Connecting communities, communication and compassion (all the Cs)


(Hastily jotted and incomplete reflection after a day talking about communication in Leeds in the context of an inclusive community organisation.)

Communication in an open and inclusive environment has the potential for chaos and misunderstanding. Making decisions when there are many stakeholders of different outlooks can be the biggest challenge we face if we are to move forward effectively. At Oblong Leeds we have an ongoing commitment to working on how we communication effectively and include all members of the community.

Top down organisation?
Top down instructions handed down to compliant employees in the traditional corporation can work until the employees start to question the decisions – at which point they either leave, rebel or become dormant.

Flat organisation?
On the other hand flat, non hierarchical organisations are slow and there’s the potential for unrecognised power struggles. Clear decision making can be almost impossible and strong leadership is misunderstood as being a tool for control rather than cohesion.

Participatory organisation?
Now more than ever all stakeholders have the tools to participate in conversations about how we run our affairs whether they are invited to or not. To keep people “on board” requires a more relational approach. Whether we think it is workable or not, a participatory style of organisation can unlock talent, bring forward relevant and exciting ideas, lead to much more cohesive communities. Difficult but potentially good.

Woodhouse Community Centre
I help run the Woodhouse Community Centre which relies on a membership of about 70 volunteers to run the centre and its activities. We took it over from the council as a step towards community ownership of the facility. So Oblong Leeds cannot be a mini council but has to enable local people to make decisions and exercise their gifts through participation. Oblong Leeds is non-hierarchical though I would say it is in a position of significant leadership.

Communication challenge
At Oblong Leeds yesterday we had a very interesting full day session on communication. A big topic, I know, but this was focused on how we communicate internally with each other in a range of contexts. We looked at discussion in groups, reaching decisions together, difficult one to one conversations, the art of the incisive question and so on.

Just one of the many styles we looked at was was drawn from Non Violent Communication which I confess I’d not come across before. The practice developed by Marshall Rosenberg seems to have been elevated to an almost spiritual height which worries me, it has the look of a bandwagon. That aside the idea is rather obvious and simple, if I can summarise it in my own way.

1. You start off by making a clear observation of fact. Be very clear about this observation and don’t just shoot off because you suspect something.

2. The observation stirs you emotionally and you believe something should be done.

3. Before you move forward examine your own motivation. Am I passionate about what I have see for good reason?Am I motivated by compassion or bad voices within?  Understanding the basis for our reaction is very important. We should be able to align our response to a key value we hold.

4. An action. What is the best response we can make reconciling to our values, abilities and passion?

With my journalist hat on I can see that this is even simpler – get the facts straight, ask why this is happening, who is involved and what might/should happen next.

More notes to follow.