Connie was an unassuming college sophomore when she enrolled in my small group communication course. Ten weeks later, when the course was done, she had turned in an enviable record as a credible group member. Not once did she actually lead a group, but her colleagues acknowledged that Connie made significant contributions as a member.
Why was she so good at being a good member? Let’s look at some answers to that question.
1. Connie’s sentences and comments were short. Studies show that when members construct sentences longer than about 27 words, something unfortunate happens. Listeners’ ability to comprehend and retain the sender’s message is quickly lost.
If we don’t monitor ourselves, our sentences are almost always longer and clumsier. The major thief of sentence power is “and.”“Ands” produce long, often run-on, sentences. Another thief of sentence power is clutter—useless, inappropriate, and excessive words.
For example: “If we, like, rent the church to the Presbyterians, you know, every Sunday night of the whole year and basically expect them to pay, like, all the expenses six months before they’re due, they’ll find—you know what I mean—a better place to worship that’s basically a whole lot cheaper than this place.”
“I think the Presbyterians will find a more suitable worship place if we charge them in advance.” Does that say essentially the same thing? It does.
2. Connie knew when to be silent. She didn’t feel compelled to address every notion that floated through the group. My observation is that members who speak frequently don’t realize that excessive comments reduce the value of any one comment. Members have the right to remain silent, but they must know that their silence may be interpreted as siding with the prevailing comments and notions.
3. Connie effectively mixed her contributions. That is, she offered a balance of statements and questions. She often helped clarify a point by a brief, well-placed question: “Do we know how much the seminar will cost before we hire the presenter?” A single clear question is enough.
4. Connie refused to offer personal incidents and extended illustrations. Most stories are far more interesting to the storyteller than to the group and almost always unnecessarily lengthen the discussion.
5. Connie hitchhiked. She referred to previous comments and speakers when she made her points: “I’d like to know what Eddie meant when he said the timing is not right.” Or “Megan mentioned that the deacons need more time to receive the offering, but I wonder . . . ”
6. Connie waited until she was valued. New group members are wise not to input too much until they get a feel for the group’s ethos and style. Nor do established members value very highly (1) new members’ advice or (2) references to how things were done in a former group.
7. Connie was especially good at responsive listening. She shook her head, nodded in assent, fastened eye contact with other members, laughed, and smiled. Her colleagues got the idea she was paying attention. She was.
8. Connie was sensible. One crucial way she used logical thinking was when she qualified her language. Not: “The pastor never knows how much we’re spending on the church school.” But: “I feel the pastor should have a better idea of how we’re spending the money.” She eliminated the “allness” factor. Then she offered her point not as a statement of fact (which it wasn’t), but as an opinion (which it was).
9. She didn’t demand that others agree with her. Many group matters—policies, preferences, and procedures—are negotiable. Values and beliefs are not. Connie looked for common ground among members, helping them reach useful compromises.
When members behave as Connie did, they are perceived as valuable and credible members. They are. If you doubted your worth when you read the title to this article, now you can join me in saying, “Thanks for the lessons, Connie. I can increase my value to the group process at Sabbath School, board meetings, etc. There are many places to use this information.”
“How do memories become permanent? Colin Rose and Malcolm Nicholl, authors of
Accelerated Learning for the Twenty-first Century,write: ‘It’s largely dependent on how strongly the information is registered in the first place.’ That’s why it’s so important to learn in ways that involve hearing, seeing, saying, and doing, and which involve positive emotions such as when we learn collaboratively.”
—Reported in The Dirt on Learning, p. 73.
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists