Citizen Action Monitor

The rapid rise — and equally fast fall — of a Residents Advisory Panel. Part 3: Importance of effective communication

No 5 Posted by fw, April 11, 2010

When all is said and done, more is said than done.

In retrospect, if only I had recalled Angeles Arrien’s advice about effective communication I would have bit my tongue and remained silent. Instead, I spoke out.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up to the concluding sentence in Part 2, in which I express my disappointment with the one-dimensional mission statement our group settled on in our first meeting – i.e., that RAP’s mission was “to share information”.

Let’s back up still further. Weeks before RAP’s first meeting, I had lunch with a prospective member who saw RAP as a potential forum for developing and promoting a neighbourhood plan.

I foresaw a bit of a hitch with this giddy-up vision, for I had pitched RAP to other members as a low-maintenance conversation with our councillor a few times a year. A hitch, maybe, but not a showstopper. There was no reason why RAP could not evolve into something more action oriented, especially if we had an articulate leader to nudge us. And my lunch partner appeared to be an experienced nudger.

With heightened expectations for a productive brainstorming session, leading to an action-oriented mission statement, I emailed members a sample of an exemplary action-oriented mission statement from another citizen action group that I had once worked with.

In response to that email, my friend with the neighbourhood vision wrote:

I quite like the sample you sent – defining mission and the parameters of what this group hopes to achieve. Once I know this, I can then propose specifics like playing a greater role in shaping development of the ward along the lines we discussed. This includes starting with a general concept of how we would like our area to develop, and then look at the individual steps needed to achieve it.

So I was pumped when our inaugural meeting began.

An hour or so later, though, my hopes and expectations came crashing down. Apparently no one else had read or remembered my email hyping an ambitious mission statement. “Information sharing” was as good as it was going to get.

Moreover, to my profound disappointment, my idea man failed to “propose specifics” as I had expected him to.

It was at this pivotal point that I should have bit my tongue and followed Angeles Arrien’s words of wisdom about effective communication:

To paraphrase, effective communication has two parts – content and delivery. We may know the content of what it is that we want to say, but we forget to ask ourselves — Is this the right time to deliver the content? And is this the right place? Timing and placement for our content is effective communication. We could say that blunt communication occurs when we’ve got great content but poor timing and poor context. Power and Love in Relationships by Angeles Arrien (Audio Cassette – Sep 1, 1991)

Unfortunately, both my content and timing were lousy. When I dumped the ball into idea-man’s court, reminding him of his proposed neighbourhood plan, he promptly tossed it right back to me with a nod and a look that said, “It’s your story, now, fella.”

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, he probably saw what I failed to see – the mission decision had been made. Game over. Now was not the time or place to force the issue. Let it go.

But, damn it all, it has always been difficult for me to let go when I’m in emotional overdrive and my brain is stuck in neutral.

Lesson Learned

Lesson 5: Before speaking, take a few deep breaths and ask yourself – Is my message clear, concise and respectful? Is this the right time and place to deliver it? And what do I expect to achieve by speaking out?  If you can’t answer these questions with confidence and to your own satisfaction, bite your tongue, keep quiet, and wait for another time and place to deliver (or revise) your message.

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This entry was posted on April 10, 2010 by in political action and tagged , .
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