Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bernie, Bud, and the Two-Way Street

So, the old issue of the City Manager's communications skill (or perceived lack thereof) seems to be surfacing again lately, with last Tuesday marking the second straight week where CC Caulfield threw a pointed barb at CM Lynch on the subject.

I know this came up with the last Council, but this time around it's a whole new ballgame -- the three-Councilor turnover we experienced following the 2009 election makes for a less-hostile environment for the CM. Still, Caulfield likes to beat this drum. To a lesser extent, CC Mercier does, too (although to her credit she'll go out of her way to praise Lynch at times, too).

The subject is near and dear to me because so much of what I do at work revolves around communication, whether over e-mails, phone calls, or in person. I've come to pretty much accept the fact that no matter how much you convey to people, regardless of the format(s) used, some will ALWAYS complain that "No one ever tells me," or "I had no idea," etc.

I've learned to save every e-mail I send in a "sent items" folder. And yes, I particularly love to respond to the "No one told me we were training that day" or "No one said I was coming on orders" with e-mail responses which include the original e-mails to the person, along with the pertinent dates and information...and sometimes, even the acknowledgement response from the recipient. From time to time, I've even wished I did the same with phone calls, but that'd require a lot more technical skill and patience, could skirt up against some legal issues, and just seems too Nixonian.

But enough with that for now. Even if things really aren't always communicated, what people tend to forget all too easily is that things like e-mail/phone/walkie-talkies/smoke signals/messenger pigeons, etc. all have this neat feature in common -- they can be used in both a send AND a receive mode. I have 11 people directly reporting to me...and I constantly tell them to practice two-way comms. I mean it when I say I would rather hear from someone ten times a week, even just to check in on a particular question, than to ever hear one person say one time that "No one ever tells me anything." That's just way too easy, and way too lazy, but I'm sure it's been used since time immemorial in almost all professions and organizations.

So if CC Caulfield is that concerned about which jobs might be leaving the city, or which other jobs might be replacing them, and where that might be happening, I would recommend that he engage the CM on a regular basis to ask about that. Especially considering that Lynch gave a detailed briefing on that very subject (minus the names of certain companies, for confidentality's sake) at an LDNA meeting at MCC two months ago, I don't think he's trying to hide anything. However, he would have to be blessed with a special clairvoyance to be able to pre-emptively anticipate which CCs might want to be privy to every bit of information that crosses his desk.

As CC Murphy mentioned last week, the big-picture question worth asking is how the CM should best set up regular communications on big issues with the Councilors, but it's NOT about whether someone's ego got bruised because he was asked about something at DeMoula's and hadn't yet heard about it.

But sometimes it's just way too easier to be a solipsist about everything -- if I haven't seen it, it must not be real, and if I didn't hear about it, it must be the fault of whoever was supposed to tell me. In a me-centric world, that's a legitimate way to form your reality.

That doesn't have to just apply to communications, either. I always get a kick out of it when people who I haven't seen in a while say, "Have you been living under a rock or something? I thought you'd gone away or been deployed."


"Well, I haven't seen you since _____."

"Funny, I was going to ask the same of you. If you haven't seen me, don't you think that means I haven't seen you either?"

Somehow, that never goes over as intended.

And just to conclude, it is legitimate to say someone is a poor communicator if you are acting in good faith, sending e-mails or calling, and are being met with radio silence. It's equally legit to wonder about people whether people you've been making a fruitless effort to reach have skipped town or otherwise fallen off the radar.

But if you assume the world revolves around you, and that any piece of news, tidbit of gossip, or even person which fails to make its way to you must be due to some outside factor that's beyond your control, then I'm sorry, but I just can't help you -- maybe your communication skills need some brushing up!

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