I’ve invited you to notice that, without unusual discipline and practice, you really aren’t listening to the person speaking with you—most of the time. Many of us are listening to the running commentary inside our own heads: the conversation we’re having about the conversation other people think they’re having with us.
We call that commentary “the Competitor”.
As you’d imagine, in coaching, this reality is profoundly influential. First, I get to devote myself to focus fully on my client—and to interrupt the Competitor when I realize it’s taken over. Second, I understand that most of my clients—at least at first—aren’t listening to me at all.
It’s this second factor to which I call your attention today.
Understanding this, it’s supremely helpful to regularly inquire what my client is hearing and thinking.
If you’re a coaching client, you’re aware that I do this hundreds of times. “So, Lars, what’d you hear me say?”
As you respond, I’m listening for what commandeered your attention. Because, whatever it was, it’s more important to you, in that moment, than what I said. Discovering what it is and why it’s important can be a powerful gift—to help me understand you, and to help you understand yourself, too.
This inquiry helps uncover to what you are drawn. For many of us, our thinking defaults to familiar topics, judgments, or assumptions. You’ve heard it said: “to a hammer, everything resembles a nail.”
Well, to a victim everything looks like a slight, and to a narcissist, everything sounds like a complement.
Many of us go through life listening for anything that will affirm what we fervently hold true. If you fear you’re a phony who’s likely to be found out, you’ll be drawn, like a bee to honey, to any hint of your insincerity or incongruence.
Also, I regularly inquire what my client is thinking. “So, Ada, what are you thinking right now?”
This helps uncover how you process information. Many people have well-worn cognitive “paths”. If I listen generously and stay curious, the paths emerge.
For one minister, the rut is a consuming concern that he’ll end up forsaken by God and destitute. For another, it’s indecision about whether the church fits his gifts and talents. For a third, it’s his inadequacy in reversing a decline in church attendance. To discover what and how you think, I constantly check in.
Try it. You’ll be amazed what you learn.
Coaching distinctions #75.doc
This is a series on Coaching Distinctions that commonly arise in my work as a leadership coach to pastors, without regard to church size, geographic location, or denominational affiliation. These distinctions address human challenges and apply to all of us.
So it is with these Audition Delusions.
Simply stated, without rigorous discipline, you are not listening to your boss, your spouse, or the chairwoman of your elder board; rather, you are listening to your internal dialog about what they’re saying.
Today, we consider the fourth aspect of the audition delusion: despite your exhaustive efforts to craft the perfect sermon, nobody is listening to you, anyway!
In seminary, my professors referred to sermons in hushed, reverent tones as ‘works of art’ scrupulously and skillfully fashioned, word-by-word, phrase-by-phrase as Whitman’s poetry or Hemingway’s novels.
I’d toil over each illustration, plan my voice inflection, pace, when and where to appeal to the listener’s emotion or engage my own. Hour upon hour spent in devoted isolation, researching, writing, editing, shaping, crafting, honing, trimming—perfecting my opus. Their rule of thumb: an hour of preparation for every minute we’d preach.
Then, Sunday, as I’m expounding my oeuvre, everyone is listening intently … to themselves. They’re hearing their internal dialog about the sermon, or following a rabbit trail an illustration put them on, or considering where they’ll have lunch… and if we’ll finish in time for the second half of the Seahawks’ game.
See, without discussion—without some form of feedback loop—there’s no way to know what message they heard. This is why, whenever someone complements me on a sermon or talk invariably I respond: “Why?”
I want to know what they’re complementing. What, of all they heard, struck them? What difference do they believe it made?
Only then can we enter into the kind of dialog that Jesus used to equip his disciples. While much is made of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, most of the life-transforming work he did was dialogical in form. Jesus shared parables in public. Then, privately, he’d explain the meaning. It is an audition delusion to think you’re changing lives by oratory alone.
It is engaging people up close, discussing their questions, probing their understanding, clarifying what’s preeminent, and working that out in practical ways that changes people deeply.
We get to make space for our hearers to push back on what challenging, clarify what’s confounding, and make sense of what’s confusing.
And as we intentionally let our people see us struggle, watch us wrestle with God, and live in God-honoring ways—now that can transform them forever.
Coaching distinctions #74.doc
Last time I posited a scenario familiar to most: arriving home your loved one launches into an oft-repeated grievance about dear little innocent you—and instantly—inside your head, you are far, far away.
Rather than hearing what’s said, you recount the other person’s failings, outrage at being accused without merit yet again, maybe the despair you feel to be “here again”, and frequently your subconscious connects this event to that of your most prolific critic earlier in life…
See, your ‘autopilot’ has kicked in, and now words, emotions, and actions pour out as if programmed by some diabolical ‘mission control’ determined to crash-land the relationship. And, since your beloved also has autopilot, the ensuing hailstorm of insults, emotional flooding, and furious vitriol is both familiar and painful.
