Interpersonal Leadership:Communication
“Exchanging Personal Meanings: An Overview”
by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., adapted from SkillTrack® 7.3
Interpersonal Communications

  1. Overview Introduction
    Communication skill is always listed among the most critical of all interpersonal skills essential to be an effective leader. This is just as true of the Christian minister/leader. Whether you are researching leadership, management, sociology, ministry, or family material, communication is usually in the top three essential people skills for healthy function and relationship.

    • Glossary: communication
      The act or fact of communicating; intercourse by words, letters, or messages; interchange of thoughts or opinions, by conference or other means; conference; correspondence. (Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary)
    • Psalm 19:14 (NIV)–“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
    • My working definition in this chapter, simplified in the graphic below, is: “Interpersonal communication is the exchange of meaning between persons, senders and receivers, through words, experiences, and actions.” –Lloyd Elder

  2. Study Objective“To contribute toward the improvement and practice of interpersonal communication as a skill for effective interaction with individuals and small groups in your life and leadership.”

    This study commits itself primarily to interpersonal communication, focusing on interchange of meaning between individuals and small groups as an effective leadership skill. The study content is drawn from many sources: biblical, theological, ministry, theoretical, practical, and experiential. A primary source for the thesis is from Samuel Canine and Kenneth Gangel, Conflict Management in Churches and Christian Organizations, p. 16–“Communication is meaning exchange, not word exchange.” This series of articles reports topics of study such as:

    • Communication tasks and functions
    • Biblical guidance for communications
    • Choosing your communication channels
    • Communications between people
    • Active listening
    • Responsive feedback
    • Small group communication
      [See Servant Leaders Library: another set of articles focuses on Congregational Communication.]

  3. Interpersonal Communication
    Interpersonal communication may be one-on-one as a message Sender(s) and Receiver(s) in immediate interchange of roles through selected channels. This may also be true within a small group, showing that communication is open and interactive. David W. Johnson, a social psychologist, defines interpersonal communication:

    Interpersonal communication is commonly defined as a message sent by a person to a receiver (or receivers) with a conscious intent of affecting the receiver’s behavior.


    Two Views of Communication
    In an article on web site, there is a description of interpersonal communication as either contextual or developmental.

    • The contextual view of interpersonal communication considers the number of people involved, their physical proximity, the sensory channels used and the feedback type, and immediacy.
    • The developmental view regards different types of relationships: salesclerk, friend, family, competitor; with interpersonal communication referring primarily to those who are regarded as unique individuals.
  4. Defining Communication
    What does “communication” mean to you? You may want to jot down your thoughts even before you read further in this article. Keep putting yourself in the loop as you see what others think about communication; reflect on the application of these definitions.

    • The dictionaries: Communication means “to make common” (Latin) our separate knowledge, experiences and feelings. Communication is the exchange of thoughts, messages, or information as by words, speech, signals, writing, or behavior.
      –verb: importing, sending, transmitting, connecting
      –noun: intercourse, interchange, correspondence, conference
    • Management text: “Communication: An interactive process in which a sender transmits a message–containing facts, feelings, and attitudes–to a receiver who sends a return message indicating his or her reception and degree of understanding.” –J. Longenecker and C. Pringle, Management, 6th edition, p.662
    • Communication text: “For our purposes communication is the transmission of information and meaning from one individual or group to another. The crucial element in this definition is meaning.”–Business Communication, Guffey, p. 11

    These concepts enlarge our use and application of interpersonal communication in ministry roles.

  5. Your Communication Practice
    What kind of communicator are you now as you go about your life and leadership? How much do you enjoy the benefits of interpersonal communication? According to one resource, J. L. Bledsoe, Training (Mar. 1976), pp. 18-21, and supported by other authorities, there are four communication styles based on two contrasting behaviors. The two behaviors are:

    • Assertiveness–directly expressive of your own thoughts and expectations, even an attempt to control others.
    • Responsive–openly concerned for the feelings and thoughts of others and a willingness to respond appropriately.

