Community Voice: Silence Is Golden-Or Is It?

This Community Voice Piece was written by NSWM Member Frank Perez, M.S., M.S W

I was recently invited to attend a College Senate faculty meeting. My friend invited me to the meeting as a casual observer. Having no affiliation with the school, I curiously asked him why he wanted me along. “You work with people Frank; I want you to gauge the reaction of fellow members when I introduce a new item on the agenda.”

The item involved communication regarding faculty and administration. Simply put, the concern is when faculty submits forms or documents that need to be addressed in a timely manner, in some cases, the administration is slow to respond.

When it was his turn, my friend pointed out his concerns to the Senate, and then asked for ideas on how to resolve the issue. From where I was sitting, I immediately saw battle lines being drawn and trenches being dug. It was interesting to me how fast this occurred, and I’ve seen it before.

Classically, the debate (read that combat) began. “Faculty does not turn in their paperwork correctly; faculty doesn’t follow procedure, faculty doesn’t check their mailboxes.” In response, “administration takes too long; administration doesn’t think this stuff is important; administration doesn’t care.” Does this sort of behavior sound familiar to you as a manager?

As enlightened individuals (read that social workers), we are all too familiar with basic needs that people require to function properly. The foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy suggests that the physiological needs are a principle component of a well-rounded person. I contend that within that domain, communication, just plain talking to one another, is an essential component of a well-rounded person, a good employee, and a good manager.

In his book Emotional Intelligence (EQ-required reading for all managers in my opinion), Daniel Goleman asks us to be mindful of our emotions as well as the emotions of others. It was clear to me during the meeting I attended the emotional tension, animosity, and sensitivity different persons and departments had toward one another-with no good reason. It was obvious that outside of perfunctory rituals, like sitting next to somebody during a meeting and smiling at him or her when you really do not like him or her, that no one in the room really talks to one another in any meaningful way. So, how does one overcome such obstacles?

I am a firm believer in Transformational Leadership. For me, Transformational Leadership means walking the talk. And it is the basis of questions I ask managers when I am brought in as a consultant. “Do you guys talk to each other? If a team member has a question, is your door open? When you address each other, is a by first name or last name?”

Of course, in most cases, the responses “of course we talk to each other.” It’s here that EQ comes into play because I can sense the emotional response behind the answer. There are times that I get the sense that the managers I am posing these questions to have a unrealistic or inflated sense of him or herself. In other words, “managers don’t talk to underlings.” This is bad medicine in any organizational setting, and it’s bad for organizational culture.

Again, taking a page from our social workers handbook, as well as from EQ, a thoughtful manager will spend a few moments of mindfulness to look at him or herself and how they function in their work environment. Sometimes there surprised to realize that they are the problem with communications. This realization goes beyond the act of communication-it is the art of communication. It is the realization that as social creatures, we all need each other to function properly, regardless of corporate status. Once an assessment is reached (yes, managers can assess themselves-you have my permission), the thoughtful manager will take steps to improve the situation.

Communication leadership begets improvement. Approach your team in a professional but friendly manner. Be open to all concerns-positive as well as negative. If someone has a criticism of a person, place, or thing-consider the validity of the criticism, and respond to it in a positive manner. Lead by example. Listen to others. Show kindness and compassion. Remember: Professionalism does not mean being a stone or cold face statue. Never ask anyone to do something you wouldn’t. Smile (you’d be surprised the immediate changes you see in others just with this simple sincere act).

These are just a few of the examples of leadership qualities that encourage communications. When people are no longer afraid to talk to you because you appear to be approachable, you’ll be amazed of the rapid and positive changes that can occur between you and fellow team members, your team as a whole, and your organizational culture. Talk to each other-you’ll be surprised of the outcome-and in a good way. But this shouldn’t surprise you-after all-you are social worker.

About the Author:
Frank Perez, M.S. M.S W is the owner/operator of Christian Service Referrals, a nonprofit located in Los Angeles area that serves the needs of the homeless and those experiencing extreme poverty for over two decades. Frank regularly consults and partners with community organizations, educational institutions, and government agencies in the quest to provide to those in need.

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