All the while, no one’s listening!
I call this your “Family Dance”. All couples have one. As if performing well-practiced, intricate choreography, each of you steps, spins, moves, shimmies, and twirls with near-perfect synchronicity. She moves forward—he steps back—she leans left—he spins right—except that the carnage produced is anything but beautiful. If you filmed your last dozen breakdowns each would be a nearly identical replica of the others.
It is this way because as a couple you’ve ‘trained yourselves’ to break down this way! This is the third Audition Delusion: you two break down this way not because you married a crazy person. It the way you’ve trained yourselves to be in breakdown!
Crazy, but TRUE!
My invitation: have a different breakdown next time.
Since this way clearly isn’t working, DO ANYTHING ELSE!
If you’re silent, make yourself speak.
If you attack, don’t. Instead, hold your tongue ‘til your mate weighs in.
If you run, sit still. It will not kill you.
If you use sarcasm as a bludgeon, determine to be sincere and kind.
Each time the autopilot kicks in, re-cement your focus on your partner: What is she saying? What is she feeling?
Don’t miss this moment to hear.
It takes discipline to listen generously. And, it is an enormous gift to actually hear someone well.
Coaching distinctions #72.doc
By “audition” I mean hearing.
Attending to what is being spoken.
There is a common fallacy that contributes greatly to communication frustration, unrealistic expectations, and much wasted effort.
This isn’t to say that when we’re having a conversation that you’re not listening to anything. You are.
You’re just not listening to me.
And, without intentional discipline and effort, I’m not listening to you, either.
What you are listening to is that little voice inside your head.
Your running commentary.
What you’re saying about what I’m saying.
Test it out. Next time you’re in a conversation, attending a lecture, hearing a sermon, or listening to an audiobook, notice your thoughts.
See if you can discern the “running commentary” you’re having about what is being said.
Then, see if you can silence it, so you’re hearing just what’s being said by the person you thought you were listening to.
Coaching distinctions #70.doc
In football, when your opponent has the ball, you want to get the ball back so your team can score.
Get your defense off the field as fast as possible.
The same is true in a relational breakdown. Get your defense off fast!
Let me take you on a quick detour, before returning to this sports analogy.
Recently, I invited you to consider that you’re always causing an experience for those you’re with. I challenged you to decide in advance the experience you’re committed to cause: before you preach, facilitate a board meeting, vacation with your spouse, or take your staff on retreat.
What experience are you committed to cause?
As I type this, Annie and I are flying to our daughter’s commencement at Texas Tech. We’ll commemorate her monumental accomplishment—the result of many years of discipline and sacrifice: late night studying after working full time to support herself and her education. And, we’ll meet her boyfriend for the first time.
I am committed to cause them to experience love, gratitude, and acceptance.
As the weekend progresses, I’ll watch them to see if these experiences are occurring. I expect to continually adjust how I’m being to cause these experiences with them. It may take all weekend to have my commitment happen…I can’t know until we’re in it. But, my commitment is clear.
If I find myself embroiled in a relationship “breakdown”, my natural human
tendency will be to “put my defense on the field”.
To lock down on the ‘rightness’ of my position—to build a fortress around the virtue of my view, behavior, or stance—and defend it.
As I do, any hope of causing the experience to which I’m committed will go out the window.
To have my commitment happen, I have to get off defense and back on offense.
I described it last time… during my conversation with the sem
inar participant who worked in the MLM business. I pulled my defense off the field and began to cause the experience to which I was committed…in mid-sentence.
The more deeply entrenched you are in your own defense, the more diligent and intentional you’ll have to be on “offense”.
So, quick as you can, get your defense off the field and have the impact you’re committed to cause.
Coaching distinctions #63.doc
We’re looking at one of the most common dumb things most people do most of the time. When “A” offends “B”, A rushes to A’s defense, pleading that, after all, A’s intentions were innocent. B just took it wrong and B got hurt. End of discussion!
This is dumb because in A’s self-focused concern to clear himself, A left the injury—and the injured party (i.e. B) unaddressed.
If A was hoping for restoration of relationship, this strategy is just plain dumb!
If I’m smart, I’ll attend to my impact, not my intention.
Recently, while leading a workshop I was bemoaning “bait and switch” tactics employed by some churches. They show up to do some form of community service then to use it to buttonhole people with religious arguments and promote the church they attend.
When the “switch” is thrown, people are offended.
