Category Archives: Communication

Reflections on the Kansas City / County Management Conference 2017

Comments submitted by Martina Böhringer and Lisa Krauss, international Interns from Germany
We are in a German degree program to become civil servants. Part of this is the opportunity to participate in a three-month internship abroad to learn more about different ways of administration and to improve our social and language skills.

During this internship we had the chance to attend the Kansas City / County Management Conference 2017 in Lawrence.

The occasion to combine different views on administration helped us to learn more about American government and about “Leading through Change.” After a brief introduction about the election last November, Dr. Mark Funkhouser pointed out seven different statements essential for innovative cities which will help them to realize changes. Following his presentation, there was a great panel discussion about the same matter.

We also learned that communication with citizens is a big part of success. This was touched on during the first panel and was the main topic of a later panel discussion about “In the Absence of (Local) Newspapers,” too. The information exchange between local government and the citizens is a general challenge, and we could learn a lot for our German cities.

KCCM 2017 Conference Theme Leading Through Change
The presentation by Dr. Heather Getha-Taylor about “The Balancing Act of Internal and External Community Building” was interactive and showed different models which improve communication inside the administration and create leadership. We have learned multiple models in our German degree program, and through the conference presentation we were able to deepen our knowledge and see a different point of view. Within the panel discussion: “Lessons from the Military: Community Building” we acquired how to communicate in difficult situations.

The Kansas City / County Management Conference 2017 in Lawrence was a great opportunity to combine the German and the American local governments and to expand our knowledge about leadership in different situations.

Reflections from Emerging Leaders Academy Graduate: LaMonica Upton

LaMonica Upton, graduate from the Emerging Leaders Academy, speaks on behalf of her Fall 2016 ELA class.

LaMonica Upton, graduate from the Emerging Leaders Academy, speaks on behalf of her Fall 2016 ELA class.

Comments Delivered by LaMonica Upton, Livable Neighborhoods Liason for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, KS,

On January 11th, 2017

Good afternoon and thank you all for joining us.  THANK you to the University of Kansas Public Management Center for offering such a great program.  To the supervisors, managers, Department heads who thought it was worthwhile to expose your teams to such a phenomenal program.  Noel, I am so happy that it was YOU that lead us in this journey.  Your spirit and passion are reflected in the work of the PMC and they are BLESSED to have you.

ELA friends, what an AMAZING journey we are completing today.  We all travelled to this place via different vehicles.  For some of us it was:

Our turn – our organizations have a simple selection process “Your up next”

Good for your career path – taking a leadership class was a part of your “Goals” or a directive from the powers that be.

This is what leaders do – I should take this class and it will look great on my resume

Kicking and Screaming – Why do I need to do this, I’m not a leader, this is a waste of my time

Horseshack Moment – “Oooh  pick me, pick me”

The bottom line is that WE all ended up in the same place at the same time.  Kismet, fate, destiny, coincidence, fluke, chance or one of my favorite words to use “Serendipity”.

Reflect on these things:   We’ve learned a lot ~How will/can we use what we’ve learned?  ~Will it make a difference?  YES IT WILL!! If YOU use it!

As we move from this time and place to the next adventure in our professional and personal lives, Let’s strive to be Multipliers of professionalism, Unity, and Love and Diminishers of Mediocrity, Self-Doubt and Hate.  Fulfill your dreams of your GREATEST.

Trust yourself “Who you are”, Embrace the fact that you have something to offer

Don’t let others design your life for you, be intentional in finding situations that play on your strengths.

It is not simply enough to be Present!!! Amy Cuddy says that “Presence emerges when we feel personally powerful, which allows us to be acutely attuned to our most sincere selves.”  Our families, friends and communities need US to show up and when we do it gives others permission to SHINE!!!

Thank you

Reflections from Emerging Leaders Academy Graduate: Beth Benfield

Beth Benfield, graduate from the ELA program, with PMC Director Laura Howard, and ELA Program Manager Noel Rasor

Beth Benfield, graduate from the Emerging Leaders Academy, with PMC Director Laura Howard, and ELA Director Noel Rasor

Comments Delivered by College of Professional School Shared Service Center (CPS SSC) Grant Coordinator, Beth Benfield, University of Kansas

On January 11th, 2017

I can’t tell you exactly what happened in the five months, almost five months, worth of class and the connections we built.  I can’t talk directly about everybody in the class and what they contributed but hopefully this will give you a good idea of what went on with us.

The Emerging Leaders Academy brought together an assortment of personalities from diverse employers.  Although each one of us had a different reason for attending along with different expectations, we all shared the desire to improve our leadership.

From day one bonds started to form and we were made to feel at ease.  Remarkable what a little humor and honestly can do, so thank you Gary for breaking the ice and setting the stage.

Whether we struggled or exceled during our sessions, ELA cultivated a learning atmosphere covering old and new topics.  Along the way our perspectives changed, values were solidified, meanings explored and ideas communicated.  Strengths, abilities and accomplishments were shared while being celebrated with jazz hands and hoorays.

