Thursday, April 21

Seeking The Right Source

I received a newsletter in the mail today that focuses on effective nonprofit board management. Overall, the newsletter is always an interesting read, but one of its articles really missed the mark this time around from a communication perspective.

The well-meant article presented a scenario that addresses a common team-building challenge (non-profit or not): do you really want a person on your board (or team) who has reportedly clashed with the members of another team? The article went on to describe how a board president was mulling over whether to ask someone to join his board. Everyone on the nominating committee had met the prospective board member, liked him, and recognized him as a potential asset. However, one person from another team said that the prospective board member worked hard but clashed with some other folks on that team.

The scenario ended by asking: if you were the team leader, what would you do next? Then, the article offered responses from three executive directors across the United States. A cross sampling of the answers included: You might want to make sure that this isn't one person's opinion, but it's better to avoid bringing someone in with a track record of confrontation. People don't get new interpersonal skills just because they join a new board; I'd clarify expectations by encouraging him to join in governance, not micromanaging; Someone should talk to him and explain how this board works and that compromise is sometimes necessary.

Wow. It seems to me that all three respondents are inadvertently creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by accepting the notion that this prospect is likely to be confrontational and framing their communication with accusation. If they do this, the most likely outcome is exactly what they are anticipating: a confrontation. Except they will be the cause, not the prospect.

After all, at this point in the scenario, the assertion that the prospect is confrontational is nothing more than hearsay. Yet, no one offers that the first step should be to talk to the prospect before making any decision or attempting to pre-empt his "confrontational attitude."

The solution is easy enough. Start by following up with the prospect to let him know he is being considered and ask him about his experience with the other team (without the presumption that it was a confrontational experience or that he was the cause). His response might reveal any number of possibilities: maybe he was backed into a corner, not recognized for his efforts, hindered by someone on the team with a personal agenda, etc. Or maybe the supposed confrontation never existed except from the perception of one individual who originally floated the rumor. Or maybe there were some extraordinary cicumstances at his job or in his personal life. Or maybe, well, you get the picture.

In short, stop guessing, pre-empting, fretting, and go directly to the source (the prospect). Open, honest, and clear communication is always the best remedy to avoid inadvertently creating a problem that may not even be a problem with the prospect or on your board.

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