To illustrate the impact of bait and switch, I described a time Annie and I were invited to dinner at the home of an admired minister. When the conversation awkwardly turned to a multi-level marketing “opportunity” they discerned was ideal for us, their true motivations were revealed.
We felt hurt, manipulated, and used.
During the break, a workshop participant angrily challenged the negative light I’d cast on the MLM I’d mentioned—a business to which he and his wife had devoted decades. I had so offended her that she’d left, humiliated and angry. I should be more careful about what I say!
Impulsively, I explained that I’d simply shared a story whose details were true. I’d done nothing to disparage his particular MLM. I’d simply shared the facts as they occurred. About this time, I began to notice him.
I could see that my defense had accomplished nothing in assuaging his anger, addressing his hurt, or communicating concern for his still-absent spouse.
In an instant, my heart cracked. “Please forgive me … I am so sorry to have been so thoughtless! I should never have named the business—it was completely unnecessary for that illustration. I was terribly insensitive!! I can only imagine how much I hurt your wife and you. You’ve given so much to build your business, and I come traipsing into your town and trash your reputation in front of your friends!!” Now, with tears welling up: “Could you forgive me, please?”
What happened next has occurred so many times when I’ve blundered like this and then attended to my impact.
We became close.
The ‘breakdown’ between us became an opening for intimacy. I invited him to tell me more about how my words impacted him. He talked about the care they’d taken to grow their business with integrity, to honor Christ in all their dealings, and to be honest with everyone along the way. Graciously, he forgave me. We shared laughter, hugs, and tears.
Owning my impact honestly and authentically brought us closer than if I’d never made the mistake in the first place.
See, a relational breakdown is an opening for intimacy.
Coaching distinctions #62.doc
In my coaching practice it’s common to address situations where a leader’s decision impacts people in less than desirable ways. We know the higher up you are in an organization, the more challenging the problems that land in your lap.
Senior Pastors of large congregations spend much of their time dealing with very complex situations. And, when they do, no matter how many or how clear headed your advisors are, it will fall to you to make the most difficult decisions. And, the nature of leadership is that several will be upset with almost any decision you make.
Interesting that the Greek word “crisis” means “to decide”.
When leaders decide, they and others are impacted, and the impact—as we’ve said—is not always positive. This is why it is so detrimental to pastor your congregation as an appeaser, a consensus-builder, a “lets all go happily together” guy. The only way to please the majority is to avoid the “crisis” that every decision brings. And that, of course, is not to decide at all.
In the absence of clear, courageous leaders making painful but principled decisions, debtor nations keep amassing ever more enormous deficits and the ECB creates worth-less Euros in a vain attempt to forestall the collapse of that teetering house of cards.
In 2009 a CNBC study revealed that of the world’s top twenty debtor nations seventeen are European.
To avoid the “crisis” of making important, necessary, and difficult decisions now, we can create an impact in the future many times worse.
How much of the current disconnect between the Church and the society she was given by God to rescue and resuscitate is the result of pastors who, for decades, were unwilling to upset parishioners committed to the minister-to-me status quo? As congregations removed themselves from helping in the communities where God placed them as salt and light, those communities have continued to struggle in the dark.
Whatever our intentions, we get to address the impact of our decisions—including those decisions not to decide.
If immersing yourself in work—because the mortgage crisis reduced your family’s only asset to a liability—has produced isolation and distance in your marriage, there’s no point defending yourself. Own your impact and give yourself to your spouse with the abandon you once promised.
If you’re “sideways” with one of your siblings over different views of how to care for aging parents, it does no good to keep asserting the “rightness” of your position. Just get off it and reach for your sibling in love.
Today, begin having the impact you’ve always wanted.
Coaching distinctions #60.doc
I coach pastors. All kinds from all over the country. Years ago, I learned that in each conversation I create an experience with that client. It is the experience the client has—and not the content of our conversations that are enduringly influential in changing their lives.
Every scene practically overwhelms the senses.
The costumes, props, sets, lighting, sound, and cinematography together cause the audience to have a specific experience.
You’re caught up in it.
You feel the dizzying opulence of the party scenes, the nervous tension as Jay and Daisy are about to meet, the arresting shock of the auto accident… You experience it.
Baz is masterful at causing his audience to have an experience.
Great communicators are, too.
One of my favorite examples is Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech. Through it, he causes his audience to have an experience. To imagine a very different future from one corner of the US to another.
With his words, he takes us around the Country, to Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Colorado, California, Tennessee, and to every village and hamlet, state and city. Listening, you are invited into a day far from 1963 when black, white, Jew, Gentile, Protestant, and Catholic stand together to thank God for their freedom.
