I focus on our shared values ( https://ehhsdean.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/practices-and-behaviors-which-represent-our-shared-values/ ) to target what is important to our community.  Recently, I discovered that expressive communication is not on the list.  Under Respect and Empathy, we indicate our values of “listening” and “seeking to understand before being understood.”  While crucial, these are only the foundation for what comes next – a response. 

Before responding to someone, however, there is a sacred space to explore.  This space is found within a purposeful pause before speaking.  This space allows for mindful words and non-verbals that bring increased dignity and integrity to the communicative process.  Sometimes, we fall into the trap of reacting without any space for mindful words and non-verbals. Reactive/reflexive communication, however, can erode the potential for effective communication.  Developing a response within the sacred space is at the micro-level of communication and takes practice to improve, especially during stressful situations and crucial conversations.

It also is important to pay attention as we move up the continuum to macro-levels of communication.  There is an interesting list, developed by Frank Sonnenberg, that addresses effective communication within an organization.  He said that effective internal communication must be:

  • Multidirectional – upward, downward, lateral, diagonal
  • Objective – expressing all side of an issue
  • Comprehensive – both in breadth of subject and dept of content
  • Relevant – expressing issues that are meaningful, for example, providing the rationale behind policies
  • Credible – expressed by those in the know
  • Inviting – cutting through the information clutter
  • Honest – truthful, factual, and error free
  • Open – a fair and open exchange of ideas, bad as well as good news
  • Thorough – contain more rather than less information
  • Prioritized – ranked in importance so people don’t feel bombarded
  • Timely – so that they don’t have to go to other sources to get the information
  • Consistent – actions consistent with words
  • Appealing – easy to scan and understand
  • Frequent – disseminated at regular intervals
  • Reinforced – through multiple mediums
  • Coordinated – in line with other communication elements
  • Participatory – involved the audience
  • Measurable – undergo regular evaluation to determine effectiveness on target audience

Recently, I witnessed almost every positive communication trait presented in this blog from a superintendent at a community budget/information meeting for a local school district.  A number of questions were posed, some repeatedly, some inappropriate, and one that was even mean-spirited.  The superintendent answering these questions provided a master-class in how to respond mindfully.  His non-verbals were relaxed and his answers were kind, thoughtful, and respectful; he maintained dignity at all times.  He clearly understood the sacred space, the purposeful pause after listening where kind words are chosen.  He did not relinquish his control over integrity for one second when met with heated words.  His approach was a model of mindful communication that maintained respect for him and for everyone in the audience.

A more mindful level of expressive communication, from the micro-to-macro-level, is hard work.  I believe our individual and group relationships can deepen with this extra effort, particularly during difficult conversations.  As a result, our community will be strengthened in a way that will be perceptible to everyone, including our students.  Next to receptive communication (listening), being mindful of our expressive communication (verbal and nonverbal), is one of the most important things we do. 

Sonnenberg, F.K. (1994). Managing with a conscience. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.  (There is a more recent edition of this book published in 2011.)