NEAT Communication – Necessary

Perhaps one of my favorite songs of all times is “Sounds of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel. Perhaps because it is deeply thoughtful and trumpets the need to fill the silence with important words. Necessary words.

And perhaps I like it because it assumes that I have the words that are necessary for others to hear. Yet, the song points out that despite our best efforts, words too often miss their mark.

“Fools,” said I, “you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

It seems that the teeming crowds have heard too many words that were ill-conceived and unnecessary. Often words are thrown about simply to fill the silence and people tire of the absence of value. And so, they turn away . . . waiting for a different message or for a different time.

Memes.006What makes your words necessary?

Your words are necessary when

  • your words allow others to feel your presence in a time of need
  • your words bring hope
  • your words shine light and truth
  • your words uncover value in what is close by
  • your words make the next step sharp and clear
  • your words bring closure

Even when your words are necessary, they will occasionally fall on deaf ears.

Necessary words are important words. Deliver them with care. And, for those unnecessary words. Hold them a while longer. Polish them a bit more. If they don’t measure up, consider dropping them in the wells of silence.


NEAT Communication – Skills 101

Thinking back through a recent mediation, I was trying to honestly evaluate how I’d done as a facilitator of the session. Normally, in these times of reflection, I discover a few things that bother me — missed opportunities, inelegant transitions, botched guidance. Oddly, on this one, I was pretty content with my performance. And that bothered me. So, I spent the next hour or so trying to discover what it was about my performance in this particular mediation that seemed to work so well. It turns out that I had simply practiced “NEAT Communication.”


I’m an introvert at heart. I love to take time alone to process the information that flows around me. However, I often feel that the flow is a flood. So sometimes, as if I think I can overcome the current with the sheer volume of my information output, I overcommunicate. And occasionally in a conflict, possibly more often than not, I tend to overcommunicate as a defense to my personal anxiety. I’m not alone. I’ve observed many a mediation, either real or role play, and I’ve often seen this played out by the mediator. With the feeling that everything hinges on what we do or say, we do or say too much.

Thinking again about that recent mediation, I identified four essential elements of beneficial communication — NEAT Communication.

  • Necessary
  • Effective
  • Accurate
  • Timely

In future posts, I’ll be looking at each element more closely. In the meantime, I want to challenge you to make all of your communications NEAT.


Hard Conflict – Deep Peace

I frequently begin peacemaking sessions, whether they be private mediations or public facilitations with the statement, “Over the course of our time together, things are likely to get worse. But the only proven path to a deep, lasting peace is through the middle of the conflict.”

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Humble Civil Disobedience

That’s not the message anyone wants to hear. We want quick fixes and easy outs. Some people rush to give in to the other side simply to end the conflict. Others want to impress with power and the righteousness of their position.

Those who truly build peace, however, are those who count the cost and find themselves willing to explore, desconstruct, and reconstruct the attitudes, feelings, and communications that have been distorted by conflict. That requires stepping into conflict and not away.

Avoidance and weak compromise may give temporary relief. Only honest grappling with the often entrenched seeds of conflict will bring deep peace. Only a willingness to engage to the point of understanding will bring lasting relief and a broader highway to both justice and mercy.

Squeaky Shoes Happen – A Metaphor

Putting on my shoes this morning I had the thought again. “Why am I wearing my squeaky shoes?” I have several pairs of shoes, although only a few are suitable for work. My newest Johnston & Murphys were a miracle. After I had been told that my size was no longer being manufactured, I continued to search store after store anyway. I discovered these by chance in my local Dillards after I had given up hope. 

This pair is brown and black. Their duo-tone nature makes them the perfect business travel show. No matter what I choose to wear, the shoes work.  

And the right one squeaks. For almost a year now.

I don’t know why or what happened although the trigger was most likely a water puddle. “Why” doesn’t really matter anymore. On hard services, there is an audible squeak everytime I step.

I have learned that I can walk just a certain way to prevent the squeaking. The odd angle I have to assume to distribute weight during walking is probably not good for me. But, for months now, the squeaky shoe has determined my gait. My desire to quell the squeaking has taken control.

This morning I took back control of my stride — and my life. I decided that I could live with the squeak or stop wearing the shoes. One or the other. No more walking funny as an answer. It slows me down. And then there’s the constant fear that somewhere a video camera is capturing it all. No, I’ve done what I can do and the truth is the truth. My right show squeaks.

I’ve written a couple of times recently about the importance of trust and truth in relationships. It doesn’t matter whether those relationships are professional or personal, trust and truth have everything to do with how healthy and productive those relationships become.

