at the goal line and a chance to frost the win.

Quarterback Chris Ellertson crouched in the huddle and carefully repeated the play the high school coach had given him. “Split left, twenty-three dive, two quick out on three. Ready? Break!”

The team clapped hands and jogged back to the line of scrimmage. Crouching behind center, Chris looked left, then right as Myton linebackers suddenly charged the line. They were going to blitz!

Chris knew he had to call a different play. And he knew he didn’t have much time. Turning quickly to both sides, he called an audible: “Red right, thirty-one lead! Red right, thirty-one lead!”

Then crouching again behind center he yelled: “Hut one! Hut two! Hut! Hut!”

The center snapped the ball crisply into Chris’s hands. Chris turned and ran sharply to the left. With defensive linebackers blitzing from both sides, he wanted to throw a short pass over the top. Unfortunately, he hadn’t given the play correctly. Players turned and ran in the wrong direction as opposing linemen poured over the line. Chris turned once, then doubled over as three defensive giants plowed him down, sacking him for a five-yard loss.

Hillcrest managed to hold on to win the game—barely. But Chris’s mistake nearly cost his team the game. One little mistake nearly meant the difference between winning and losing. And it was all a matter of communicating.

We’ve all had times when a mix-up in communications has caused us trouble or embarrassment. And we’ll probably have many more. The problem is, we usually don’t realize that there’s been a mix-up until it’s too late. When we give directions to someone else, we know what we want done. We assume the other person understands. And it usually isn’t until it’s too late that we learn how well our instructions were really understood.

An English teacher I had in high school once told us about a student who became sick midway through the term. The student’s mother came to school one day to pick up her daughter’s work for the rest of the term. Mrs. Cameron gave her several projects and tests the girl would need to complete.

“I’ll let you administer these,” Mrs. Cameron said. “Your daughter’s a fine young lady, and I don’t worry about her cheating.”

After several weeks, though, none of the assignments had been returned. The term was nearing its end, and Mrs. Cameron had no choice but to send home a failing notice.

A couple of days later the mother was back in school demanding to know why her daughter was failing.

Mrs. Cameron spread her hands. “Because she hasn’t turned in any of the work I sent her!”

The mother blushed. “Oh . . . we didn’t know you wanted us to bring it back.”

Even the most obvious things are sometimes misunderstood. No matter how clear something may seem, make sure it’s understood!

Being able to communicate effectively is a skill that will determine your success as a leader. If you can convey your instructions in a way that everyone understands—and in a way that will spark everyone’s enthusiasm—your job will be half done.

How do you do that? Let’s look at a couple of ways.

First, before you begin any project, make sure that every person knows what’s supposed to happen.

You’ve probably had times when you’ve thought, “Nobody ever tells me anything.” And you know how frustrating it is when you don’t know what’s going on. So be open and honest about your plans. Let everyone know what’s happening.

I wrote a magazine story about snowmobiling through Yellowstone one winter, and I spent a whole hour one day talking with drivers as they came in to see Old Faithful. One thing they all said was that snowmobiles weren’t much fun when someone else was driving.

“It’s scary,” said a fourteen-year-old boy named Mike. “When you’re on the back, you don’t have any control. You never know where the driver’s going, and you never know what he’s going to do next.”

Unless you learn to communicate well, the people you lead will often feel like Mike on the back of a snowmobile. It’s important that you let everyone know clearly where you’re going and what you’re doing.

Second, be sure that every person knows exactly what you expect. See that every person knows clearly what his or her duties and responsibilities are. Let each person know what you want him or her to do.

Air traffic controllers know all about this principle. And they have a neat trick for making sure that pilots know what they’re supposed to do after takeoff. After telling them which runway to use, how high to climb, when to turn, and which radio frequency to use, controllers have the pilots repeat the information. If the pilot has any trouble remembering—or if he says something wrong—the controller repeats the correct information.

Good idea! See if your followers can repeat your instructions back in their own words. If they can’t, repeat your instructions again a little more clearly. Remember that good communication is a two-way street and that those you lead are not mind readers.

To do their best work, group members need to know what is expected of each one. They each need to know their specific duties. If you are unable to communicate this information clearly, expect disaster!

A word of warning. Don’t think just because you’ve told everyone what to do that you’re finished. As you begin any project, new questions will come up. Someone may run into a problem and not know what to do. New situations will develop.

A ski instructor was once teaching his class of beginning skiers how to get on a chair lift.

“It’s easy,” he said. “All you have to do is stand on the line. Hold your poles in your left hand, look over your right shoulder, then just sit down when the chair comes up to you. Everybody got it? Good! Let’s give it a try!”

Everyone was anxious about the first ride on the chair lift. The instructor stayed close by to help out and encourage the younger ones who were afraid. Everything went fine, and soon everyone was riding the lifts peacefully up the mountain. And then one of the young skiers suddenly realized something. No one had told them how to get off!

As the midway point approached—the spot where the class was supposed to get off—everyone became more and more excited. No one had told them what to do, and there was no one to ask. When they arrived at the midway point, the braver skiers just piled off. But the more timid ones ended up riding clear to the top of the mountain.

The third step, then, is to keep your communication lines open! Talk to the group often about how things are going. Re- emphasize your expectations. Ask for questions. Listen to what’s going on.

You should remember that receiving information is just as important as giving it. Remember that when you use a telephone, you need to use the receiver as much as the mouthpiece. When you talk to the group, be certain you’re tuned in to them. Find out how they feel about what’s happening. Make sure you understand their feelings.

A high school tennis coach was once preparing her team for a tournament. She knew the competition would be tough, so she pushed her team hard. Probably a little too hard. The endless workouts were beginning to take their toll. Many of the players were becoming discouraged.

Finally, when the coach ordered the team back to the courts for another workout, she heard a player named Jan say, “Well, here we go again—back to the pits.”

Now, Jan was one of the team’s best players. She rarely complained. So when the coach heard her murmuring, she knew that Jan was unhappy. For the first time she realized that maybe she was working everyone a little too hard.

“Tell you what,” she said, changing her mind. “Let’s all hit the showers. Then let’s go out for a pizza!”

The team came instantly back to life.

“All right!” everyone chorused.

This coach was tuned in to her team. She was used to hearing players complain. Yet she was sensitive enough to know the difference between idle chatter and discouragement. So must you be.

While we’re talking about receiving, don’t underestimate your resources. If you listen carefully to what the group is saying, you may come up with a new idea or two. Maybe you’ll even come up with a better idea. (Two—or more—heads are better than one, remember?) And even if you don’t, something that someone says may prompt you to come up with a better idea.

You’ll be surprised at this. But people will flood you with ideas if you give them a chance and they know that you’ll listen. Next time you find yourself stumped for an idea, just try listening to what everyone else is thinking.

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