Many people work in nonprofit organizations because they are committed to their organizations' missions and goals. In some nonprofits, positive communication among the staff supports the organization in accomplishing its mission. In other organizations, staff communication creates a roadblock to achieving objectives and goals.
Most organizations do not have a communication method that is shared by everyone on their staffs. They do not have a way to communicate that solves problems and helps staff members think through the best ways to complete their projects and goals.
Having a shared way to communicate has other benefits as well. It helps your staff have more positive feelings about their work, including the feeling of joy. When these feelings are present, they enable your staff to be more creative and productive.
This article shares a simple exercise, the achievement exercise, that can help your staff communicate effectively, have more positive feelings, and be productive at work.
The achievement exercise begins by using active listening, which is a way of listening to the ideas and feelings of another person without expressing one's own opinions about what that person is saying. It supports and encourages participants to come up with their own answers to a problem, issue, or goal.
Active listening is easily practiced with a listening partner. It can also be practiced in a group.
Three ways to listen in this way are:
- Verbatim—sharing what you heard your active listening partner say word for word.
- Paraphrasing—sharing what you heard your partner say in your own words.
- Asking open-ended questions—asking questions that enable your partner to explore his or her ideas and feelings in depth. Examples of open-ended questions are "Can you say more about that?" and "Can you go more deeply into that?" Open-ended questions cannot be answered by "yes" or "no."
Active listening sounds simple yet takes practice. It is a good idea to have your staff gain proficiency using active listening with one another before practicing the entire achievement exercise.
The Achievement Exercise
In the achievement exercise, you listen to what your partner shares with you without offering any ideas about what he or she is saying. You listen and ask questions that help your partner access his or her own ideas and solutions easily.
The achievement exercise has four steps:
- What would you like to achieve?
- How do you feel about achieving this?
- How do you feel now?
- What are the next steps?
Here is an example of how the achievement exercise works. Let's say that you are a manager in a nonprofit organization and your executive director asks you to become her listening partner for a problem she is having with teamwork among the staff.
You begin by asking her the first question in the exercise.
You: What would you like to achieve?
Executive director: I would like to achieve better teamwork.
Next you use active listening to draw out her experiences, ideas, and feelings about what she means by "better teamwork":
You: Can you say more about that?
Executive director: Better teamwork means working together in a supportive way. It means listening to one another and not blaming or being critical.
Now you can formulate an active listening question of your own, in this case, one that will help the executive director share the current state of teamwork among the staff:
You: How do they work together now?
Executive director: Our group is very competitive. They do not want to work out their differences.
Next, you move to step 2.
The executive director shares her positive and negative feelings about achieving better teamwork.
You: How do you feel about achieving this [the goal of better teamwork]?
Executive director: I do not feel hopeful about it.
Here is another opportunity to use active listening. Asking the question "Can you say more about that?" offers the executive director an opportunity to explore the reasons she feels the staff will not improve.
Often at this point, your listening partner will come up with a workable solution as he or she explores the situation further. In our current example, this part of the conversation might go like this:
Executive director: I feel that having specific communication guidelines will help our group begin to work together as a team. I will ask them to write it together. I feel that when I give them more responsibility, they will begin to contribute their skills in a constructive way.
You: You feel that if they are responsible for creating the guidelines together, they will contribute more and become better team players.
Executive director: Yes.
You're now ready for step 3.
When your partner has done enough work in step 2, he or she will feel positive about the issue. If your partner does not, it is a good idea to spend more time on step 2.
You: How do you feel now?
Executive director: I feel hopeful now.
Once your listening partner expresses positive feelings, you move on to step 4.
This last part of the exercise helps your partner take the next steps to achieve the goal expressed in step 1. Your partner should be specific about the steps and include dates for them.
You: What are the next steps?
Executive director: I will arrange a group meeting for next Wednesday for the staff to write the communication guidelines together.
You can offer additional support to your partner by setting up a time to follow up with him or her after the meeting.
The achievement exercise enables groups to communicate in a way that helps them let go of negative feelings and experience more joy and creativity at work. When an entire organization has a shared way to communicate, the benefits are enjoyed by staff, the organization as a whole, and the groups it serves.
Oshana Himot, MBA, CHT
© 2009, Oshana Himot
Oshana Himot is an organizational development consultant, executive coach, and trainer who consults with nonprofit organizations in the areas of leadership development, team building, communication, and revenue generation. She is the author of It's All About Joy. She can be reached at (877) 883-1486 or email@example.com.