These are spectacular examples of creating an experience, chosen to illustrate the distinction. But, as I said, we’re always causing an experience for others.
Flying first class and you have a different experience. On most flights, the difference transcends the width of seats and extra leg room. I fly so often I’m sometimes “bumped up” from coach to first class. And, when I step into that first class cabin I feel differently.
And, it happens on purpose. The flight attendant speaks to me by name. Is attentive in a way that never happens in coach.
I’m the same guy wherever I’m seated. I pay the same fare. I arrive at the same destination. Yet, up front, I have a different experience of air travel. And, it’s exactly what the airline is committed to cause.
One waiter is too attentive.
If the building were on fire I’d want this guy—and only this guy—to get me any my family out!
But, the building’s not burning. Yet, he waits on us as if it is. Dashing from table to kitchen, interrupting to make sure we always have all we want.
When I’m in a rush, I want him. Quick. Efficient. Assiduous.
But, he causes a stressful experience. And, that’s the last thing I want on a gorgeous summer’s night relaxing and connecting with those I love.
What do others experience with you?
Ask them and find out.
Coaching distinctions #58.doc
We’re examining a powerful reality of human interaction: whenever you are with somebody, you are causing an experience for them. The great news: you can choose, in advance, the experience you are committed to cause with them!
You can decide, in advance, what you want your congregation to experience this weekend. Yes, the content of your message is influential—but so is your mood, your tone, your attitude, and the context that’s created for the encounter you and they have together.
Last time, I told you about a Delta gate agent. Her way of being with me was so positive, so hopeful, so empathetic that I experienced peace, confidence, assurance, and value even as a mechanical problem waylaid my travel plans.
Two of my kids use Chase Bank. I don’t, but I’m beginning to wish I did. My bank does all the conventional banking things. They are polite, competent people. The branches are adequate in every way. Walk in, fill out a deposit slip, wait in line for a teller, and get your banking done.
In an Orange County Chase branch several people welcome you as you come through the door. Somebody’s on the floor to ascertain what you need and direct you to get it done. If a teller is free, she’ll call out: “Oh, don’t worry, I’ll fill that out for you!” as you reach for a transaction slip. The mechanics of banking is virtually the same as at my bank, but Chase’ people go out of their way to make sure I know they’re glad I visited. All this creates an experience of being valued, important, almost … celebrated.
I am committed to cause my coaching clients to experience clarity, courage, and confidence in who God has designed them to be.
So, in dozens of subtle and overt ways, I give myself to them to have it happen.
I watch them to know whether it’s occurring, and if not, I keep changing my way of being with them until it does.
Since each coaching client is different, my way of being with each one varies.
Each fall, I hold a ministry fundraiser essential to the financial viability of the ministry I do. Each time, three clients will talk about the impact of the ministry on their lives, their churches, and their communities.
It is amazing, humbling, and gratifying to hear how similarly each describes the clarity of calling and the courage and confidence they have to pursue what God has called them to.
That’s the experience I’m committed to cause with them.
Coaching distinctions #56.doc
Every interaction you have, every time you speak, each encounter with another person you are causing an experience with and for them.
Think about it.
Last week as I was checking in, the ticket agent let me know my flight was delayed. It’d been rescheduled twice, and would be delayed twice more. This wasn’t good news. I was beginning a cross-country odyssey traveling with my dad, who at 95 doesn’t have the stamina he once did. Without the flight delay it would be a long, arduous day.
Here’s the thing. That Delta agent caused empathy, value, confidence, and assurance in me even as she communicated information I didn’t prefer. The way she carried herself, spoke, and engaged me invited trust, put me at ease, and let me know we were important.
When, almost two hours later, she told us our plane was on its way, she was so genuinely relieved for us, I thought she’d cry.
Cirque could use existing venues when on tour, but the don’t. They transport and assemble a gigantic big top in every city…a visceral connection to childhood when the circus came to town.
Everything about Cirque is intricately designed to cause an experience…of wonder, imagination, creativity, and delight. The music in a genre unto itself. The costumes are other-worldly. The talent is spellbinding. The comedy is quirky but accessible.
This experience invites me to see myself and my life differently. Things that looked like limitations don’t seem so limiting. Ministry challenges appear more like opportunities for something amazing to surface.
I have these two friends. When I’m with Joseph I feel cherished—like the most important person in the world. Our conversations linger on what matters most to me and my family.
When I’m with Thomas I feel like a prop in his one-man play. Our conversations rapidly move to focus on him and his amazing, talented family where they hover seemingly forever. I don’t know that either is aware of it, but both men are causing an experience with me.
So, pastor, what is the experience you want to cause others to have with you?
Coaching distinctions #55.doc