Honest Communication

As a manager of a large housekeeping department for over 25 years I discovered that I had to constantly work on my communication skills. Often I believed that I was communicating effectively, only to discover that some members of my team either had not received the memo or had misunderstood both the meaning and the motive for it. With what I believed were my best efforts I still would be chastised by someone who wondered if I purposely did not choose to communicate with them…or did I choose to enlighten only my circle of friends and favorites. Now I have lived and worked under leadership that indeed did have favorites and cliques and I remembered how I felt being the person that was outside and peering into the window in an endeavor to discern what was going on! It is a horrible and demoralizing feeling to believe that you are a part of a group only in theory but not in practice. So, I am saying that I had the goal of crystal clear communication…and I fell short on numerous occasions. How do I understand that I fell short…because members of the organization that I had been asked to lead felt that I did not communicate with them!

During my search for the holy grail of communication I discerned that effective dialogue between two individuals takes place on a multitude of platforms. Simply put everyone does not communicate in the same manner. We human beings are as different as snow flakes and as diverse as the grains of sand on the desert floor. Some of us receive information aurally while others prefer the written word. I began my management career by having an open door policy. I am not referring to an appointment system of visiting the boss…but the ability to come right in if I was free! I was amazed at how well this policy was received. I had assumed that this was probably normal procedure for managers… All members of our 350 – 400 staff had the right to meet with me at any time that they felt the need to do so. I wrote a lot of memos…probably more than I should…as well as a departmental handbook. Emails and text messages were also utilized to some success. A popular quote regarding supervison in the 1980’s when I began my management duties was, ‘The best supervision takes place where the work is being done.’ Subsequently I visited each of my 30 custodial crews on a regular basis. There was a special dynamic for clear communication when I met with my colleagues at their works site and visited with them and at times broke bread with them.

A major flaw in communication is the easy route of political popular speech. Never say anything that you do not mean. The person that you are speaking with can see through the fog of feel good talk…imeadiately! Never promise something that you do not intend to deliver. It is far better to say nothing at all than a pithy statement that has no substance. I would liken popular rhetoric to preparing to cut into a magnificent wedding cake with the most ornate of frosting and a mixture of colors that cry out…eat me…and then as the knife slices through the exterior…nothing but sawdust spills out…

When we sit and stew and worry and fret and feel marginalized…we are hurting our health and the health of the organization that we are a member of…and we are doing a disservice to our position and our responsibilities to those who are counting on us. It is hard to speak up and be heard…when the speech is negative. The much easier option is to go along and get along and don’t rock the boat…and do not make the boss mad! I stood up for our former chancellor, Dr. Jo Ann Argersinger, and I felt like the Lone Ranger! Being the voice crying in the wilderness is just that…a wilderness experience. But, I have had many negative comments made to me as a supervisor and an manager…and I learned from them…and I appreciated their unvarnished honesty…

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