Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The importance of the "follow-up question"

There is one skill from Journalism that Pastors should learn. It's one Stephen Colbert does an excellent job of mocking. . . so if you hate the liberal media, watch Colbert do a taped interview. When he asks questions, they will cut to him intently watching and nodding his head. . . and then asking a follow-up question.

Now, don't ask Colbert style follow-ups. . . but just learn what is expected from him. Whenever someone has a complaint, a somewhat forceful suggestion, or anything like that - train yourself to immediately as a follow-up question asking for clarification or examples. Why?

1 - Prempts defensiveness. When we get criticized, Pastors can be as defensive as anyone. However, if we become defensive it doesn't do anyone any good - we are to be speakers of God's Word. . . and thus our focus should be on speaking the Word, not defending ourselves from the tongue lashing we can receive (in fact, we should be thankful it's not an actual lashing). If the first thing we are trained to do is ask for extra info or clarification, it knocks down the defensive responses we can have automatically.

2 - Undercuts "mean pastor" syndrome. If you want to know how people will view you as a Pastor, think back to how you viewed your parents when you were a teenager. Now, this is not meant as an attack on parishoners, but rather a comment on human nature. When we don't like what a person in authority over us is doing, we wish to complain, and if they don't do what we want them to, we assume that they are "mean" or cruel. This is the gut reaction that all of us tend to have folks over us (pastors included) - and teenagers are just the most obvious example of this. What's the complaint you had about your parents - they didn't understand. . . they didn't care what you think. Ask questions - follow-up questions so they become more precise and specific with what they mean. This shows that you aren't just blowing them off, but that you are listening.

Note, this is important even if you know that what they want is dumb and foolish and won't be done - the point is they don't. If you just blow the foolish idea off, they are going to assume that you are arbitrarily blowing them off. . . because they don't know your reasoning.

3 - Puts answers when they will be listened to. Ask questions, listen, and then either say that you will consider things or give a simple yes/no answer. When the answer is given, say, "If you want to know why, I can tell you, but we can do that when you want to know why." When you "lose" you generally don't want a lecture. Plus, you feel like you have lost complete control of everything (mean, mean, parents!). Letting them say whether or not they want the explanation give them a modicum of control - and means if they are grumpy-wumpy they don't have to listen to a lecture. If they say yes - then explain, and give back ground - take them through the things you have learned. If they say no, check up on them later, see how they are doing, and thank them for coming to you. Then, if they want to hear - tell. If not, let it be.

Folks who are complaining are generally passionate about something you have done, and not in a positive way. Ask follow-ups - show that you are reasonable and patient, and answer them in a way that they can handle.

(Of course, there is the possibility that in asking the follow-up you might see or learn that they actually have a good idea because you completely over looked something. . . but that is neither here nor there).

Ask follow-up questions. It's a good thing. Listen, listen, listen - then your words will carry some weight.

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