May 19, 2013

Unpacking ‘Communication’

Posted in Best Practice, Language, Leading Volunteers, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , at 4:21 am by Sue Hine

communication-pattern[1]A member of parliament resigned this week, in disgrace.  For ten days the news media communicated to the public arena all the ill-chosen words that were spoken, emailed and twittered, plus as many details as they could extract from the Prime Minister.   The MP could not have managed better his exit from the political stage.  All because what he said, the way he said it and the medium he used compounded his errors.  His resignation and departure saves the coalition government’s slender majority, and shows us all how critical the choice of words and the way they are said can be.

Put a bunch of managers of volunteers together, ask them to nominate the most important principle in leading volunteers, and 80% will tell you it’s Communication.

Of course!  Except Communication is a really big carpet-bag word, stuffed full of a range of meanings and processes and practice – and technologies.  It’s time we unpacked the implications of the word and understand how it is best used in the context of a volunteer programme.

Communication is about Exchange of Information   Yes, the sending and receiving of accurate information is all-important to help volunteers into the organisation and for on-going retention.  Ensuring information about volunteers and the volunteer programme is spread to other staff and senior managers is also important.  And – being timely in responding to queries and messages: there’s nothing worse than sitting around waiting to hear back from someone, even if it is simply an acknowledgement your message has been received.

Because Communication is also about Relationships   It’s about creating personal connections, getting to know people and their circumstances.  It’s about getting alongside paid staff, creating goodwill, and their understanding and appreciation of volunteer work.  And you don’t get good relationships going without being a Listener.  You have to be really genuine in meeting and greeting and appreciating volunteers – they will see through formulaic responses very smartly.

Communication is about inter-connectedness   Communication is the way to create links with communities, to network with other managers of volunteers, and to open up intra-organisation channels.  Beware the pitfalls of ‘talking past each other’ whether in cross-cultural communication or in everyday exchanges.  It’s the intimacy of interpersonal interaction that counts towards real connections.

Communication is a leadership dynamic   A leader’s support, encouragement, enthusiasm and inspiration do not happen in isolation – by definition there is always a following team.  So a leader is tuned to know which buttons to press and when and what words to use, and how to draw in the reluctant player, or to spur the confidence of the shy and retiring volunteer, or to find new ways to develop volunteer talents.  A good communicator will also demonstrate the value of a volunteer programme to the organisation.

You cannot not communicate    There’s a truism for you!  The experts can demonstrate how just 10% of a message is conveyed in words.  The rest is non-verbal, the body language, the tone of voice, the facial expression.  So even a tight-lipped poker-face is sending a message, whether they mean to or not.

Hang on a minute – a heck of a lot of our communication these days is not face-to-face.  You’ve got everything from formal letters, newsletters and written planning and policy papers, to email and social media, to websites and webinars.  So the written word is still a primary tool for communicating ideas and information.

Being a communicator and minding our language comes with the territory of managing volunteers. I reckon we could teach foolish MPs a thing or two.

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1 Comment »

  1. Reblogged this on Boggledash's Blog.

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