    Four communication styles (Bledsoe, pp.18-21):
    Which of these four styles is your dominant communication behavior? Although each style description is concise, put yourself in the picture and see if you want to make a change in your style:

    ____ Driverhighly assertive: even directive in expressing your own thoughts; tends toward being demanding and controlling.
    ____ Amiablehighly responsive: primarily concerned about the feelings of others; not expressive of your own thoughts, and not very task/results oriented.
    ____ Analyticallow assertiveness and responsiveness:
    internal “mulling over” issues with little or no expression, or interchange, or action.
    ____ Expressivehigh assertiveness and responsiveness:
    concern for both, actively expressing yourself but also eliciting and caring for the feelings of others; task and people oriented.

    The research materials present still other styles of communication, but these four are a helpful summary.

  6. For Reflection/Assessment/Application
    At this point, how would you assess your practice of interpersonal communication? What questions do you have?

    Improving Your Skill:
    It is impossible to improve your leadership skills without improving your communication skills. The potential benefits of effective communication skills–in fact, the hopeful expected outcomes of this article–are more than worth your effort of intentional development. These include:

    • healthy self-understanding
    • satisfactory, trusting relationships
    • nurturing help to other people
    • success of the church’s ministry groups
    • development of other servant leaders
    • evangelistic and discipleship results


SkillTrack® Study Abstracts

The following three abstracts are included in the 7.3 CD-ROM Support Materials, and printed here as additional study to enlarge the scope, concepts, and practices included in the articles from this series.

Study Abstract of Communication Skills:Clearly Making a Difference
from SkillTrack® Vol. 6 by Johnnie C. Godwin with Lloyd Elder

The following is taken from the table of contents of a text/workbook focusing primarily on church-wide communication functions and practices; however, it could be valuable for interpersonal communications practices.

Course Objective:

  • to understand communication in a Christian context;
  • to evaluate and develop communication skills;
  • to explore the channels of communication ranging from person-to-person to comprehensive church marketing;
  • to apply the principles and practices of communication to Christian ministry.

Course Content:

Section I – Communication Cause and Effect
Section II – Ten Communication Commandments
Section III – Communication Considerations
Section IV – Communications As Marketing


Study Abstract of “Strategies for Change: Education/ Communication”
from Section VII of Change Leaders in Ministry: Shaping the Mountain of Change
SkillTrack® Vol. 8 by Lloyd Elder (pp. 46-52)

  • Old adage: “Trust the Lord and tell the people.”
  • Gather information about previous change in the congregation. What worked? Why? What didn’t work? Why?
  • Gather information about the change being proposed. What? Where? When? Who? What? How?
  • The most effective and broad-sweeping strategy for change is communication.
  • Talk/listen to members, to others related to change.
  • Record, sort, and analyze appropriate ongoing feedback and information.
  • Develop, test, and refine available processes and options for change.
  • Make information readily available to all members, including the process.
  • Skillfully develop change plans and processes, stages, steps, phases.
  • Develop and report the major steps in the change process.
  • Explain and illustrate changes; what difference does it make?
  • Design plans that include benefits for the congregation, its members, and community.
  • Publicize positive successes and benefits.
  • Be factual about costs, risks, or possible negative impact.


Study Abstract of “Communication Model for Transforming Conflict”
from Section VII of Transforming Conflict: There is Life Beyond Church Conflict
SkillTrack® Vol. 9 by Lloyd Elder (pp.

1. Review Communication Basics
2. Redefine the Conflict/Issues
3. Analyze Miscommunications
4. Get Your Message Right
5. Choose Clear Channels
6. Minimize Communication Barriers
7. Learn to Listen, Receive the Message
8. Respond to Feedback
9. Put Your Promises into Deeds

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© 2006; hosted and copyrighted by Lloyd Elder & Associates, Inc.
For full citation of referenced works, see Bibliography/Links at
Adapted by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., Founding Director, Moench Center for Church Leadership