Reducing Communication Confusion

Leaders often confuse followers by communicating imperatives as declarative statements. An imperative is a command. An imperative sentence has a grammatical structure expressing a directive. A declarative sentence is quite different; it makes a statement. In an effort to sound less forceful, leaders will often make declarative statements and expect followers to recognize them as imperatives.

Sometimes this tactic works. For instance, the garbage stinks is a declarative statement that—when spoken by my wife—becomes an obvious imperative, take out the garbage! Most of the time, however, imperatives disguised as declarative statements simply generate confusion.

I understand why leaders use declarative statements when they really want to communicate imperatives. Imperatives can sound harsh. Declarative statements have a softer tone; they are also terribly confusing. Imperatives direct an individual to a specific action (fix the leak), but declarative statements make the problem the subject without any prescribed action (the faucet leaks).

When leaders communicate imperatives as declarative statements they make two critical errors. First, they communicate a problem without a prescribed solution.  Second, they do not assign a person (the subject) to the problem or project. So everyone now realizes the faucet leaks, but no one knows who should fix it and how it should be fixed.

The confusion caused by this communication error makes a leader appear unnecessarily weak. In an attempt to be considerate, leaders just come off as confusing. We already knew the faucet leaked. Who should fix it? Sentence structure may seem like an inconsequential part of leadership, but imperatives are important because they direct people to action.

If you want followers to act on a problem, then don’t use a declarative sentence. It’s confusing and a weak form of communication. Unless, of course, you are my wife. The garbage stinks. I get it.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sam Rainer III

Sam serves as president of Rainer Research. His desire is to provide answers for better church health. He also serves as senior pastor at Stevens Street Baptist Church Cookeville, TN. Sam is the co-author of the book, Essential Church. He is a theological review editor at CrossBooks and regular contributor to Church Executive magazine. He has written dozens of articles on church health for numerous publications, and he is a frequent conference speaker. Before submitting to the call of ministry, Sam worked in a consulting role for Fortune 1000 companies. Sam holds a B.S. in Finance and Marketing from the University of South Carolina and an M.A. in Missiology from Southern Seminary. He is currently working on his Ph.D. in Leadership Studies at Dallas Baptist University.

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Recent Comments
If someone wants entertainment they're going to the wrong place. Church is not a place for entertainment...or in my opinion a barrage of coffee and donuts. Why are churches today bringing the world INTO them? Then there's the thing with children...age appropriate??? These little guys can pick stuff up in service. Besides Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 19:14.
 
— Laurie
 
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 
A great question! Unfortunately, the Church Unique Kit is no longer available in print form. We are working on revising it and updating it into an online experience, but that project is at least six months out. An alternative is to come to an upcoming certification class. There is one May 15-18 in Houston, and October 23-26 in Atlanta.
 
— VRcurator
 

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