We had a pretty animated conversation on the way home last night.

I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t enjoy receiving that text from a parent at 9:45 pm. I know the family, the small group, and the student well. I also knew the topic of conversation was not something that was going to be easily resolved during the prayer request time of a small group or in a text message late at night.

After following up with the parent and the small group leader, I was reminded of something important when it comes to communicating and dealing with misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and ideological differences.

Whenever you are trying to get the full story about something that was communicated, remember these three things:

What was SAID

This is the first and easiest to deal with. What were the actual words communicated? It’s easier to verify this when the message is over email or text, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be clear.

Also, when you’re asking a small group leader or a student what they actually said, you are sometimes going to hear a couple different variations. But we always have to start with the actual words that were said during an exchange.

Sometimes this is where you need to correct.

Often the best approach here is just asking a question. Sometimes that’s enough to let somebody know that what they said was perhaps too harsh or inappropriate for the situation.

What was HEARD

No matter what words were actually spoken or written, sometimes we need to clarify what the person receiving those words actually heard.

If you work with middle school students like I do, you know it’s really easy for words or meaning to get lost in the air between the two of you.

“Can you repeat back to me what I just said?”

If you can ask this question with a caring tone and not in an accusatory way, you can really figure out how someone is interpreting the message you are trying to get across. And you might be really surprised when they do not hear what you are trying to communicate.

This is your opportunity to rephrase or put into context your previous statement. There are lots of different reasons someone might not hear what you are trying to say. Clarifying what you are trying to say can go a long way.

As a leader, you can also train your small group leaders to realize that what they SAY is not always what is HEARD.

What was FELT

This one is tough, because it’s hard to control. In fact, there’s only so much we can do with this. We can make our voice soothing. We can have a neutral or positive expression on our face. But no matter what we attempt to do to soften what gets said, our students will have a felt reaction to what we say.

The good news is that we can follow up in a lot of different ways:

You can ask, “How do you feel about what I just said?”

It sounds too easy, but it gives a student a chance to respond right at that moment and you can both proceed.

You can also look at a student’s body language and ask what they mean by their posture, facial expression, etc.

“Hey, your brow is furrowed and your arms are crossed. Do you want to talk about that?”

It’s not attacking them; it’s an observation that gives them a chance to respond. They may not even realize they’re doing it!

Lastly, you can give a student a chance to sort out their feelings over time. You can text them the next day and say, “Hey, how are you feeling about our conversation yesterday/last week?”

For a lot of our students, this might give them the chance to process what they are feeling and why they feel that way.

Again, when leading your leaders, you can help them realize that some students will have feelings they don’t have any control over. They can tweak what they say and make sure students hear what they mean, and still students may have a negative feeling about what was said.

It’s a good reminder

You’ll keep dancing with this partner for a long time. We’ll all forget about one of these things from time to time. When you are reminded, however, remember that we get to communicate the wonderful truth of God’s love to both our students and our leaders.

Let’s communicate well!