Nov 032014 3 Responses

Communication Reveals Character

Character is often viewed as an intangible. In theory, everyone wants good character, but few people want to do what it takes to have good character.

Many are willing to sacrifice good character for immediate results.

But good character is rarely about the immediate. It is built over time, concerned with the bigger issues, and focused on long-term results.

If character is built, it requires us to identify weaknesses, to see the cracks which need to be fixed, to understand what areas are strong and what areas need some work. (See: What Every Leader Should Look For)

Bad leaders ignore the inconsistencies, make excuses, and never change.

Average leaders confront character flaws but only when they reveal themselves in dramatic ways.

Good leaders seek out the weakness or flaws in their personal character or the character of the groups they lead. They know the importance of character and seek every opportunity to improve it—especially when the stakes are low. Like a parent training a child to be trustworthy in small things so they will be trustworthy in big things, a good leader seeks good character in all aspects of life.

Often times when bad character reveals itself in dramatic ways, it has been revealing itself in mundane ways which have gone unnoticed.

A good leader is always looking for ways to improve character. (See: You Control What Matters Most)

Character is most often revealed in the place in which it is most often overlooked.

Character reveals itself in communication.

Not every bad communication is a result of bad character, but every flaw in character will reveal itself in bad communication.

We see this in:

  • Lying
  • Gossip
  • Slander
  • Bragging
  • Exaggeration

We understand each of these elements flows from a heart which is not in the right place. If we saw these actions in our children, we would correct them. However, we do not always correct these actions when we do them or someone in our organization does them. We accept them as common practices and write them off as insignificant details. Yet they are flaws in character. They can be tremors pointing to a future earthquake. (See: Ten Communication Posts Your Co-workers Should Read)

But more than just the traditional categories of lying and slander, character reveals itself in all forms of communication.

Consider:

Does what you say to some match what you say to all? Character has a sense of wholeness. While it’s understandable to speak a different dialect based on the people with whom we are talking, it is not acceptable to say one thing to one person and something completely opposite to another person. This is hypocrisy and hypocrisy is always a problem of character. Reviewing if our words align to everyone with whom we are speaking will begin to give us a picture of the true nature of our hearts. Where inconsistencies are present, we should ask why we speak one way to one group and another way to another. Is it fear? Is it the need to fit in? Which do we really believe? How can we speak more honestly to everyone?

Does what you say to others match what you say to yourself? Often times we have a different internal voice than external one. Sometimes we tell ourselves a more positive story. While we might apologize to a friend, internally we may not think we are wrong. While we might humbly deflect the compliments of another, internally we think we are deserving of even more. While we might verbally say “Do whatever you want,” we might internally be thinking “You better not want to do something I don’t want to do.” Whenever our words do not match our feelings, it is a character problem with us. Yet often we believe this is a problem with others. This happens all the time in marriages.

A husband asks, “Do you mind if I go to the game this weekend?”

The wife responds, “No, you can go.” But internally she is thinking, “How dare him ask to go to that game. If he really loved me, he would want to stay here with me.” (See: It’s Not My Job to Read Your Mind)

In spite of her words not matching her thoughts, the wife sees this as a problem with her husband’s heart and not her own.

Anytime our words do not match our feelings, a character flaw is revealed. Why are we unwilling to tell the truth? Is it a lack of courage? Could our unwillingness reveal that our feelings might be misplaced? Is it hypocrisy?

There is a second way what we say to others often does not match what we say to ourselves. It is to speak more negatively to ourselves than we would to others. Whenever I’m speaking with someone who is going through a tough time, I often ask them, “If a friend of yours was in your current situation, what would you tell them?” Most often, what they say is very sound advice. I then encourage them to tell themselves the same thing they would tell their friend. (See: You Hurt My Feelings)

Often, we are less forgiving, more harsh, and more demeaning to ourselves than we ever would be with others. Why? Why would we tell our friend to forgive themselves but then believe we can never forgive ourselves? Why do we tell our children “It was just one mistake” but then allow one of our mistakes to forever define us?

When what you say to others does not match what you say to yourselves, it reveals a lack of wholeness in your belief system. It is a crack which needs to be explored, understood, and corrected.

Does what you say to others match what you do? Words are meaningless without actions behind them. Few things reveal bad character as much as empty words. When we say one thing and do another, it reveals a deep conflict between our inner person and our outer selves.

When someone says a job will be done and it isn’t done, that’s a character problem. A leader who is truly concerned with the character of her organization or team would step into a situation where this happens, not necessarily because a job was undone, but because a character flaw was revealed. Fix the character and the job will fix itself. (See: Use Hard Words, Not Harsh Words)

Too often we fail to see the link between our words and our character. Yet for a leader, few things are as valuable a diagnostic tool regarding their own character, or the character of those they lead, like the communication which takes place. Communication reveals character. And because a leader is primarily focused on the character of those she leads, she always is paying attention to the communication taking place.

3 Responses to Communication Reveals Character
  1. […] People are different. They see the world differently. They have different expectations. They have di... kevinathompson.com/its-not-my-job-to-read-your-mind
  2. João Reply

    “Whenever our words do not match our feelings, it is a character problem with us” – this sounds like a generalization. If aunt Gertrude asks me, “does this dress look good?” I would only hurt her feelings if I told her what I really feel (“you look pathetic”). I can accept it if you tell me not to lie,maybe change the subject gently, but be brutally honest isn’t always wise.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      I don’t think you should lie, but I also don’t think ‘pathetic’ is appropriate. Saying it’s not your favorite is acceptable.

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