ChurchETHOS

Social Languages for Transformation

Posted in book review, church leadership, ChurchETHOS by Nathan Creitz on May 11, 2009

511kjbb76klIn my last post I began a book review of How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work by Kegan and Lahey. What an incredible book about transformation, leadership, and interpersonal relationships. This book has important implications for church leaders, which is why I decided to review it here at ChurchETHOS. Our churches are often slaves to bad habits and destructive tradition and if you’ve ever wanted to change things, this is the book you need.

Internal Languages for Transformation was the first post in this series and it described the languages that help us move from complaint to commitment, from blame to responsibility, from resolutions to competing commitments, and from Big Assumptions to assumptions we hold. Ultimately, the goal is to discover what you are commited to that needs changing, accept responsibility for that change and discover the road blocks that are keeping you from the change that is necessary. The book is written by educators and they are great at making this not just an easy read but a workshop where you can sound out your own complaints and turn them into commitments.

This post will focus on the final three languages: the social languages. These languages are external. They help you work with others to bring about change in a group or a company or a church (in our case). I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts about these languages.

THE SOCIAL LANGUAGES:
From the Language of Prizes and Praising to the Language of Ongoing Regard

The authors write, “We all do better at work if we regularly have the experience that what we do matters, that it is valuable, and that our presence makes a difference to others.” Nowhere is that more necessary than in the church. As leaders in the church, we look to God to ensure we are glorifying Him and advancing His Kingdom. However, we need feedback from others too.

It’s easy to praise someone publicly. “Great job!” “You’re a value to this team!” “Let’s give Fred a round of applause for his contribution!” Those sorts of praises feel good, but they have a tendency to puff us up. Instead, the author’s encourage the language of ongoing regard. They want you to genuinely experience the value of a coworker’s behavior and then share with them why their behavior meant so much to you.

Be Direct – Don’t express your appreciation to others about someone, deliver it directly to the person.
Be Specific – “Thanks for all your hard work” isn’t enough. What was the hard work? What aspect of their role in the job was of particular note? Really be specific about what the person did to make a valuable contribution.
Be Nonattributive – Rather than characterize the person’s attributes (generosity, patience, persuasiveness), describe your experience (you learned something, you gained something, etc.). An example might be: Rather than, “Alan, I appreciate what a generous person you are.” Try, “Alan, I appreciate the way you took all that time to fill me in on what I missed. It made a real difference to me.”

When we praise people publicly it can also have some negative effects. The others in the room might be jealous. The person being praised might become prideful. Everyone might begin working for the approval of men rather than for God.

When we speak the language of ongoing regard it is an encouragement to people. It’s direct and meaninful. You are able to share with the person exactly what they did that was of value and prompts them to do more of it. Finally, ongoing regard tells the person that they are valuable to the company, mission, church, etc.

From the Language of Rules and Policies to the Language of Public Agreement

Rules and policies are to be kept and followed. Public agreement means that everyone is committed to the same thing. The language of public agreement is basically harkening back to the first language of moving from complaint to commitment. This language gets a group to discover what we are all committed to, together.

This language is not committed to a top down approach to leadership. Instead, it is “intended to create organizational integrity…from within.” In other words, it’s hard to change rules and policies that were drafted in the 50’s, but when you learn what we all agree on and then come to public agreement, when we break those we are letting ourselves down.

From the Language of Constructive Criticism to the Language of Deconstructive Criticism

The authors intentionally chose the subject of conflict for the final language. Up to this point, we’ve learned how to adopt internal languages that help us change our own behavior. We’ve also learned ways of leading group change through the language of ongoing regard and public agreement. But there are times when you need to confront someone head on.

The language of constructive criticism is common (maybe you could try improving your speaking skills), the language of destructive criticism is even more common (that sermon was irrelevant and boring). A third option is deconstructive criticism.

The problem with constructive criticism is that there is often a lack of confronting the real issue. Deconstructive criticism chooses to disassemble bad habits or behavior and help the person to reconstruct a positive habit or behavior. However, the object of attention doesn’t start with the other person’s behavior it begins with our own evaluation of that behavior.

The authors explain this language best: “The language of deconstructive criticism is about holding two simultaneous realities together: I respect myself to the extent of taking seriously that I have formed a negative evaluation, and I respect the other as an independent constructor of reality who might have quite a different picture of what is happening, a picture based on premises and assumptions that might usefully inform my own.”

Conclusion

“It must be remembered that we exercise all the languages for the purpose of making our work settings richer contexts for learning. The kinds of change we are looking for are transformational. They go to the roots. They are not about fixes at the surface.

My hope is that as we learn how to bring about change in our ministry contexts that we will, as a result, form more meaningful relationships with people and that we will begin the process of change by thinking how we might change before considering what we should do about others.

First Post in Series: Internal Languages for Transformation ::  Subscribe ::  Why Subscribe?

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