Communication done poorly is one of the most common causes of congregational conflict. Here are some practices to help your board avoid common pitfalls.
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Confidentiality and Healthy Disclosures
Balancing transparency and confidentiality can be challenging for congregational board members, staff and other leaders who have access to sensitive information. Healthy, vibrant systems need as much open communication as possible.
Creating Healthy Communication Channels
The flow of information in an organization is a bit like the flow of water after a rain. Ideally, the information is shared evenly, and the members are able to absorb it like loamy soil. But information that triggers anxiety can be like a heavy rain. Without established channels, information will create its own channels, possible eroding trust or creating other damage.
Avoiding "Parking Lot" Conversations
Healthy and transparent communications happen in accountable settings. Many local governments have "Sunshine Laws" that prevent government officials from meeting, to prevent "backroom dealing" and other covert communications the undermine transparency. In a healthy congregation, it's essential to keep communication flowing where everyone is at the table and "in covenant." Thoughts, ideas and feelings about a topic of concern should be shared in the meeting among all of the people on the board, committee or team -- not among a subset of folks who might gossip in the parking lot after the meeting.
In the 21st Century, we have email and social media that sometimes provide a platform for similar unhealthy conversations. The board can set a tone for how healthy communications happen.
The Peril of Anonymous Feedback
Healthy and transparent communication needs to be mutual, with all parties taking responsibility for their words. Leaders should have firm policies against accepting anonymous feedback. And yet, there are times when cultural differences or power differentials require a nuanced understanding of healthy communication.