Today begins a four-part blog series on communication. I have thought about this recently as I have been honored with an invitation to teach at a pastor’s conference to be hosted by Northrise University in Ndola, Zambia this summer. My good friend, Maxie Burch, is coordinating the conference under the leadership of Northrise’s founder and president, Dr. Moffat Zimba. Maxie has asked me to share with the pastors about preaching and biblical interpretation. While I recognize that a very small portion of you are pastors or preachers, everyone one of us communicate daily. With our thumbs on our phones or our index fingers on our keyboards or our mouths with our friends and families, communication is a universal experience. Four things guide how I communicate and I hope this series encourages and challenges you, as I hope it will refocus and produce accountability for me.
Authenticity. Quite a buzz word in recent years, authenticity has become a mark that separates many communicators from one another. I would define authenticity as “continuing who you are when no one is looking or listening to the moment of communication when someone is focused on you and what you have to say”. Integrity is one thing, but communicating with authenticity means refusing to fake it, not “airbrushing” yourself, or making yourself seem better than you actually are. Whether its from a stage or across the table while sharing coffee, people can smell a fake. In our age of growing social media and ever-accessible internet connectivity, exaggerating or misleading others is asking to be found out as a fraud.
People are attracted to you when you are honest and authentic. When you tell the truth, even when it includes your warts, scars and secrets. Please hear what I am not saying. When you meet someone for the first time, don’t share your secrets, take them on a tour of your skeleton closet, or drop a “here’s where I’m blowing it” bomb on them. But, what I have learned is that people connect most with someone else’s story. Their real life. Their true story. Not a story from a book of illustrations. Not a story of your life eons ago. But a recent experience. A believable moment. An accessible tale. When people connect with you, they connect with the content of what you are trying to say. You move from being nameless and faceless to real, tangible, knowable, and friendly.
Let me illustrate. The following video is a clip from the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on CBS from 2007. Now I will warn you – Ferguson’s language does include some profanity, so avoid it if that will offend you. But, I watched this video and I felt connected with, open to, and empathetic towards Ferguson and his ideas, solely based on his authentic sharing of his own experience and story. His humility to not judge another person or superimpose his story upon theirs blew me away.
I am not saying that you need a Scottish accent or profanity to connect. But when you chose to risk and be authentic with someone else, whether its from a stage or across the living room, you gain their trust and connection and change become possible. And that is what communicating is all about.
How about you? When have you seen authenticity enable communication to happen more effectively? Were you the one communicating or the one being communicated with?