What is communication?
How do you communicate?
Communication can be simply the exchange of information. However, for a follower of Jesus and a church leader, communication can be so much more. Pope Francis tells us that “without this look of love, human communication . . . can easily become only a dialectical duel.” Communication builds relationships between people and fosters communion with the other whom God has lovingly created. Our mission is to create disciples. Our communication as pastoral ministers provides the beautiful opportunity for our stories to connect with others’ stories in light of the Gospel, and thus deepen our relationships with Jesus as disciples.
Consider three types of communication: nonverbal communication, verbal communication, and written communication. Nonverbal communication can speak volumes! Just as your attire and appearance can tell others about your self-esteem and professionalism, your body language communicates as well. Do you stop what you are doing and look up with a smile when someone enters your office? When you are meeting with a volunteer, do you demonstrate active listening skills? Your posture, body language, and face all communicate to the other person, even if you are not aware of this. Yes, this takes a lot of energy, but positive communication though body language is critical for ecclesial leaders.
The way in which you listen is also a way of communicating. Clarifying statements, such as “So I hear you saying . . . ” or “Tell me more about . . . ,” not only help you to understand the other person but also show that you care and that the person has your attention. In digital communication, nonverbal communication includes the use of images, appropriate use of digital symbols or physical gestures, and an awareness of the environment in which you are presenting or recording.
Think about the ways you speak to others, either individually, in a small group, or in a formal gathering. What you say is as important as how you say it. What is the purpose of your communication? Are you warm, friendly, and welcoming? Do you exhibit confidence and positivity? Are you hurried, distracted, or stern? Do you speak little or tend to monopolize the conversation? When communicating, especially within a parish setting, consider your tone. A hopeful and inviting message will draw people in. You can be assertive without sounding aggressive or dismissive. Speaking to a group of teens about the rules for a trip requires an entirely separate way of communicating versus speaking to families that are eager to have their children baptized. Verbal communication in a digital environment may involve more intentional efforts to demonstrate engagement, such as being intentional about looking into the camera and avoiding interrupting others.
Careful written communication is necessary for the catechetical leader. The communication methods for any particular ministry should align with the communication of the parish as a whole. Always have others proofread your writing, and recruit people who are not afraid to be honest with you. Decide whether the tone should be formal or informal. Clear and concise language is preferable. If written communication is not a strong skill for you, find others for whom this is a gift. A formal letter sent in the mail will be written differently than a message read on the receiver’s mobile device. Communication should be offered in the language(s) spoken by your audience. Written communication in a digital environment should include an awareness of tone, accessibility in languages, and representation of our values. If necessary, recruit help in understanding the unique requirements of digital communication. Further, be clear about who is authorized to speak on behalf of you or your parish community, and ensure compliance with all safe environment protocols.
Make an effort to communicate with everyone in your community. Be culturally sensitive, and ensure all have access to communication. We have a tendency to communicate in the way we prefer. But if the goal is to reach the greatest number of people effectively, we need to use a variety of communication techniques and use repetition. Have you ever asked your volunteers or the parish at large how they prefer to be contacted? There are modern means of communication that you may not have considered using. There is an initial period of learning for any modern technology, but the effectiveness could be significant. Identify what is sustainable in order to communicate regularly and consistently. Consult a person in your faith community who works in marketing or advertising, and ask for advice. We cannot continue to rely on pulpit announcements and the weekly bulletin to communicate. Once you ask people the best way to communicate with them, be sure to analyze the data and develop an action plan.
- Do I welcome communication with others with the love of Christ?
- How have I communicated with the parish or staff? Have I used a variety of methods? Is communication ongoing? Is the tone positive?
- Have people been asked how they prefer to receive communication? How did this information change my communication methods?
- Am I conscious of my nonverbal communication?
- Have I actively sought to improve both my written and verbal communication?
- Is my communication clear and concise?
- Am I culturally sensitive when I communicate? Are my communications accessible to everyone?
- Bonus: If you are really serious about improving yourself, ask someone who knows you well to share how you are perceived in person and through your written communication. Prayerfully consider what you hear.
 Pope Francis, Diverse and United: I Communicate, Therefore I Am (Vatican City: LEV, 2020), quoted by Christopher Wells, “Pope Francis: Truly Human Communication Must Build Communion,” Vatican News (May 24, 2020), vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2020-05/pope-francis-truly-human-communication-must-build-communion.html.