Saturday, February 18, 2012

3 Recommended Changes To Improve Communication Skills


A couple of years ago, I wrote a post titled Better Communication: Annotate Your Thoughts, which I wrote after a fraternity brother made a comment about my administration's poor communication. As the president of the local chapter, I take responsibility for our lack of sharing and transparency. I still do.

Earlier this week, the local chapter fell victim to another issue that could have been avoided had we developed a stronger communication system. As a result of that situation, I'd like to brainstorm some initial thoughts on the subject and identify a few recommendations for making things better in the future.

Problem
Without going too deep into the chapter's business, something unexpected happened. Instead of addressing the issue immediately, the problem festered and quickly grew out of control. There were plenty of rumors and assumptions to go around. As a result, members grew concerned, upset, frustrated, confused, and ultimately distracted. For days, it spread from one part of the state to the other and back again.

In the past, these kinds of problems caused unnecessary complications that do more harm than good. While I use the fraternal organization to introduce the topic, this problem is not limited to our membership, region, or gender only. It can happen to you, too. It's universal.

The Back Story
What I haven't told you is that my administration was all over the problem from the moment it reared it's ugly head. Unfortunately, nobody outside the few called to fix it were aware of the strategy and the action to resolve  it. As a result, people reacted the way you'd expect them to react in the absence of information. They panicked. Can I blame them? Absolutely not!

In hindsight, I would have handled it a bit different. Instead of keeping silent, I would have reported what I knew and shared our plan to resolve it. As new information became available, I would continue to provide updates. It's that simple.

Moving forward, I would like to share a few recommendations on what I can do better next time. While I'm writing it for me, feel free to borrow whatever you need.

Recommendations For Change

Recognize The Problem
In my story, the first bad decision was not communicating with the membership. When I was first made aware of the issue, I should have recognized that there was a problem.

At work, I receive hundreds of emails per day. Sometimes I respond immediately and other times I schedule  a response for later in the day (or week...if I'm really busy). Most people accept a reasonable delay with email or voice mail. However, if it takes too long to respond, a small issue can quickly grow out of control.

Recommendation: Recognize the problem when you are first made aware of its existence. You can do this by responding to an email or verbally expressing that you identify that there is a problem.

Provide Updates Often
The second mistake in this whole situation was not involving the chapter in our game plan. As the week rolled on, the membership received no official word on what the next steps were going to be. As a result, brothers started taking matters into their own hands.

Recommendation: Be open and transparent about what others can expect from you. Share your plans and any related updates regularly.

Act Now
One of the worst things one can do in a situation like this is to do NOTHING at all. Listening to doctors, early detection and a deliberate response is a good thing. Waiting for things to get better without action is bad. Ignoring an issue often leads to a bigger problem.

Recommendation: Don't wait for problems to iron themselves out. Act NOW!

In closing, remember to recognize the problem when you are first made aware of it, control expectations by sharing your plans for resolution, and take action immediately.

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Damond L. Nollan, M.B.A.

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