By embracing change and focusing on keeping our communities dynamic, sustainability often falls into place. I have developed 15 keys to creating dynamic, healthy, learning communities. My last post focused on broad keys. Here are keys 6-10, which focus on communication:
6. Know thy neighbour and respect that s/he knows a lot
Everyone in a community has something to contribute. To learn from and value one another, we need to know one another. How can we make this happen? Go for a coffee, go for a walk, or invite a neighbour or colleague into your home. Let others into your private world, and get to know theirs. Socialize with people you wouldn’t otherwise. It doesn’t matter where you are – institution, office, suburb, or city – getting to know one another is always possible if we let down our guard. This allows us to appreciate each other in our humanity, but also as skilled people with whom we can connect and share. If you are really ambitious about this aspect of community, start a Human Library.
7. Ongoing communication & good communication practice
Once you have begun letting people into your world, and start to know theirs, keep it up. For those in neighbourhood settings, take it a step further and tackle a task together – help each other out with maintenance tasks, collectively take care of shared green space, or hold a neighbourhood dinner. Invite everyone, don’t be selective.
In an institutional setting, the same principles apply. However, given the prevalence of meetings in such settings, also ensure that you are employing techniques that are inclusive. Follow good meeting hygiene practices. Behaviours that lead to the hoarding of information and poor meeting management can limit the number of people in the lead. The lack of good communication practice can leave some feeling disempowered and bitter, and ultimately the organization or project falling flat when leaders burn out or leave. There are lots of resources available that focus on the idea of conversations and open spaces. Four resources that provide practical suggestions in terms of facilitating communication are: Born’s Community Conversations; Wheatley’s The World Café; Kaner’s Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making; and Chamber’s Participatory Workshops: a sourcebook of 21 sets of ideas and activities.
8. Recognize that everyone has limitations
Everyone has limits on how much they can contribute to their community or workplace. Everyone has a unique skill set and knowledge base from which to contribute and upon which to build. Other life commitments may also demand that an individual focus her or his attention elsewhere (eg. elder-care, childcare, an ill spouse, a personal commitment to another community.) Recognizing that everyone has limitations helps us to respect the life balance of others, while also ensuring that we create space for many people in our communities to contribute and lead.
9. Be willing to step up and take responsibility / contribute
Take the time to think about what you are good at, what you enjoy, and in what ways you would like to build upon your skills. Consider how you can best contribute to your communities. Then do it. When you make a mistake (and we all do) take responsibility for it and use it as a learning experience.
10. Be open to feedback / ask for help
Ask for help. Ask colleagues, friends and neighbours for their recognition of your strengths, feedback on your ambitions, and what they think is difficult for you. For those in school or workshop environments, invite a colleague to sit in on a session and provide feedback. Give and receive feedback with open minds and honest intentions. Always assume the best in everyone.
A common way to pursue personal and professional development at a more intense level is to get involved in a coaching relationship. One of the most interesting coaching arrangements I have come across is the Gemini Project that teams up senior executives with youth from “tough realities.”