The ‘C’ word…..

Communication tips for creative communities (what did you think it was?

We’re just in the process of hiring some new folks at The Art House (yay!) and I did a little brainstorm on my ground rules for communication.

Groups of people, as they get bigger, can be prone to communication breakdowns and misunderstandings.  Here are just some of the rules I’ve found work, in the last 10 years running groups, to make sure the dreaded politics stays out!

Now, I’m not saying these rules are ones I always manage to keep… but they are good ideals to aim for.

1) Talk to people directly.  If somebody is working in a way which doesn’t work for you, talk to them about it directly.

In groups, people use complaining about another mutual acquaintance as a bonding ritual, it’s a human thing, but it’s awfully unfair on the other person. It’s a cheap and easy way to make somebody feel included – to make somebody else feel excluded.

It’s also poison in any group.  Oh, and in the long run it mean people don’t trust you – if you say mean stuff about other people, what are you saying about THEM?

Sometimes the motivations is less sinister!  We can feel more comfortable speaking to somebody else when we’re upset with someone, but the sad truth is that extends any problem you have to include another, without solving the root cause.

A good rule is:  speak about an absent person as if that person were listening to you and don’t tell somebody else something you haven’t already told the person you are speaking about.

My trick is to remember my phone is in my bag and may have butt dialled the person I’m talking about 🙂

Be kind, always, but be clear.  Be OK with the fact that the person may be upset for a while.   Own your part in the issue.  It always works out for the best when you don’t involve other people but speak directly to somebody, even if it takes courage and the willingness to see somebody upset.

2) Be open to people coming to you with things that are not working for them.  This makes doing (1) easier for everyone!  At the same time, if you are upset or disagree, it’s OK to say so but try to keep open.

Also, be aware that we all break the no-talking-behind-backs rule sometimes.  A person may need to vent, rehearse what they are going to say, or whatever.  If this happens and you are the listener, hold the space for them to speak and then encourage them to sort it out with the person they have a problem with.  Don’t take on that person’s upset and whatever you do, no joining in with complaining about the absent person.

3) Find your way to communicate and be clear what it is with everyone.  Respect other people’s way of communicating too.  I would like to workshop this in the New Year so we all know each other’s communication style, trigger points and boundaries.

4) Assume the best.  A good rule of thumb:  always assume the person is coming from a good intention, however they put things.  Because really, we all are.  I sometimes read back an email I’ve sent and think ‘Oh crap, that sounded really sharp’.  I sometimes take what somebody said to me the wrong way, too.  Let’s be vigilant about this – we are all good people and we all want the best for The Art House, and we all like each other and chose to work together, let’s not forget that.

I apologise for the sharp emails, you have all had them and if not, it’s only a matter of time!  For my part I am working on not sending emails when rushed, tired or stroppy 🙂

5) Include people.  If something affects a person’s working day, they need to be included in discussing changes if at all possible – this applies particularly to our paid team but also to volunteers who do jobs regularly.

Respect that the task you thought you could just hand to somebody else may have been the highlight of somebody else’s day!  There’s a temptation to give a new person a job somebody else has been doing, which is fine in some circumstances, but consult the other person.

6) Share information.  Don’t be freaked out about sending too many emails or whatever.  If in doubt about whether somebody wants to know something, and there’s no confidentiality issue – CC them!

7) Respond.  If somebody gives you feedback, sends you a text, email, whatever, then do respond to it.

Just a quick response is polite and let’s them know their message was received.   Being ignored can be very disempowering for people even if you don’t mean it to be.  Even if your response is ‘thanks so much for this, I’m in the middle of something so can’t read it, but really appreciate you including me’ – or just ‘thanks!’ or ‘can we talk when I see you next’.

If it’s an email you didn’t think you needed to get, say so nicely. Respond.

8) Praise, and accept praise.  That one explains itself, really!  Also, say thank you more than you think you have to.

What techniques do you use to keep communication flowing?  Please do share in the comments section!

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