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Hi,

Our well meaning but pretty controlling boss often uses the committees around him to rubber-stamp decisions he has already made on his own. Now he wants to tear down one of our buildings (a smallish one), among other reasons to save our reputation because it was used for illicit flings that were made public. It also needs upkeep, and as a non-primary building with an undefined purpose at present, it is seen as problematic.

Instead of consulting the members, he called a meeting of the finance committee, when the only member opposed to the plan was unable to attend. One idea (my own so far) of a new use could make it an opportunity to increase membership by inviting groups who would use it to meet and/or study, with the aim of reversing the dearth of new [religious] membership.

But communications among the members are very meager and often fearful. Official dialogs are held but usually they lead nowhere and some believe they are mostly window dressing, to claim we have talked things over.
How best to bring some of the issues involved into the open?
•   Bulletin board notices? They can be taken down, especially by the power-that-be objecting to "inappropriateness."
•   Just using informal networking to sound out likely sympathizers who object to the horrible waste not only of a good building but also of an opportunity to revitalize our community and improve communication and quality of life? Then we might go in as groups (even small) to talk to the boss. He has said the issue does not merit a vote (!?) and if anyone has questions we should see him or anyone in the finance committee.
•   Or we might (as a group?) bring it up at our very stilted weekly meetings where one person is easily ignored but a few would be less easy to shoot down.
•   [not so much as a solution but to brings things out into the open and clarify them]: Since I’m about to start an Independent Learning Project, I could propose to my advisor that I’ll make the project about canvassing the community (i.e. our members) on communications on this issue specifically. The boss knows my tentative chosen topic is communication in our type of community. Such canvassing might be useful even after the decision to eliminate the building is a done deal, in order to bring to the open a fuller understanding of what happened in the decision-making process – the half-reasons, etc – and how badly we all communicated about it and understood it.

Many of the old-timers shirk responsibility and leave it up to the boss, making his job harder (under the guise of not interfering). It's supposedly known that today things have changed and we must help him out and do part of the work, but this just seems to divide the community into two bands.  

Hope this is clear enough.
Thanks,
G

Answer
Hello G,

You’re right. You’ve got a tough communication issue within your group—one that goes deeper than the decision about the building.

You mention the public may associate this building with illicit activities. Will tearing down the building erase your group’s negative public image?

Probably not. Organizations with strong top-down communication practices often find themselves out of step with members and volunteers.

What would make a difference?

Consider hosting open discussion among your group members, beyond the committees and leadership. Invite feedback and suggestions. In other words, host a community-wide conversation—many conversations. You have a prime opportunity to reassess the group’s values, strategies, and tactics.

I like your idea about canvassing your community and addressing the issues with community members. For that, you’ll want to make a plan.

Here are two excellent books you may find helpful in developing your approach: Community: The Structure of Belonging (Peter Block, 2008) and Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets (John Kretzmann and John McKnight, 1993).

Building Communities from the Inside Out includes a discussion of working with religious and cultural organizations—as well as templates for letters and phone calls to communicate your ideas.

The bottom line, as you imply in your letter: better communication is a critical issue for your organization.

Bravo to you for your efforts to help steer the group toward more conscious communication. They'll be glad you did.

All best wishes,
Maureen  

Business Communication

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Maureen A. Jung, Ph.D.

Expertise

I can answer questions related to: What to do--and what not to do--in business communication. Tips for more effective communication in print, on paper, in person, and via electronic media. Grammar, punctuation, and tone-related questions. How to Say ‘No’ without negativity. How to plan, format, write, and review your messages, letters, articles, etc.

Experience

More than 20 years' experience as a communication consultant, business writer, editor, communication trainer, and writing group leader. I've provided communication training workshops, seminars, and writing services to businesses and organizations for more than 25 years, and edited and/or researched 15 non-fiction books for other authors. I've been a columnist and contributing writer to many publications, wrote a successful $15-million health care grant for a nonprofit organization, and wrote two White House presentations.

Organizations
Florida Writer's Assn.; Clay County Writers, Writing Group Leader; American Business Women's Assn.; Medical Managers of Northeast Florida; Law Office Support (Jacksonville, FL)

Publications
Comstock's Business Magazine, California History, Living Blues Magazine, American Archivist, Sacramento Business Journal, Sutter/Yuba Business Journal, California Mining Review, Red Voices, Insurgent Sociologist, Social Forces, Sacramento News and Review, Coastlines, Sociological Spectrum, etc. In 2009, I wrote the book: Many Pathways: Planting Seeds for Communities in Recovery (2009).

Education/Credentials
B.A. Sociology, Colorado State University M.A., Ph.D., Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara Fellow of the South Coast Writing Project since 1984, a think tank for writing teachers affiliated with the National Writing Project Post-graduate studies in history and archives, California State University, Sacramento

Awards and Honors
Charles Spaulding Research Prize, University of California, Santa Barbara (for my M.A. thesis); Theodore Calvin Pease Award, Society of American Archivists (for an article based on my dissertation research); Invited Contributor, California Sesquicentennial Project, for my article: "Capitalism Comes to the Diggings," published in: A Golden State, Mining and Economic Development in Gold Rush California.

Past/Present Clients
Huntley, Mullaney, Spargo & Sullivan, Inc.; Cox Ferrall, Sales Wisdom Now!; Groeteke Resources, Jacksonville; California Mining Assn.; Central Valley Rock, Sand & Gravel Assn.; Sacramento City University; SolutionsWest, ITEX Corporation; Dr. Wilson C. Riles; Capital Program Management; Small Business Resource Center, Inc.; Vanir Construction Management; Prime Time Boxing; California Rural Indian Health Board, Inc.; Trumbull Insurance Agency, etc.

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