BUILDING COMMUNITY THROUGH COMMUNICATIONS
By Peg Smith, BCA Executive Director
(This article originally appeared in our newsletter, The Sage Page Volume 8, Issue 1.)
Humans have opposable thumbs and communicate though language. It’s what makes us human, right?
So why is it sometimes so difficult to be understood? Why do supposedly simple statements get twisted around and come back at you sideways? How are people able to push your buttons? How can you express your opinions without getting angry about them? How do you react to suggestions? How do you give suggestions?
These are among the types of questions one encounters when contemplating the vast and abstract topic of improving communication. A couple dozen interested residents are exploring exactly that. Carrying the unwieldy current banner of “Community Communications Group” these intrepid souls are heading into deep waters: learning skills, practices, and awareness of COMMUNICATION.
After only two meetings so far, a couple things are clear. First, everyone shares the goal of a community that gets along better, in general, when people can discuss things civilly. Second, everyone is driven by a different motivating factor. Some want to work on personal skills. Others want to really dig into difficult or controversial subjects. Some have specific communication challenges they’re already faced with . Others want active training in methodologies, such as Nonviolent Communication, conflict resolution, or mediation skills. At the heart, there is a sense that building a truly sustainable community that can solve its own problems requires people who can talk to each other, in good times or in bad.
Often, we avoid conflict by avoiding conversation on certain topics. This isn’t a Boulder characteristic; it’s true at most Thanksgiving dinner tables across America. It’s a useful strategy, but not in every circumstance.
What does it feel like to not be heard? Do you get people to listen by talking louder? That usually has a bad outcome.
As with this article, there are more questions than answers within the group. so far, we’ve tried to adopt certain guidelines for our meetings:
At our next meeting on March 20, Katie Dahl has volunteered to facilitate the topic of “Why Boulder is an important community to me?” We figure this broad topic gives us lots of room to explore different ideas. After 45 minutes or so of facilitated discussion, we’ll switch gears and dissect how the dialogue went. Not the content, but the process. Were people really listening to each other, or were they just waiting to jump in with their own opinions? Did people respect the guidelines of one person speaking at a time? Could the facilitator interact with the group in a way that carried the conversation forward without directing its outcome?
It’s a fascinating process, and we’re hoping to create a safe environment in which to practice these skills. And they are skills. They are learned things that take awareness and intentional practice.
Anyone in the communications field would tell you that the practice doesn’t take weeks, it takes a lifetime. That our human responses are sometimes geared more toward ego and self-protection than toward the ideal of community.
The biggest thing I’m personally aware of right now is this: you can have all the skills in the world. But you need the good intention or good will to desire real communication. You also have to assume the good will of the other party, maybe give that other person the benefit of the doubt–maybe they picked the wrong word?–that you both genuinely want to reach understanding.
Without that, what’s the point?
The next “COMMUNITY COMMUNICATIONS GROUP” meeting will be held Thursday, April 24, from 10a.m.to 11:30, in the Anasazi State Park meeting room.