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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ask the Matriarch: Handling Communication

There may be no area of ministry that is more fraught with challenges and potential pitfalls than "communication" - it threads through everything we do, and the possibilities for messing it up are endless! It can be difficult to discern when we are in the thick of things how we are actually doing with communicating in appropriate ways. Our question this week comes from a colleague who is second-guessing how she handled what could've been a tricky communication issue. 

In a small church like ours, everyone has multiple roles, including me and the two other (part time) staff.     Recently, someone shared with me a small concern about something the custodian does.  As I usually do, I made a note of it, and said I would pass it on, which I did.  It seemed small to me, but when I called he had a question about the request I could not answer, so I told him to call the parishioner directly.  Now I'm wondering if I should have just encouraged direct communication when the concern came to me originally.  I'm trying to discern between me being helpful, me fulfilling my role as "head of staff" (albeit a very small staff), and me triangulating.  Thoughts?

Jennifer writes:
I think you did just the right thing. You’re the head of staff and you conveyed the concern to your staff member. Then you encouraged the staff person to deal directly with the church member and the needed follow-up information. Good job, I say. I think so much of ministry is about expressing warm regard and concern for people and their needs, while setting good boundaries and modeling direct communication whenever possible.

Terri, blogging at Seeking Authentic Voice, offers:
Triangulation always happens. The effort is not to avoid triangulation, but to minimize destructive triangulation. In other words, anytime more than two people are working together triangles of communication are formed. If the communication process is just simply communicating around, then that is fine.

If the communication process is avoiding conflict, gossiping, or in any other being destructive, then you have a problem triangle.

If the communication process is causing you stress because you are carrying messages back and forth that you don't need to carry then the triangle needs to be moved to a twosome. 

But sometimes triangles just are - particularly between a head of staff and other people who work for the church that may not be staff - such as the Head of Staff asking a secretary to pass on instruction or information to a custodian. 

It seems to me that you handled this just fine. You attempted to address the situation as the Head of Staff, but when it became more than you could address you had the two other people speak to one another. 

Our matriarchs agree, and I do, too - it sounds like you handled things just right! What might the rest of you add? How do you handle potentially tricky communication issues on a multiple staff or otherwise? What are some of your "best practices" for clean, clear communication? Please share in the comments section!

As always, you can send questions you'd like us to discuss to askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.

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