the shape of leadership

How to Avoid the ‘Mute’ Button

Earning the right to speak into the lives of others

Kent Ingle on May 21, 2018

The dynamics of communication have changed dramatically in recent years. There used to be three major broadcast networks and one central phone system, and just about everyone used postal mail.

Today, you can interface with anyone, anywhere, anytime. And the variety of ways to do that are stunning. You can video conference, email, conference call, share a document to collaborate and edit in real time, message someone on social media, etc. With a strong cellular or Wi-Fi signal, there are virtually no limits.

More Is More, Not Necessarily Better

You would think greater capacity and capabilities would naturally lead to more communication. But more messages are just more messages. More conversations don’t necessarily lead to meaningful conversations. In fact, sometimes it has the opposite effect. Rather than opening dialogue, it just leads to more people talking over one another.

With voices increasingly vying for attention, business expert Seth Godin says permission-based marketing is the wave of the future. In a world where brands, organizations and institutions have more ways to communicate, it’s vital to get permission to engage.

Previously, it was difficult for individuals to tune out big brands with big marketing budgets. Today, it’s fairly simple. I can now block you on social media, filter your email, block your calls and unsubscribe from your YouTube channel.

Just as people can ignore big brands, you and I can do that to each other. If you don’t want to listen to someone, you don’t have to. Put simply, you have a big “mute” button you can use. And if you aren’t using it, I’m not sure why.

After all, being able to filter through all the messaging coming at you can be useful. The speed at which more people are saying more things is only increasing. But so are the tools and opportunities to eliminate a thread from your daily conscious engagement.

The power to mute messages equalizes the communication capabilities individuals and organizations have. It allows people to engage where they want to engage and eliminate the excess when they perceive too much irrelevant information coming at them.

Jesus listened to people and responded to their needs.

Attention is a big deal. And it’s not something we can just command. It’s something we must earn by providing relevant, timely and specific messages that matter and make a material impact on the people who invest their time and effort to pay attention to what we have to say.

I could try to use my position to demand attention from others. Truthfully, though, there are only a few people I could do that with — and they work for me. Outside of that, people can ignore me just as quickly as they tuned in.

Five Ways to Avoid the Mute Button

As Christian leaders, we have the most important message of all to share with the world. Yet we must recognize that having something relevant to say doesn’t guarantee people will listen.

We must earn the right to speak into the lives of others. Our ability to capture their attention will determine whether the message gets through or gets the mute button. Here are five ways to encourage people to listen:

1. Talk to individuals, not demographics. When you start making generalizations, you immediately begin to neutralize your effectiveness. Consider personalizing your approach by having a specific audience in mind, but don’t make assumptions.

2. Listen first. Pay attention not only to what people say but also what they don’t say. The people around you are always providing clues about what matters to them. Consider actively listening to a variety of individuals before speaking up.

3. Keep it simple. This doesn’t mean you have to dumb down your message. Just don’t go academic — that is, unless you are in a classroom of peers. Drop the insider language, explain what you mean, and use words and phrases the people you are addressing can easily understand.

4. Add value. Attention spans are short, and the human ability to filter out irrelevant details is astonishingly fast. Offer solutions to real-life issues your target audience is facing. When people realize they can benefit from what you have to say, they are more likely to keep listening.

5. Be authentic. It’s easy to tell when someone isn’t authentic. And listeners make that judgment call in a nanosecond. Take time to consider the world from the perspective of the person or group you want to reach. Then find ways to display empathy toward them.

Jesus listened to people and responded to their needs. As His messengers, we must be willing to do the same.


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