Educational Equity Newsletter – May 7, 2020
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Strengthen Your Communication Practices In a Few Hours a Week
If you’re like many of the nonprofit leaders we work with, you’re being inundated with new information, and it’s your responsibility to communicate it to your team. Knowing what information matters most to people and how and when to share it is an integral part of being a leader. Communicating well ensures that your people feel “in the know” and clear about how your organization is moving through the next week, month, and duration of the pandemic without being overwhelmed with extraneous details.
Determine when, where, and how you’ll communicate.
One-size-fits-all communication isn’t a strategy for focus and alignment for anyone—not for you, your leaders, and certainly not for your team. Think about the information that would matter most at each level. Prioritize sharing this information and provide access to more context if people want it.
Sometimes our instinct is to give less information to junior staff to avoid creating panic. Instead, we ask people to trust us or “trust the process.” That’s a huge mistake if you want to retain the trust of your team. When in doubt, especially across lines of racial or gender difference, share more context about decisions that may impact people, not less.
Here’s a sample chart to decide who needs what information and at what cadence. Create one for yourself and use it to guide communication decisions throughout the pandemic.
With difficult conversations, speak intentionally and with heart.
Sometimes in attempting to communicate hard news as quickly as possible, leaders don’t do enough to plan and frame the conversation. As a result, they don’t give themselves enough time to think about context, timing, messaging, and opportunities to listen—often leading to a message landing poorly on their team or causing more panic, anger, or confusion than necessary.
- Context matters. If you’re sharing a piece of information that will take a lot of time to process, think about what mechanism (all-team call, email, through managers in check-ins, etc.) would be best. Weigh factors like speed of communication, opportunities for input or feedback, safe processing space, and what follow-up to provide.
- Allow your humanity to show. Take off your game face when communicating hard news. Simply saying, “I’m feeling sad about this” can show that you recognize and care about the impact of the news on your team. Also, share your thinking, any lingering concerns about the decision, and how you’ll adjust course if you’re off-track.
- Consider your audience. Put yourself in their shoes. Consider how your word choice, tone, and expressions may land. Practice what you want to say and make sure that your facial expressions and tone match the spirit of what you’re trying to communicate (especially if you tend to read as robotic or stolid in your communication!).
- Avoid fillers. It can be tough, but we advise clients to drop filler phrases (“silver lining,” “now more than ever,” etc.). Say what you mean and dump the clichés, which can feel like window-dressing for tough decisions and harsh realities.
Promise (and deliver!) simple-to-execute, predictable communication.
Let people know when they’ll receive updates about the issues that impact them and in what format. Then, deliver on time. Some leaders prefer weekly huddles where they provide updates, while others choose an email wrap-up at the close of the week, a short voice note or video, etc. These don’t need to be new: your current meetings and communication practices can work, as long as they’re intentional, consistent, and sufficient to meet your team’s needs. The key is not to overbuild these since you’ll need to maintain them over time. What’s most important is committing to something, inviting feedback, and continuing to do it throughout the pandemic period (or until it makes sense to change). This steady drumbeat of communication gives people one less thing to wonder about and ensures you’re thinking about who’s hearing from you and about what.
Seek input on difficult messages.
Don’t send an email about a tricky topic (layoffs, changes to a program, etc.) without getting at least another set of eyes on it. Ideally, this person would have a different vantage point than you, and is someone who understands the personalities on your team. If not, you run the risk of sending something that’s confusing (or worse—offensive) or that’s poorly timed to members of your team.
Regularly remind your team about what’s still unknown.
We’re all having a hard time coming to grips with the long-term nature of the pandemic. It can be easy to go into “when this is over” mode, but that can create unrealistic expectations and false hope. Sometimes, we need to be reminded of what’s unknown to keep us grounded in reality (and what we do have control over). This message could be as simple as, “We’re still not sure if physical distancing will continue this summer, and I’m not sure when we’ll know. To move the work forward, we’re going to continue to plan as if we will not open our building until October, which means x, y, and z.”
Get feedback along the way.
Ask a few team members if you can reach out a few times in the next three months to hear about whether you’re communicating enough, too little, or too much about what’s going on, or if there are topics they want to hear more about. To the best extent possible, ensure your group includes people with a mix of identities and tenure in the organization. You can also send a monthly two-question survey to your team to get the same information. Either way, find mechanisms to gauge what your people need to hear more about.
Training and Coaching
Upcoming Webinar: “Strengthening Your Communication Practices In a Few Hours a Week” on Tuesday, May 19th at 4pm EDT. Learn more about best practices for communicating with your team in the pandemic, even with very little bandwidth available. Register here.
Office Hours Coaching: We’ve made ten slots available at no cost for senior leaders in our sector who need to hop on the phone to troubleshoot an issue with their team or in their management. Request a slot here.
Need an ongoing coach during this time? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll send you information about the dedicated coaching and “Core Challenge” coaching programs we offer!