Regional Youth Cooperation Project: How can we ensure good communication and motivate our team?
September was pretty busy for us – after an online coffee with Relja Dereta and a workshop with Dasha Spasojević, the participants of the regional project “Transforming the Region One Conversation at A Time – Inspiring Youth Cultural Cooperation” met online for another workshop. This time it was Nikola Veličković from Gi Group, our main education partner, who assisted participants to tackle the subject of communication in a team and how to handle it in an assertive and respectful way.
After the introduction part where participants briefly presented their projects and teams; shared their ideas, goals, and plans, Nikola led them to express challenges they are facing in communication. It is evident that all the adjustments within the project were pressuring for all of us: changes in work-life balance inevitably affected other plans and combining schedules showed as one of the greatest challenges. Then, the burden of the fact that many things are uncertain and that activities are only online results very often in a lack of motivation.
As Nikola says: “Having in mind that we all come from different backgrounds and with a different understanding of how things should work, can help us find a common ground”. This is especially challenging in the situation we are all going through this year, where most of our contact is online and on different platforms. So it is not surprising that we have new obstacles in communication but keeping these facts in our minds can help us lower the expectations and prevent extreme stress.
One thing that can be highly overwhelming and that can even prevent us from being the most efficient, is responsibility. This term has a strong meaning – ever since childhood, we were taught to take responsibility and act with responsibility. But, now, specifically in the “new now” with work and meetings online, this term carries a lot more weight in the context of teamwork. But in order to redefine it, as Nikola suggests, we should approach this term from two perspectives: taking responsibility can be viewed as sacrificing for the team and carrying all the burden or as a reason to get a certain reward at the end. Even though these two are correct, they are not the only two dimensions to it: we should take responsibility, but willingly and voluntarily, for ourselves and our own good. The responsibility itself should give meaning to ourselves, our work and bring additional value to the work, the team, and to us at the same time.
What can help us take responsibility or understand our responsibility for a certain work is estimating the time that we plan to dedicate it. Although it seems easy to give a rough estimation in the number of hours, translating them into days can then leads us to the question of why? Why are we ready to dedicate that much time to this? Figuring out the answer can help us find the purpose and understand our needs, motivation, and meaning, which then can give meaning to our responsibility and work.
For a better understanding of responsibility and the effect it has on us, we should think about something that we did really well and that made us proud of ourselves. We will understand that, most probably, it was challenging, we took responsibility, and it made us extend ourselves in order to achieve it. Actually, every time we have a feeling something is meaningful: we take responsibility for it, extend beyond what we think is possible, and get the feeling of meaningfulness. However, in terms of teamwork, this can be really demanding.
Speaking of the responsibility in the team, you might have experienced situations where everybody is hesitant to take responsibility. In psychology, this is known as the Bystander effect, and it has to do with the responsibility division – the more the people, the lower is the chance that someone will take action and change things. One example is climate change – simple awareness of the fact that our individual efforts won’t make a great change, demotivates us from taking responsibility for our actions, when in fact on a larger scale it can really change things for the better. Working in teams is the same – responsibility is very often not equally divided. It can easily happen that one person takes the responsibility for the whole team. Delegating and communicating tasks clearly may help the team be more effective and work more equally.
Another important thing in working together is the difference between role and job. While the job consists of tasks that we agreed upon and that help us achieve the common goal, the role has something more to that. The role consists of the things we do that make our contribution to the team really specific. For example, our job can be to do research and gather data, but our role would be to share useful fun facts to keep the team spirit high.
In order to understand better our job and role, we should ask ourselves two things:
- What are the things that I do really well that I can do to help this team?
- What is that I want from this project/life/work experience?
If we struggle to answer these questions, we can take 10 minutes and write without stopping and making simple bullet points. We should not be afraid to sound selfish when we question ourselves about the things that we are hoping to get from a certain situation or project. Answering this can motivate us and give us purpose.
This type of questioning things is also useful on a team level. After each member wrote answers, exchanging them can help us build trust and figure out together what do we want from the situation and where are we going as a team. Ensuring honest communication in this manner creates a safe space and encourages all team members to be brave enough to express themselves and to accept what others bring to the team.
When it comes to communication in a team, ensuring one where all members feel good and free to express themselves is shared work. We are all different and have different reactions and boundaries in communication. In order to achieve what the team aims for, we should know how to communicate our intentions in the most productive way. What Nikola suggests is to always try and apply the assertive way of communication.
Assertive communication is a way to express ourselves and our feelings in a confident manner. If we define first passive communication – where we put the needs of the other person before our own and aggressive – where we think only about our needs and what we try to achieve. Assertive communication is the golden middle between these two extremes. In assertive communication, we are fighting for how we feel without attacking the other person, but making them feel good instead.
Assertive communication sounds great, but if we are not, that experienced in it, we may be puzzled about how to do it. There are three techniques that can help us:
- Use requests, not demands
Try saying: “Please do finish this task as soon as possible. Is that okay with you” instead of “I want you to do this as soon as possible”
- Providing an explanation on why do we need something
Try giving any reason. For example, if you need to wait when you are in a hurry, rather say: “Sorry can I go first I am in a hurry?” Even though it may not be that strong of a reason, it gives us some reason, which is very often enough to do something and increases our chances to get to the goal – finish that task as soon as possible and not be late for the next thing.
- “I speech”
The first step is to always take one step back and think before we speak. If we react fast we are more likely not to articulate things effectively and to make the other person feel unsafe and attacked. Then, that leads us to express our feelings in the so-called “you speech”. For example, we are more likely to say:” You didn’t tell me that earlier”, instead of “It is really important to me to have all the important information in time”. The other option is what we call “I speech”. In the “I speech” we do not emphasize what the other person should or should not do, and we avoid using imperatives that can lead to exaggerated reactions and refusal to listen and cooperate. Instead, we are moving the focus to how we feel, and use rather impersonal expressions such as it would be better to, it is important too, etc. In this way, we avoid making the other person feel attacked, and we are more likely to establish a good atmosphere and continue the work.
If you worry that assertive communication sounds too nice, do not worry, it is just a way of expressing what is important to us and how we feel without attacking the other person. We are still firm and direct but in a non-aggressive way.
Articulating our thoughts and impressions is extremely important in the environment of online meetings and virtual exchange. We do not have an opportunity to meet face to face that often, and to exchange energy and read body language which gives additional meaning to our words. Assuring that we talk in a way that enables us to transfer important messages while taking into account the feelings of the other person can take us a long way.
The Creative Mentorship is carrying this project through together with Rruga me Pisha Foundation from Albania and OKC Abrašević from Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the support from the Regional Youth Cooperation Office – RYCO WB.