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Communication Agreements in the Library Workplace

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  • For my final paper I am writing about the benefits of using communication agreements in the library workplace. I am doing so through a focused study of my implementation of these agreements in the University at Albany Libraries Circulation and Media Services department, and through an examination of how these agreements have positively changed interactions among staff members, as well as my department’s ability to work as a team. In my presentation today, I will explain what a communication agreement is and how I synthesized various concepts to create this tool aimed at improving communication. I will also briefly touch upon when to establish communication agreements, offer tips for facilitating a successful communication discussion, and provide some sample questions that can be used to guide a communication discussion.
  • A couple of years ago, I attended a workshop titled How to Communicate Effectively with Your Employees.This workshop focused on a concept that the trainer referred to as a communication contract. I later combined the general concept of an agreement or contract for communicating within the supervisor-supervisee relationship with concepts from communication and organizational studies literatureto develop a process to improve communication between two people, assist people in resolving interpersonal and workplace conflict, and improve a group’s ability to work through change. So what exactly is a communication agreement? I define it as a set of individualized guidelines for cooperative communication between, and established by, two individuals. The communication agreement seeks to create a comfortable environment in which two employees can communicate openly with one another by expanding an employee’s understanding of how and why his or her coworkers communicate the way they do. The process of establishing this agreement begins with a guided discussion, in which participants describe their preferred communication styles and methods, how they prefer to give and receive feedback and constructive criticism, and talk about what—if anything—each person feels is lacking or could be improved in their current communication with each other. What is discussed provides participants with an understanding of how the other person encodes and decodes communication. The guided discussion draws out personal thoughts, feelings, and reactions to words and phrases, as well as reactions to communication styles and mechanisms. The process exposes information that people usually do not share with others, and the agreement that this process establishes allows the participants to customize their communication with each other based on one another’s preferences and newfound understanding of how each participant may interpret or react to communication. The agreement can include how participants will approach each other to begin conversations, how they will follow up on previous conversations they have had, how they will address potential conflict with each other, and which words and phrases they will not use in their communications with one another.
  • So when is it appropriate for two employees to establish a communication agreement? Personally, I think that any time is a good time; however, I have found that there are particular events that warrant establishing a communication agreement. Some examples of these events include: Following a significant conflict between two employees, or following multiple small conflicts between two employees;When someone is new to a workplace or takes on a supervisory role;Before beginning a large-scale project, particularly if project team members have not worked together in the past;And, of course, whenever people recognize that they need to improve their communication with one another.Regardless of when communication agreements are established, participants must be willing to whole-heartedly engage in the process and have some desire to improve their communication with each other, otherwise this doesn’t really work well and can potentially lead to additional problems.
  • I have established communication agreements between myself and others in my department, and I have also facilitated discussions between staff members in my department to help them establish communication agreements with each other. I have developed some strategies for the discussion that leads to the communication agreement.When guiding a communication discussion between two employees who are establishing a communication agreement, it is important to act as a facilitator, guiding the discussion, remaining neutral, and not taking either employee’s side. If participants’ statements are vague or unclear, it’s important to ask clarifying questions—the participants need to walk away from the discussion with a clear understanding of each other’s communication preferences. I like to hold these discussions in a private, neutral environment in which participants feel comfortable. If using a Communication Agreement to get people talking after some sort of a workplace conflict, I give them ample time to cool off before holding one of these discussions, and then I focus the conversation on the future, rather than rehashing past events. It’s okay to allow participants to cite examples from previous interactions with each other to illustrate their thoughts and ideas about their communication preferences, but don’t allow participants to use the discussion as a time to vent about previous interactions with each other. Before facilitating a Communication Agreement between two people with whom I work or who work for me, I’ve found that it helpful to establish my own Communication Agreements with these people ahead of time. This improves each person’s comfort level with me as I facilitate a communication discussion and agreement between them. It is important to set ground rules for the discussion at the beginning of the meeting: for example, one person speaks at a time, be respectful, listen, do not interrupt, keep the discussion confidential. Occasionally these discussions can take an uncomfortable turn. It’s important to be prepared for this, and be able to restore calm to the meeting if this does occur. To make the most out of this process and allow for thoughtful discussion, it’s helpful to distribute communication questions, which will be used to guide this discussion, to the participants ahead of time. I like to meet individually with each participantafter they have had time to formulate their responses. This helps me determine how to best guide the forthcoming discussion between the two participants. It’s also helpful to allow participants an opportunityto formulate their own communication questions for one another, and then facilitate the exchange of these questions ahead of time.
  • The questions used to guide a communication discussion need to get participants to shed light on their likes and dislikes when it comes to phrases and words, communication styles, when and how they receive communication, and even how they prefer to begin a conversation. Here is a small sampling of questions I regularly use in communication discussions.
  • I have found that Communication Agreements help diminish workplace conflict over time. As employees learn to better communicate with one another, they are able to avoid conflict that arises as a result of interpersonal communication, and they are able to resolve conflict on their own. I will leave everyone with this snapshot of the positive effect this tool has had on my department. This chart shows a decrease in workplace conflict in my department—measured by the number of emails regarding workplace and interpersonal conflictI have received from staff—as the number of established communication agreements among department staff increases. This is truly an effective tool!

Communication Agreements in the Library Workplace Communication Agreements in the Library Workplace Presentation Transcript

  • Who Knew [Fill in the Blank] Was a Four-Letter Word?
    Communication Agreements in the
    Library Workplace
    Kabel Stanwicks IST 614
  • What is a Communication Agreement?
    Establishes individualized guidelines for cooperative communication and seeks to create a comfortable environment for open communication.
    • Begins with a guided discussion about communication preferences.
    • Participants develop an understanding of each other’s communication styles.
    • Use this understanding to come to an agreement on how to communicate.
    Kabel Stanwicks IST 614
  • When to Establish a Communication Agreement
    • Following conflict
    • New employee in the workplace
    • Someone takes on a supervisory role
    • Project team is formed
    • People recognize the need to improve communication
    Kabel Stanwicks IST 614
  • Tips for Facilitating a Successful Communication Discussion
    • Be a facilitator.
    • Hold discussions in a private, neutral space.
    • Allow people time to cool off when necessary.
    • Remain focused on future communication.
    • Establish your own communication agreements with people before facilitating agreements between others.
    • Establish ground rules for the discussion.
    • Be prepared for discussions to take an uncomfortable turn.
    • Distribute discussion questions ahead of time.
    Kabel Stanwicks IST 614
  • Sample Questions for a Communication Discussion
    What do you like to hear, and what do you not like to hear when someone praises you?
    How do you like to be praised?
    Would you like to establish a neutral and comfortable location in which difficult conversations can be held should the need arise? If so, where would you like to meet?
    Are there specific words that you consider “four-letter words” that trigger a negative response?
    What are you receptive to and what are you not receptive to when it comes to discussing performance problems and receiving constructive criticism?
    How do you prefer to be approached about performance problems?
    How do you prefer to receive communication? (email, face-to-face, telephone, etc.)
    What can someone say or how can someone phrase things to generate a productive, forward-moving conversation?
    If a conversation takes an uncomfortable turn, how do you want to approach relocating to a neutral place to continue the conversation?
    Are there particular settings in which you like to receive praise?
    Kabel Stanwicks IST 614
  • Communication Agreements Help Decrease Workplace Conflict
    Kabel Stanwicks IST 614