This is the second part in a two part series on care and nurturing of productive relationships. In this post, we look at strategies that we can use to build and enhance productive relationships.
Creating Clear Lines of Communication. Creating clear lines of communication starts with knowing yourself. Spend some time thinking about how you best receive information, when are the times that are optimal for conversations, how long it takes you to process the information you receive. Develop a short written list of your communication preferences. Schedule a meeting with your employer or boss. When you meet with your boss, share the following, “I was thinking about our communication and I really want to make sure that we are both clear and getting what we both need when we communicate. I was wondering if you could help me in my communication?” Then share with your employer what helps you be attentive and responsive to the communication of information. When you present your ideas, remember to offer them up as requests.
Creating a Clear, Concise Agenda. I always try to send my supervisor an agenda of our meeting ahead of time. It is often as simple as a short list of topics that need addressing. Sometimes I am confirming my plan and sometimes I am asking for advise or direction. I find that having an agenda makes our time efficient and effective. It also has the added benefit that I don’t surprise my supervisor with any topics. If there is no way to send an agenda, then I ask to spend the first few minutes of our time together, creating one to assure that we stay on topic.
Ask, “Is this an okay time?” Often times we drop in our bosses, when we have an opportunity. Even though our time might be limited, it is a good idea to get into the habit of asking, “Is this a good time?” Asking this question creates two important outcomes. First, it gives your boss the chance to mental step away from what they working on. Second, by asking, you are acknowledging that this might not be the best of times. Most of the time, your employer will answer yes, but more importantly, when they answer no---accept it no hard feelings. Follow up with the question, when would it be a good time to meet?
Sort out the Urgent from the Everyday. When we work with young children, there are times when we have health, safety, or other classroom issues that need attention right now! In those cases, you need to communicate clearly and precisely what is needed and when you must have an answer. I always try to let my supervisor know that I will schedule time for non-urgent or everyday questions on a regular basis. I also let my supervisor know that if I have an urgent concern, I will clearly communicate how that concern is different from the everyday. Over the years that plan has helped me, a lot. I usually have great responses from my supervisors on urgent matters because they know that its outside our regular communication plan.
Getting to Know My Supervisors Needs. When we work with people, it is important to take a 360-degree approach. This is part of nurturing relationships. Understanding and acknowledging the work of those who supervise us is just as important as understanding those we lead in our programs and our communities and classrooms. Taking time to ask for the content of the decision and checking for focused time in meetings---when neither of you will be distracted---goes a long way to supporting your supervisor and helping them to feel that you acknowledge that together you are a team working toward the larger goals of the organization.
Take Self-Responsibility for Maintaining Productive Relationships. Taking responsibility for ourselves and productive relationships can be hard. The urge to gossip, push to get our way, or even give in to everything requested is unhealthy for us and our relationship. Working to state what we need clearly and checking for agreement is one of the ways to maintain healthy communication. When something is important to me, but I need to think on it, I will say, “That’s a great question—I would like to think about my response and get back to you at the end of the day.” The key is follow-up and responding. Your consistency will send a message that you are reliable when you ask for extra thinking time. Working on clarifying understanding is also important in maintaining productive relationships. Nothing prevents healthy relationships more than assumptions. Assumption lead to an us/them mentality where no one is successful. If you are not sure, ask! If you think that what was stated seems off, ask! The key is to ask for clarification.
Communication can be our biggest stumbling block to having successful relationships. By practicing some of these skills---working on being mindful of what you say and do, ask for clarification when needed, and checking for agreement---goes a long way to clearing up communications.