ELA has laid a foundation, provided tools and will remain a resource.  We will continue developing our leadership in current and future endeavors.  I for one will miss spending time with such an awesome group of participants and instructors.  Thank you for the opportunities and memories.

What Message Are You Sending with the Signs in Your Public Areas?

“No service without proper ID!”

“No Outside Food or Drink.”

“DO NOT DISPOSE HYGIENE PRODUCTS IN THE TOILET.”

“Absolutely NO PARKING in this area.”

All government offices are filled with people whose work is, ultimately, about serving the public. But some offices serve the public more directly by providing direct service to customers who physically walk in the door.

Unfortunately, not all of the signs posted to communicate with those customers are written with the customer in mind. Instead, many are phrased in ways that highlight frustrations of staff.

While this is true of many businesses, too–just think of all the “NO” signs on the entry doors to some establishments–in those cases the customer is free to go to a competitor. In the case of government offices, the customer probably has no choice but to use that office and that service. When we greet people with signs that essentially say “here’s what we expect that you’ll do wrong and we find it very annoying so don’t,” there’s a huge missed opportunity.

Instead, we could write our signs in a reader-centered way to create a more positive impression of government services and the staff that provide them. Invite your customers to positively participate in what your agency is trying to accomplish.

“Please have your ID available so that we can assist you today. Acceptable ID includes…”

“Please help us maintain the plumbing by not disposing of hygiene products in the toilet.”

“Your patronage of our concession stand helps pay for pool maintenance.”

“We’re sorry you have to wait in line. If you use this time to make sure you have these 3 forms prepared, it’ll help us serve you more quickly.”

“Public parking is available behind the building.”

Once you’ve assessed the messages you’re sending to the public, you might also review the signs posted for staff and see whether some new wording might improve the tone of the workplace.

Is Your Standardized Correspondence Reader-Centered?

In planning the curriculum for the business writing class I teach, I reviewed George Searles’s text, Workplace Communication: The Basics, a book that I found to be very readable and very helpful.

Searles offers many terrific lessons and a great deal of succinct advice. But there was one “aha!” tidbit in particular that I found to be profoundly important for those who represent the public sector in their communication. That tidbit was the idea of reader-centered phrasing in one’s writing–that is, phrasing that focuses on the reader’s interests and knowledge rather than the writer’s.

For example, a listing of office policies and contact information may indicate that “We don’t take phone calls after 3pm on Wednesdays.” With reader-centered rephrasing, this becomes “You may reach us by phone until 3pm on Wednesdays.”

Where the first statement is likely to elicit a frustrated sigh and perhaps a knowing statement made to a friend about the expected work ethic in a government office, the second is unlikely to even give the reader pause.

It’s amazing the difference a few words can make, isn’t it?

Compare: “We cannot process your claim because you did not submit the required forms,” with “We will process your claim as soon as we receive the required forms.”

If this latter statement also includes a second sentence listing what those required forms are, so much the better. Perhaps this information was shared in a previous communication, but when it takes only 20 seconds of your time to list itagain, you gain that much additional goodwill from the reader. Just imagine yourself as the recipient and you can see the difference it makes.

Heaven knows that goodwill from citizens toward government offices is something it would behoove us to cultivate any chance we get.

Now, it’s one thing to resolve to use this sort of reader-centered phrasing as we go forward responding to inquiries, applications, and the like. But what about all those templates you use to streamline your communications: the files you open, change the name of the recipient, update the date, and send to print? What about all those form letters used by your colleagues?

I invite you to pull out one of the letter or email templates you’ll be using in the next week and review it for any opportunities to revamp the sentences to be more reader-centered. Then share any changes you made in the comments below!

Using Our Readerly Impatience to Become Better Writers

A strange disconnect seems to exist between how we see email when we’re the writer and how we see it when we’re the reader.

As readers, most of us are impatient. We’ve got a hundred other things to do with any moment of our time so we want things to be, as a professor friend likes to say, concise and precise. Opening an email, we are unconsciously thinking: Give me the relevant–and only the relevant–information, get to the point, tell me if something’s expected of me, and stop.

But most of us, and I certainly include myself in this, seem to forget our experiences as readers as soon as we step into the writing role. When it’s our information about our project, we want to make sure we include all the details to make as strong a case as possible for whatever we’re sharing and whatever we need.

The trouble is, our main point can get lost in all those details. Our readers find themselves needing to invest extra effort in finding the heart of the matter because we didn’t clearly highlight it for them with the written equivalent of a flashing neon sign. They may or may not make the investment.

And because it’s so clear to us what we’re asking for from people, we may not notice when we leave out a clear statement of expectations, request, or assignment complete with specific requirements and due date.

It’s a similar experience to what we may have experienced after asking our spouse to put dinner in the oven. It’s so obvious to us that this dish should be covered that we may not think to say so–only to arrive home to a dryer-than-intended meal and a spouse who assumed that if it needed to be covered we would have said so.

Before getting frustrated with others for not doing what we believe we asked them to, it’s probably worth taking a look at our written request to assess whether the information about the request and the deadline was clearly outlined. Sometimes it will have been. But other times not.