My squeaky shoe is a metaphor for a difficult relationship. Sometimes, conflict arises in relationships. We value the other person, perhaps even love them. But they squeak. Something in our interaction and environment causes friction and that annoying, unexpected sound. Not only do we notice it, but those around us start to listen for it.

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We do what we can to address it. Perhaps we even change our own behavior in an effort to reduce or eliminate the friction. We walk differently. But in those moments when we must move with speed and efficiency, the squeak is there.

If you know my approach to conflict management, you know that my squeaky shoe has received a lot of attention. I’ve examined it closely to determine if something can be physically done to stop the squeak. I’m thinking perhaps silicone injections. But in the meantime, I’ve come to realize that short of altering my own behavior in a way that holds me back, I have to either live with the squeak or get rid of the shoes.

One of the most painful moments we face at work, at home, or even at church, comes in the moments when we have to look closely at relationships and make the decision whether to persevere or move on. I advocate persevering for the period of time it takes you to honestly examine your own part of the problem and make appropriate adjustments. However, once that is done, the decision must be made.

For now, my right shoe squeaks.  I’ve decided I can live with that because the squeak comes only on hard surfaces and I, for the most part, live and work in a carpeted world. Plus, I like the shoes. I just accept that when I step out in those harsher environments, the squeaking will be there. However, I know that if the noise ever lessens my effectiveness and diverts me from mission, I’ll simply remove the shoes and replace them with a more collaborative pair.

If you see me sometime soon and I’m wearing my cowboy boots or athletic shoes, just know that the decision was made and I’m moving on.

Truth and Trust

In an earlier post, I featured a quote from Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, that focused on his outlook on relationships within an organization. He said:

Leadership today is all about two words: It’s all about truth and trust. You’ve got to have their back when they didn’t hit it out of the park, you’ve got to have their back when they hit it out of the park.

When they trust you, you’ll get truth. And if you get truth, you get speed. If you get speed, you’re going to act. That’s how it works.

In other words, trust is the foundational piece that people need to make truly wholesome, productive relationships work. I believe that. And, I noted that sometimes I get things upside-down by attempting to bank on truth when I should be investing in trust.

Even if trust is that foundational element, you may ask, “What about those times when trust is not available? How do you deal with truth in those instances?”

Those are interesting questions. We live in a culture where we play lip-service to the supremacy of truth. Truth is all important. Truth reigns supreme. Yet, the truth is, the truth isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Don’t get me wrong. I believe there is great value in truth.

Photo Credit: In Search of the Truth

Photo Credit: In Search of the Truth

The problem is, I don’t always know exactly what the truth is. I “know” what I have personally observed, although even that direct witness is shaded by my perception — my reality. And I also know that my perception isn’t always the most accurate reflection of an event. I may also “know” what others tell me that they have oberved. Again, their observations are shadowed by their perception and further clouded by my perception and interpretation of what they’ve told me.

So how do we attend to essential matters in an environment where there is no trust. What do we do with our “truth?” I was conditioned to charge fearlessly forward when I have truth on my side. Indeed, this is the Western Civilization ideal in those trustless moments. Sometimes my perception of the truth may also cause me to retreat shamelessly in the face of overwhelming odds. But either response must be done at our own peril and based on our perception of truth.

Much is being said these days about the way that people react to certain situations. A timely example is the discussion about how police officers respond in anxious times to individuals of different races. Dealing with their perceptions of the instant and with the perceptions of experience or story, these officers determine what degree of response is necessary. What we are seeing is that the “truth” that they often hold about the danger posed by an individual of one race or another isn’t always the truth at all. Instead, it’s the product of stereotype and misinformation — and sometimes training and sometimes outright prejudice. And sometimes their reaction is exactly right. Choosing well is an extremely difficult task.

We need to understand that the human brain’s establishment of “truth” is an important element of decision-making and self-preservation. However, that doesn’t trump the importance of discernment in the process and in the moment.

The application of the instant “truth” comes at great price. When we are in those situations we must remind ourselves of the constant danger that our truth — our perception — could be flawed. And the larger question becomes, “Can I handle the consequences of mistake?” Decisions must be made. Actions must be taken. But asking ourselves about consequences brings us back to that place of discernment.

I can operate in an environment where there is no trust. It won’t be pleasant and it may be dangerous. Even as I do my best, I must constantly test my “truth.”

For today, in a trustless moment, I will test truth by:

  • Seeking to understand the actions and reactions of others.
  • Asking whether I can accept the consequences of acting on my perceived “truth.”
  • Searching within for mercies I can extend both during and after my action.

Trust should really come before truth. And truth should always be tested — both in and out of the presence of trust.