Ihave been teaching communication strategy to university students and business leaders for over two decades. But every day teaches you something new.
And sometimes, the animated chatter between the police and a recalcitrant driver at a traffic stop may produce a glowworm of knowledge that eluded you at Harvard.
Listening to Pastor David Ibiyeomie’s sermon last Sunday, about the dramatic encounter between Jesus and Nathaniel both impressed and startled me.
His teaching gave me a second intuition on the powers of diplomacy, tact, and the judicious use of praise in building human relationships, and winning people over.
As a cleric, I have long admired Pastor Ibiyeomie’s interpretive powers, his ability to analyse the Bible as an ecclessiastical text, and present it simply as a manual for every day life.
I believe that this is an important way of presenting the Bible, because despite the tantalizing promise of heaven, most people want to live a full and meaningful life here on earth.
And they want the Bible to serve as a practical tool kit, a sort of moral lamp to guide them in the darkness of their daily hustles.
The encounter between Jesus and Nathaniel is narrated in John 1: 43-50. As he prepares to leave for Galilee, Jesus calls out to Philip to follow him. On his way, Phillip meets Nathaniel and immediately offers to introduce him to Jesus, saying: “ We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
But Nathaniel was dismissive and sceptical of Jesus, ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come out from there? “, he asks. But as Jesus saw Nathaniel approaching, he greets him enthusiastically, praising Nathaniel: “Here truly is an Isrealite, without deceit.”
Caught off-guard by the unexpected compliment , Nathaniel asks Jesus : “ How do you know me?”
And Jesus said: “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you”.
Then Nathaniel declared : “Rabbi, You are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel “
Although Pastor Ibiyeomie interpreted this encounter in the context of soul winning and evangelism, there seems to be a lot in this single encounter that we can learn from about the dynamics of social intelligence, human psychology, product branding, industrial relations, marketing, leadership, and even the interaction of fundamental forces in physics.
Below are THREE lessons for communication and relationship managers, from the encounter between Jesus and Nathaniel.
1. SEE THE GOOD IN PEOPLE . When we see the good in imperfect people, we set the stage for them to see the best in us.
In business, we can apply this principle in our relationships with customers, partners, communities, coworkers, etc.
Although Nathaniel approached Jesus from a place of prejudice and stereotypical perception, Jesus neutralised that with the force of his own positivity, by praising Nathaniel as a man without guile. In return, Nathaniel acknowledged Jesus as a ‘Rabbi”, “Son of God” and the “King of Israel”.
Sociology teaches us that human interactions are notoriously complex. Yet, positivity could see you through the door, and probably keep you in the room of opportunities for much longer.
2. PRAISE PEOPLE : In a world full of criticism, negativity and one-upmanship, the judicious use of praise could be a tonic for a good relationship.
There are numerous psychological and brain studies that show that praise makes people feel respected, happy, and keeps them motivated.
In business relationships, praise and appreciation are important elements of social intelligence.
Although praise and recognition are sometimes used interchangeably, they are not the same. Many organisations set particular days aside for the “Recognition” of selected staff.
But from the way Jesus used it, we see a crucial difference between Praise and Recognition. While recognition may be based on ‘merit’ and ‘performance’, Praise appreciates the intrinsic and unconditional worth of the human person.
This is why long after the confetti at a recognition ceremony have all been swept away, the organic impact of judicious praise will remain.
Praise is also different from sycophancy in a vital sense. A sycophant uses insincere flaterry to gain personal favours.
In fact, the word “sycophant” has a dubious origin that stretches as far as the manipulative legal system of classical Greece.
3. STAY ON THE MESSAGE: Every communication process has at least 3 components: a sender, a message and a receiver. Of these three, the message is the most crucial component, because it is the purpose of the communication.
When Jesus called Philip, his purpose was evangelism. And after the pleasantries with Nathaniel, Jesus launched straight into evangelical matters.
Marketing and sales managers may apply the same standards in their business communications. If the purpose of the interaction with customers is to deliver service or sell a product and make some profit, stay on the message.
Are you a lawyer seeking to make a compelling argument in order to win a case? Then you could follow the example of Jesus, by keeping the focus strictly on the purpose of your argument.
If you are an environmental or climate scientist looking for inspiration in this encounter, the fig tree Jesus referred to in this story has a special subliminal power.Trees hold the key to environmental sustainability in this turbulent age of environmental and climate crisis.
In fact, in his remarks to commemorate the International Day of Forests, on 21 March 2018, Antonio Guterres the UN Secretary General, noted that “ Forests are the lungs of our planet”, and that trees greatly mitigate the impact of climate change.
Clearly, stock brokers, car manufacturers, students, delivery truck drivers, pilots, bank executives, food vendors, and everyone can learn from the encounter between the two men.
I believe that when the Bible is presented in a way that has utilitarian value for people’s daily lives, the way Pastor Ibiyeomie of the Salvation Ministries does, it brings people closer to seek God’s face.
When they hit the road at dawn, they feel that the word of God is their inexorable escort.
They may become kinder and more purpose driven.
And when our days on earth are done, we may look with faith, not trepidation, at the gates of God’s promised Kingdom.
––Dr Austin Tam-George is a former Commissioner for Information, Rivers State.