It might become easier to leave out some of the details we see as so important when we remember that leaving them out may mean that the recipient will actually read our message, while including the details may mean that the wordy email doesn’t get read at all.

What habits have you developed to make sure that the necessary information is included and the unnecessary details are not? Share your tricks in the comments below!

Twitter: a stand-in for opinion polls?

Check out this CNN story about a study by Carnegie Melon University indicating that “sentiments expressed via the millions of daily tweets strongly correlate with well-established public opinion polls, such as the Index of Consumer Sentiment (ICS) and Gallup polls.”

The full report of the study hasn’t been released yet, but it’s interesting to think that the twitter comments about a city or other government agency might be a reasonable representation of the views on an issue.

3 Things to Understand About Social Media as a “Communication Channel” for Governments

Many experienced public sector managers recognize that there’s something important in all the hype about Facebook and Twitter and the need for agencies and governments to embrace their use. But, for those who are not users of social media themselves, it can be a struggle to understand exactly why it matters as much as it seems to.

Fortunately, The Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania recently published a fabulously thoughtful and interesting report on social media and local government that offers as good an explanation as I’ve ever seen about what social media do that’s different that might help you or others in your agency truly get your brain around the value of Facebook and Twitter.

A very useful suggestion is that we should stop worrying about making sense of terms like “web 2.0” and instead think of social media as communications channels that have “a different set of rules and habits than traditional types of news and broadcast media.” From here the report outlines three points that are at the heart of these different rules and habits.

1) Social media are typically interactive rather than authoritative. Social media like Facebook and Twitter facilitate conversations rather than one-way announcements. Much of the value is provided by users who respond and recommend them, often in near real-time. A city’s Facebook post about bad potholes after a winter storm, for example, might be enhanced by user comments that detail where, exactly, the worst ones are so that other drivers can watch out and so that the city knows to fix them.

2) Social media are personal rather than institutional. Users exercise great discretion over their personal “channel”,
subscribing to only the information they want and ignoring the rest.

3) Social media tend to “narrowcast” through networks rather than broadcast. The Fel Report notes that even a large government social media audience is small by the standards of radio or television broadcasts (the City of Topeka, for example, has 120,000 residents and only 550 followers on Twitter). But, importantly, “social media facilitate a more voluntary, interactive, and symmetrical relationship between an agency and its audience, and the right message can travel extremely quickly through these networks to the general public.”

Far more quickly, it should be noted, than an announcement posted on a city’s website. A “tweet” or a Facebook update is pushed out to interested users who, if they find it relevant or worthwhile, will “share” it with their friends or followers on these sites, some of whom may then share it with theirs. This is in stark contrast with an announcement to an agency website that will only be found by those who happen to visit the website while the announcement is posted.

This also contrasts with “e-government” portal sites for the same reason: users are required to visit the portal in order for it to be useful. With social media sites, however, I get updates from my city as I catch up on new photos posted by my sister and what’s happening with my friends from college.

For professionals used to drawing a pretty thick line between their personal, professional, and public lives, this can be a new and peculiar concept. For many of the citizens you’re hoping to engage, however, nothing could be more natural. And it’s this fact that makes social media so important as a communication channel.

What benefits has your organization seen from using social media?

A few easy ideas for more efficient email communication

In an office where I used to work, there were several dozen staff. At least a couple of times each week we’d get emails sent to the whole department with the name of a staff member in the subject line, but nothing more: “Jane” or “Joe.” Each of us then had to open the email if we wanted to see the news about Jane or Joe–Jane was running late, Joe was still sick with the flu, etc.

Those extra seconds each of the staff spent opening these messages don’t seem like that big a deal–until you add it up. Together we spent many minutes of time each week, time that was in short supply, to find out something that could have been communicated in the subject line: “Jane is running late, will be in by 10am.”

This is one example of a less-than-optimal use of email to communicate; other common examples include blank subject lines and a disconnect between the email subject and the message content. This March 31 post from the Business Writing Blog offers good advice for why making sure the subject line is in tune with the message is important.

Since so many of us learn to use Outlook or other email programs on our own these days, I find that lots of people aren’t aware of many features built into it–like being able to change the subject of an email when you reply. What are your favorite time-saving or organizing tools in your email application?

Inconceivable! A handy guide to commonly misused words

As I recently told the participants in our Emerging Leaders Academy, grammar, punctuation, and word use issues may not be a big deal to you. But for many of the people who read what you write, they are. The people who pay attention to grammar, punctuation, and wording issues can’t not pay attention, and they cringe a little when they see writing errors.

The goal of this post is not to make you self-conscious about your writing. It’s to suggest that it’s worth brushing up on some of the basics to make sure that you’re creating a positive impression of your abilities with what you write.

With that in mind, I direct you to a practical and entertaining post on the Copyblogger site: The Inigo Montoya Guide to 27 Commonly Misused Words. Did you know you might be using “less” when you should be using “fewer”? Afterward or afterwards? Compliment or complement? (This one gets me every time.) The Inigo Montoya Guide offers direction on these and 24 other word use issues.

Are there words not on the list that you commonly see misused? What words have you had to correct your own use of?