Communications and Power Skills
As the year progresses, the spring portions of the Eagle Leadership series are progressing as well. On Feb. 19 the workshop on communication was held by Debbie Ritterbush, focusing on how to make interactions useful for everyone involved. Then following week, on Feb. 26, Melanie Wilson hosted a workshop on “Power, Privilege and Social Justice.” Focused on the privileges that exist in American societies, and how being aware of them can help leaders.
The Communication workshop opened with a discussion on what makes communication an important part of leadership. The first area was how communication skills help individuals in their interactions with others. On a basic level, these skills allow leaders to gain more respect and influence with their peers. In addition, there are benefits internally for those who develop such skills, such as an increased comfort with conflict and a greater ability to empathize with others.
The first component of effective communication is the development of listening skills. Not only do such abilities allow for better insight into the motives of other members of a conversation, but they can also be used to diffuse strong emotions by acknowledging them. It should be noted however, that acknowledgement does not equal having to agree with what the person is saying and can be followed by polite disagreement. However, directly arguing with someone will only make communication more difficult and is best avoided.
The second component is to ask to engage in a conversation, especially on complex or emotional topics, before it begins. For the same reasons it is important to explain intent fairly early on and ask for permission to enter into the conversation. If someone agrees to have a conversation then they will be more focused on it and able to better interact because it was their choice. Another important part of this component is making sure that the roles in a conversation are well explained beforehand, this will also help keep an effective tone between participants.
The final component described was how to express oneself more clearly. By using “I” statements, a speaker can make it easier for their partner to relate to them, and by listening effectively they can better relate to their partner. In addition, well timed humor can potentially break tension and allow for a better conversational environment. While slower than some methods, the better connection allows for more efficient conversations overall. It is also important to be clear with information as stressful situations can make it difficult to interpret subtle meanings, creating confusion.
Melanie Wilson’s presentation on Feb. 26 focused on privilege, it was fortuitously timed to overlap with the veto of a highly controversial bill in the Arizona legislature that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to certain groups. The first area of conversation was that of power and differences, especially the meaning of power in society. Power itself is primarily the ability to do or influence things, and is linked to status within the social hierarchy. Next up was differences between groups, most of which are more societally constructed than natural. The primary role of these is generally to create hierarchies.
The focus of the night, however, was on privilege and the advantages readily available to members of a group on average, regardless of an individual’s achievements or lack thereof. These privileges are most visible when they are dichotomous, with a winner and loser of sorts, but do not have to take such a form. Privilege almost always favors the dominant group in society and takes forms ranging from the slowly declining White Privilege to Male Privilege for genders and Heterosexual privilege that shapes so much of the modern political discourse. The motivation for informing people about such privileges is not to create guilt however. Such ideas are spread so that the privileges can be expanded to include more of the population.