Communicating critical information with our co-workers and stakeholders is one of the main ways sexual assault coalitions accomplish organizational goals. Through developing resources and offering support, we share information and strategies aimed at increasing awareness and action within individuals, communities, and institutions. Just like our families and communities, our workplaces have overarching norms that shapes our interactions. When it comes to sharing information, organizational culture is a major influence in how we interact. While organizational culture plays a powerful part, we also individually contain the capacity to be accountable to others for how we make key decisions or take important actions.
For new coalition employees, particularly those who have worked in direct services, our organizations may seemingly provide spacious time and place to share information and have critical conversations about the work we do. And we do! However, as we find ourselves dealing with a multitude of different work demands and deadlines, our ability to communicate effectively may be impacted. As we strive to balance multiple needs, it is important to remember to share information, especially when we have committed time to do so, as with staff meetings!
Relevant, useful information enables people to create shared understandings and make informed decisions that support organizational goals. Whether communicating via email, phone, meetings, or assistive technology, your thoughts and practices regarding sharing information will show through in your leadership style.
Questions and concepts related to accountability and sharing information effectively are explored below. Compiled from Roger Schwarz & Associates (2011).
What is Relevant Information?
Relevant information includes anything that might affect the decision at hand or how the decision is made. Underlying interests, reasoning, specific examples, and feelings are all relevant. By sharing this information, you help create a common understanding from which everyone involved can make an informed decision.
- Have I shared all the information that I privately know does not fully support my favored solution?
- Have I shared how I am feeling about how things are going?
Misunderstanding, conflict, and defensiveness may arise without adequate information. When appropriate, explain your reasoning for why you are saying/asking/doing something in order to avoid negative assumptions. By providing specific examples, reasoning, and intent, you become more transparent and trustworthy.
- Can you give me an example, so I can better understand what you are saying?
- Can you help me understand what led you to think that?
- I am saying/asking/doing because...
Sharing Information: Stating Views and Asking Questions
Ideally, sharing information should help people understand each other better. Making statements and asking questions facilitates better conversations; doing both is key. Sometimes we may think that we will bias people with what we are thinking, so we ease into a conversation by asking questions in order to get people talking. However, people can tell when we are using questions to avoid saying what we are thinking. By only asking questions, we may get a defensive reaction because others aren't able to learn about our interests, reasoning, and/or feelings. Furthermore, rhetorical questions like, "Don't you think..." often include our own opinions. Instead, be transparent and accountable for what you think.
In addition to stating views and asking questions, listening skills will be vital in order to demonstrate respect and hear what others are saying.
If I'm talking to my co-workers, I might propose a solution, explain why I think it would work and then follow up with the question, What problems does anyone see with what I am proposing? The more you combine stating your view and asking others what they think, the sooner you identify places where you agree and places where you see things differently. That means you have more time and energy left to explore the differences and generate solutions that address them (Roger Schwarz & Associates, 2007).
When feeling stressed, angry, or defensive, many people resort to a Unilateral Control mindset. This mindset says, I understand, you don't. I'm right, you're wrong. And the point of the conversation then becomes to win at all costs.
Unilateral Control hinders effective communication because it produces blame, insults, put-downs, labels, criticism, comparisons, and judgment. Many people stop sharing information when they are treated this way. Think about what could happen in direct services with survivors of sexual assault if co-workers stop sharing life-saving information with each other due to dysfunctional teamwork. Even when the stakes are not so high, Unilateral Control can still result in lost time, commitment, innovation, money, trust, and mental health.
Effective Communication addresses content and process. Every conversation has content - the subject; and process - how you discuss the subject. The process an organization or team uses directly affects the goals it achieves. When process has not been discussed and agreed upon, individuals are left to decide their own process.
- Jointly decide how to have conversations.
- Agree on the purpose of the meeting.
- Don't assume that you understand the situation and others do not.
- Be curious about others views.
- Create better decisions and increased commitment through good process.
Reference: Roger Schwarz & Associates (2011). Are you sharing all relevant information? (2006); State views and ask genuine questions (2007); How unilateral control can kill you (2010); Dealing with people who are off-track" (2007). Retrieved from: http://www.schwarzassociates.com/resources/articles/
* This Management Tip has been edited from the orginal version to remove broken links and resources that are no longer available online.