On the corner ‘Connecting in the corps’

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By Robert Docter, Editor-In-Chief


It’s almost “discovery time.” You have received your orders and will be walking into a new corps, new situations, new people, new board, new staff, new everything. You need to be a discoverer. Among the wide range of responsibilities and roles, remember…you are responsible for the spiritual care and development of a group of people. You are their pastor.

Rather than thinking of yourself as being “in charge”—the “commander”—the “boss”—the “decision maker,” be the pastor. This means you have to relate. Consider your entire job is to build relationships—some spiritual, some physical, some social, some emotional.

You need to begin to discover the “culture” of the corps—the norms that guide its operation, the personalities present, the lay leadership, the staff, the people who congregate for worship.

People will want to get to know you. I hope you know how to listen. People will speak to you for any of a number of reasons. You must follow the conversation, not lead it. Don’t assume you know what they’re talking about.

Focus on their non-verbal communication. Try and sense the feeling tone, report it to the sender, then paraphrase the content of the message. Are they speaking for self or for others? Are they trying to persuade, control, direct? Does the comment focus on their thoughts or their feelings? Have they tried to identify something they want to have happen? Or, are they concerned about the actions or inaction in relation to a particular issue?

Let your response show you genuinely heard the message and that which was “under” it. This is where the values reside. Ask open questions. These are questions that can have more than one answer—how and what questions. A closed question sounds like a “third degree” interview and can usually be answered with yes or no. Move toward an interpretation only when you have sufficient information. Be sure and summarize what you have heard.

In responding to some early comments by others, avoid trying to persuade them to adopt your point of view. It’s still a time of discovery, not decision making. Avoid directing someone to a different way to think or feel. This approach usually contains many uses of the word “should.” Avoid it like the plague.


Never be judgmental

Acknowledge their comments. The early comments will probably be based on “small talk” or “shop talk.”  Express interest in them and appreciation for their willingness to share concerns. Later, the conversations might become more formal. In this situation maintain the “following” orientation of listening to what they have to say. Seek clarification if necessary, or more information about their ideas. Accept their concerns and the depth of their feelings and explore their wants and desires.

Pastors visit their flocks. Find a way to meet the people in their own environment. Make sure they know you’re coming, and, when you get there with you new found listening skills, be ready to explore the way people talk to each other. No, I don’t mean their accent. I’m talking about the “style” of their speech. At the same time, be aware of your own style in various circumstances.

Sherod Miller, president of the Interpersonal Communication Programs in Denver, Colo., has developed some fascinating categories of speech.

We’ve already mentioned “Style 1.” It’s called “Small Talk/Shop Talk.” Small Talk is a good way to relax if you just want to “kick back.” It’s friendly and sociable, helps build rapport. It’s talk about the weather and probably isn’t talk about the whether. You use Shop Talk when you want the listener to know you’re truly competent, informed and productive. Miller describes it as polite, matter-of -fact and business-like. If you’re talking about the budget, you’re probably using Shop Talk.

Miller labels Style 2 “Control Talk.” It includes “Fight Talk” and “Spite Talk.”

The main purpose of Control Talk is to gain agreement or compliance, and you use it when you want people to believe that you’re “in charge.” You’re also using it when you’re trying to be persuasive. Fight Talk involves demanding, blaming, threatening, diminishing or just being hurtful. It’s very authoritarian. If you want to be a successful corps officer, avoid it. Also, it won’t work with your divisional commander. You might use it when your bluff of wisdom and intelligence is running thin and it’s causing you to become fearful.

Spite Talk seems prevalent in most churches and almost all corps. If a person feels resentful, disengaged, or defiant, and complains or withholds themselves; or if you discover people engaged in gossiping or sulking, that person’s words will probably be loaded with Spite Talk.

Style 3 is called “Search Talk.” This occurs when you “step aside” for a while to examine what is happening. It involves discussions about complex, fuzzy, hard-to-pin-down issues. It starts when you say something like “I wonder if we’re forgetting the opportunity to encourage testimonies in the meeting.” Search Talk has a “past or future orientation.” It provides opportunities to seek or listen to advice. It’s valuable and initiates considerable productive discussion. Use it.

Style 4, Miller calls “Straight Talk.” When you use Straight Talk, Miller says “you speak from both your head and you heart.” It’s honest. Straight Talk moves “straight” to the core of an issue without blaming, defending or demanding. With Straight Talk you try to “connect” with others—not destroy them. It involves disclosure of feelings and careful sensitivity to feelings of others.

Good luck in your new appointment.


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