A few years ago, I was asked to be on a panel of leaders to discuss effective communication and ministry to ethnic minorities. I represented Asian Americans, while my colleagues represented the Latino, African American, and Native American communities.
One of the most common questions we were asked was, “What are the biggest mistakes to avoid when I’m talking to minorities? What should I say, and not say?”
My first reaction and answer? I said, “Before any of that, you first need to understand why.” I continued, “It’s not so much about memorizing a list of things to do and say, and to avoid saying. You could write down a hundred tips, like ‘Don’t say the word “Oriental” to Asian Americans,’ or ‘Don’t remark on how well they speak English.’ But when you truly understand on a heart level why these things are hard or painful for minorities, all of those other things will follow.”
So I turned the question back on the audience, “Why do you think it would be offensive to tell an Asian American how well they speak English?”
They thought a minute and then a woman said, “Because it might make them feel like they’re not accepted in this country, or that they don’t really belong.”
The atmosphere in the room changed, and I could see people nodding their heads in a different way.
Over the years, I’ve experienced the constant temptation for the “quick fix” in leadership. The mantra is: Just tell me what to do ‒ quickly and right now. Can you boil down everything to one sentence that I can remember in five seconds? And so on. Sometimes things can be simple, and I try to make leadership as practical and manageable as possible in my writing and communication.
However, sometimes there is no quick fix. Sometimes we have to look at things on a deeper, heart level and understand why people and situations are the way they are. Even why we are the way we are, and what we might need to change.
For instance, instead of reading up on “3 Tips to Improve Your Public Speaking,” maybe we need to think about what people want most and why, when they hear a speaker at a conference or event.
For instance, here are a few things I’ve learned from personal experience after giving many talks:
- People enjoy talks that are interactive, because they often learn better when they’re engaging other people, rather than sitting passively and listening.
- People enjoy talks that are practical, because they want to know the topic is relevant to their lives, and they want to try things out for themselves!
- People enjoy the ability to ask questions, because they often have things on their minds that aren’t covered by our talks.
When I understand where people are coming from, it’s much easier to plan my talks! When I start thinking about “why,” it helps me to understand “what to do and not do” more naturally.
If I had to give this kind of learning a title, I’d probably call it “understanding.” Getting to the “heart” of leadership. Seeking to understand.
Now, with all that being said, I still think there is great value in “how-to” lists. You might notice that a lot of my own writings are titled that way! And that’s because I’ve come to see their value in a whole new way, which I’ll share in the next post. Thanks again for reading!