ChurchETHOS

Internal Languages for Transformation

Posted in book review, church leadership, ChurchETHOS by Nathan Creitz on May 8, 2009
511kjbb76kl“If we want deeper understanding of the prospect of change, we must pay closer attention to our own powerful inclinations not to change.” Kegan & Lahey

I’ve mentioned before that ChurchETHOS encourages thinking Christianly about the habits and customs of the church and about our reputation with those outside the church. This review of Kegan & Lahey’s book on leadership entitled How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation, is an important book as we talk about how to change the bad habits that are often formed in the church.

Why is this book important for church leaders?

Have you ever wanted to do something but for some reason you never do it? Can you think of something that your church does that you wish were different? Or, is there some habit that you wish you could break but you just never get around to doing anything about it? This book by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey was assigned to me in a graduate level class that I took at Harvard Divinity School and I don’t know if there is a more important non-religious book for the church today.

The use of this book in the church grants us multi-faceted insight from several different perspectives. For example, both Kegan and Lahey work at the Harvard Graduate School of Education but their book is about leadership and business management. If that weren’t enough I’m reviewing it here in light of church leadership and personal transformation. From the world of education, business, and church leadership, this book has significant contributions to make in the way we change our organizations for the better.

The authors have written this book “for people interested in the possibility of their own transformational learning, as well as for people interested in supporting the transformational learning of others. Their theory is that we are all leaders so these “languages for transformation” are readily applicable whether you are a business owner, a church planter, an education minister, or a parent.

In this post, I will briefly outline the first four languages, referred to in the book as “Internal Languages”. In a follow up post I will describe the “Social Languages”. The first four languages are meant to be an exercise in personal transformation. These are the internal languages. The last three languages are meant to be an exercise in bringing about transformation in a culture or a group. These are the social languages. So let’s get started with the internal languages.

THE INTERNAL LANGUAGES:
From the Language of Complaint to the Language of Commitment

“I wish our church spent more time together!”

The author’s write, “The language of complaining, wishing, and hoping is a highly frequented conversational form, but it is assuredly not one of our seven languages for personal learning and reflective leadership.” However, “we would not complain about anything if we did not care about something.” That is an important statement. The authors do a great job of helping you dig deep to the commitment that ‘s behind the complaint.

To help us change from the language of complaint to the language of commitment, the author’s suggest completing this sentence: “I am committed to the value or importance of…”

The answer might be “…God’s love being displayed through each of us as we fellowship with and care for one another.”

Complaining accomplishes nothing, but commitments put us on the path to internal transformation. Later we will see how it can even change others as well. When we analyze our complaints from the angle of the underlying commitment we move from being disappointed in the circumstances to recognizing that we are deeply committed individuals.

From the Language of Blame to the Language of Personal Responsibility

When we complain, we are primarily focusing our frustration at other people. Now that we’ve moved from complaint to commitment we recognize our commitment to fellowship might, in some small or large part be our responsibility as well. This language helps you discover what role you might play in keeping your commitment from becoming a reality.

A great question to ask at this point is, “What are you doing, or not doing, that is keeping your commitment from being more fully realized?”

You might answer, “I have a difficult time sharing my personal needs, struggles, or hopes with other people, so I tend to stay at surface level with my friends at church” or, “I tend to procrastinate throughout the week and then when church members call me up I don’t have any time for them.”

The potential in the language of personal responsibility is that it draws on the momentum from the language of commitment. Rather than blaming others for what should be, you realize that with some personal responsibility it could be, at least as far as it concerns you.

It should also be pointed out that this doesn’t remove blame from others. At this point, it is enough to work on your own commitments. A couple of quotes (not in the book) that are helpful would be from Tolstoy, who said,”Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Remember, we are focusing on internal languages, not social languages, so far.

From the Language of New Year’s Resolutions to the Language of Competing Commitments

This language is intended to help diagnose our own immunity to change. We know how powerful a New Year’s resolution is, right? Wrong. New Year’s resolutions are mere wishes and hopes. Without understanding what is holding us back from keeping our commitments, we will never see transformation in our lives.

The first language was easy. Anyone will confess that they value time spent with others. This third language will be harder because it helps you find the raw truth about what’s keeping you personally from changing.

Keeping in mind your original commitment of safety and courtesy, complete this sentence, “But I may also be committed to…”

“…not being seen as needy or dependent on other people.”

This language is powerful because it “paradoxically increases the possibility of significant change by making clear the immune system that makes change so difficult.” The ability to see the system that is keeping us from change is powerful, but simply looking at it won’t change much. We have to actually do something about it, which leads us to the fourth language.

From the Language of Big Assumptions That Hold Us to the Language of Assumptions We Hold

To the authors, a “big assumption” is an assumption that we take as absolute truth. Assumptions could be true or could be false but “big assumptions” are not questioned, we believe them to be, and act like they are, the truth. These “are not so much the assumptions we have as they are the assumptions that have us.”

The authors write, “You have probably met or worked with people whom you see operating dysfunctionally, destructively, or self-destructively. We are suggesting that if you could accurately discern the Big Assumptions under which these people are operating…you might even say, “If I held those same Big Assumptions, I might very well be acting in just these destructive ways myself.” We all have Big Assumptions that have power over us. The first three languages are helping to expose this Big Assumption but there is still some work to do.

The problem with a Big Assumption is that once we figure out how the world should work, it doesn’t make any sense to us to look for anything different. We are certain we are right and those who don’t think that way are wrong.

So, how does this work with our example. The authors guide the reader to take the third language and change it to the following: “I assume that if…then…”

“I assume that if I am seen as needy or dependent on other people, then people won’t want to spend time with me. As much as I want fellowship with other believers, I would probably be kept out of the loop while other people experience Christian community together without me.”

The Big Assumption ties all four of the languages together. The commitment to fellowship is being held up by our own procrastination or inability to share our lives with others. Further, we have a competing commitment that we don’t want to come across as needy and are assuming that if people perceive that we are needy then we won’t achieve authentic fellowship which is our original commitment.

The Big Assumptions are produced unintentionally, but the “Assumptions that we hold” are produced with great difficulty. It requires opening up with someone to let them see your Big Assumption and letting them work with you to change your thinking and behavior. Once you’ve worked through it, though, you gain mastery over your assumptions and begin taking them for what they really are: assumptions. The Big Assumption “anchors and sustains our immune system [to change]” but the “assumptions that we hold…creates a pivotal lever for disturbing our immunity to change. By beginning to “speak” this fourth language we begin to gain new perspective on our world and we are able to change our destructive behavior and begin realizing our healthy commitments.

Now What?

The more we practice these languages, the more transformed we become and the people around us become. But there are three more languages that deal specifically with helping others change. Make sure you check out the next post in this series: Social Languages for Transformation.

Meanwhile, use these languages to discover your own Big Assumptions. Do you mind sharing them with us? Once you get it out in the open it will be easier for you to work on them. Feel free to walk us through all four languages. What are you committed to? In what ways are you responsible for that not happening? What competing commitments do you hold? What is your Big Assumption?

Next Post:  Social Languages for Transformation ::  Subscribe ::  Why Subscribe?

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One Response

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  1. Jon Reid said, on May 9, 2009 at 7.54 pm

    The “WOW” one for me is the first, shifting from the language of complaint to the language of commitment. I like the way it does not dismiss complaint, but in a way takes it farther. That’s especially satisfying to prophetic types. 🙂


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