Strong communication skills will make all the difference between a positive relationship with your volunteers and the negativity that can grow like weeds in your garden of volunteers. Leaders of volunteers, whether paid or not, must carefully consider the kind of culture they want for their organization and reflect that culture in their interactions with their members and volunteers.
Too often, we talk about wanting to be better communicators and wish others were as well, but are we actually acting the way we want others to act. Communications is an area that is constantly misinterpreted, misused, and misunderstood. We communicate in so many different ways to so many different audiences.
In the world of technology, communication is so important because our words are translated through the receiver's eyes and ears.
Focus on Clear Communications
The ability to understand your communication style is an important tool in your toolbox to help you understand and work with others. We all have preferred communication styles, but we need to be able to adapt to our situations and the people we are working with.
A critical element of good communication is active listening and the ability to read the room.
Here are some key areas that you need to focus on:
- Listen to your audience and find ways to solicit feedback. Remember that your message's intent is not always how your audience translated it. It is essential to check in and get feedback from your volunteers and members on a regular basis to ensure that your messages were clearly received as intended.
- Engage others in your communication strategy and test the message before you send it out.
- Create timelines throughout the year to solicit opinions, ideas, feedback, and evaluation.
- Learn from your history and evaluate your messages' impact. For example, once a volunteer has finished their assignment or their tenure as a committee member, have a representative reach out for feedback on their experience. This is a gesture of recognition but also shows that you are interested in learning from others' experiences.
- Provide opportunities for your volunteers to learn about team building, communication, conflict resolution, and volunteer engagement best practices. This is a team effort, and there is no "I" in team.
The Pitfalls of Poor Communications
So what occurs if you don’t focus on communication in your interactions with volunteers and members? This is what can happen:
- Poor performance and poor attendance.
- Misinterpretation of information which leads to gossip.
- Power struggles and cliques start to form.
- Risk arises: personal, informational, and reputational.
- Loss of potentially dynamic volunteers who do not want to get involved.
- Low morale.
Need I go on?
There are so many consequences to poor communication. Take the time to demonstrate a commitment to ensuring you have a clear communication path between yourselves and your volunteers. Strategize and build in tools and resources to ensure that all volunteers have the appropriate information promptly through the appropriate communication channels. For example, sending out an email blast does not necessarily mean that you are receiving your intended audience and does not ensure a response, if required.
Build in training when you meet as a group on the soft skills best practices.
Understand the uniqueness of each generation and how they interpret information. As we know, the communication practices of the past are not as effective in the present, and who knows what the future will be? So, we need to keep up with the technological times. For example, Facebook was a great means of connecting with certain cohorts, but now it is becoming obsolete with the younger generation.
Build and share tools to ensure they feel your organization is supporting a positive, teamwork environment that respects both individual input and the needs of the whole. This manifests as a performance management system and feedback and survey forms.
Empower your volunteers to be their best team player and show them the way -- it starts at the top.
We need to be aware of what works and what does not. We need to motivate others to be their best, which requires having regular check-ins and opportunities for two-way dialogues and we need to ensure that they have the tools to do this.
"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."
--George Bernard Shaw
Problems with communications can certainly be a problem within any organization, but they become worse when there are other issues with workplace relationships. In Versatility: How to Optimize Interactions When 7 Workplace Behaviors Are at Their Worst, Francie Dalton discusses how behaviour and communications influence these relationships, and what you can do to improve them.