Assuming the Best in Others: Communicating with Members and Volunteers

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One of the most rewarding parts of working with an association (in any capacity) is meeting new people; knowing you’re making a difference and contributing to something bigger than yourself. That being said, dealing with new people, or even long-time members can be daunting. Am I coming off dry? How many exclamation points are too many? “Am I being too detailed?”. We are all human, but with technology generally being our main point of communication, so much can be left up for interpretation. Here are a few tips for successfully communicating with members and volunteers.

Mirroring Communications

80% of communication is non-verbal, so when we can’t rely on body language and facial expressions to interpret someone’s communication style, we must “read the room” by following contextual clues. Your best bet is to mirror the person you’re communicating with. If you’re speaking with a volunteer with a very clear objective, beating around the bush in your response will likely not be well received. If you’re on the phone with a member who appears to want to chat, chat with them! Always do your best to be professional, approachable, and personable, but when someone lays the groundwork and showcases their communication style, they’re essentially giving you the keys to a successful conversation.

Assuming the Best in Others

Picture this: you woke up late, spilled coffee down your new white blouse, forgot your laptop at home, and you have a huge presentation tomorrow morning; you likely have a lot on your mind, and you’re likely pretty stressed. You quickly write an email to the association you volunteer with saying you won’t be able to make the online chapter meeting this evening, knowing you just have too much to do. Send. While you know what your day’s been like, being on the receiving end of that email might look a little different. The receiver of that email might think a number of things, and a number of them might even cast a negative light.

The moral of this story is simple: your interaction with most people will be a fraction of their day, and you have no idea what the rest of their day looks like. So much goes on behind the scenes in life, it’s sometimes hard to give people the benefit of the doubt. I encourage you to always assume the best in others. Assume their quick or dry email is not a direct reflection of their opinion of you. Assume someone means well, even when their use of language seems the opposite. Assuming the best in others will allow you to not dwell on negative interactions, and will give you a better chance to build positive relationships with members and volunteers.

All in all, when communicating with anyone in an association, your best practice is to maintain a professional, personable attitude, and to check in with yourself often. “Could this person be having a bad day? Maybe this isn’t about me.” Assume the good in others, and you can make the most out of your professional interactions, no matter what you’re faced with!

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