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Tuesday 27 June 2017

This is how a collaborative person works: 22. identify and carefully manage key communication moments

(This post draws heavily upon the experiences of Paul Macalindin as described in his book Upbeat, which chronicles his inspiring work with the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq. To read more posts in this series go to the March to August 2017 Blog Archive on your right.)

'Meanwhile, the Regional Representatives were having kittens. Bashdar in particular, representing Suleymaniyah, explained that some players hadn't received a reply about auditions yet. I went into our Gmail account and saw that Zuhal had indeed sent out all the accepts and rejects, but that some had bounced back. In the face of reputational risk to NYOI whose applicants were now paying Majid $25 for the privilege of applying, Bashdar and I formulated a beautifully worded Kurdish rejection, which I sent out in my name, after doubling checking the applicants' emails with them'.

From Upbeat: the Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq by Paul Macalindin

The above highlights a straightforward but too often neglected point: your day-to-day communication with people will determine how you and your collaborative initiative is perceived and either encourage or discourage support and a willingness to get involved.

Why is such a straightforward point so often neglected? There can be many reasons: in the above example the initial untidiness of communication could have been caused by a reluctance to give bad news coupled with competing demands on people's time; in other cases it may be traced back to an unquestioning blanket reliance on systems that are capable of processing people and providing them with information but incapable of acknowledging individual needs, reactions and feelings.

It is, of course, impossible to tailor all communications to individual needs: it would take too much time and resources away from the focus and priorities of your work, and it is not always appropriate. 

It is, however, possible to identify and plan your approach to key communication moments that (dependent upon their quality) are likely to influence people to either support or oppose your work.

The above quotation highlights 5 key things to do when managing your communications with partners, stakeholders and others affected by your work:
  1. Identify key communication moments in your processes and systems. (Arguably, the initial difficulties with the NYOI's replies to auditions would have been avoided by analysing the audition process from beginning to end, starting with initial calls for applications and finishing with the notification of audition results, and identifying its key communication moments. Obviously, one of these moments would have been the individual emails sent to applicants telling them whether or not they had been accepted by the NYOI. Having been identified, the manner and approach of this 'key moment' email could have been thought about and planned in advance so that misunderstanding and negative reactions were avoided.)      
  2. Check and monitor these key communication moments regularly. (The above quotation shows that Paul had his finger on the pulse of the day-to-day activities of the NYOI. It was his habit to check this pulse regularly, and this enabled him to identify emerging problems and take timely action to address them.) 
  3. Think about how those on the receiving end of a communication are likely to feel, react and respond. (Each of the applicants had paid $25 for the privilege of applying to audition for the NYOI. Most of them would have put a great deal of time and effort into preparing their performances. Those who had not been successful were likely to at best feel disappointed and at worst resentful. It was very important that the emails notifying people of their results took account of this.)        
  4. Tailor your communication style and approach to the needs, preferences and expectations of those on the receiving end of your communications. (As alluded to above, it was essential that the emails notifying people of their results not only gave the required information but also, as far as was possible and appropriate, assured people that their time and effort was appreciated and that the audition fees the NYOI received would be well spent. The emails also needed to be tailored to the recipients' preferences: it was important, for example, to ensure that Kurdish applicants received a letter written in their language. Lastly, those receiving the email would have had some basic expectations about it: they would expect it to be professionally presented and well laid out, and they would expect it to be error free in terms of not only drafting but also distribution. This is why Paul made sure the letter was 'beautifully worded' and double checked the accuracy of the recipients' email addresses.                
  5. Take personal responsibility for these key communication moments. (Sending the email in Paul's name ensured it was accompanied by a clear and important message: it emphasised that Paul was responsible for the overall audition and selection process and that he cared about how people were treated during it.)

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