Communication (Rick Curtis)

This material is the Group Development and Leadership Chapter from the Outdoor Action Program Leader’s Manual written by Rick Curtis, Director, Outdoor Action Program. This material may be freely distributed for nonprofit educational use. However, if included in publications, written or electronic, attributions must be made to the author. Commercial use of this material is prohibited without express written permission from the author. Copyright © 1995 Rick Curtis, Outdoor Action Program, Princeton University.

Types of Communication

1. One-way Communication – giving instructions or making announcements to the group who are not allowed to communicate. The listeners are passive and the communication effectiveness is determined by how the messages are created and presented. It takes less time to communicate info but is less effective. Though less frustrating for the sender, it is more unsatisfactory for the receivers. [Assigning a Task]

2. One-way Communication with Feedback (coercive or directive) – the leader presents the message and the group gives feedback on how they understand it. Exchange is completed when the group members indicate to the leader that they have received the message correctly. Called coercive because no provision exists for mutual influence or exchange. The communication begins with the belief that the leaders’s position is correct and that the only information s/he needs form the group is that they correctly understand and accept the message. It is faster than two-way communication and less frustrating for the leader but also less accurate and more frustrating for the group members. [Teaching a Skill].

When one-way and one-way with feedback are used, communication can be so poor that informal communication among group members is necessary in order for them to complete the group’s tasks adequately. Unless members have the opportunity to communicate freely with the leader, the informal network may become more influential and effective that the group’s formal network. It also may lead to fragmentation and factionalization if the group members have different ideas.

3. Two-way Communication – is a reciprocal process in which each member starts messages and tries to understand the other members’s message. The leader and the members freely exchange ideas and information in a productive discussion. Both sending and receiving skills are needed. All members are able to participate at will, minority opinions are encouraged and more apt to be expressed. Feelings of resistance or doubt can be discussed and resolved at the time. Two-way communication encourages open interaction, distributed participation and leadership, and consensual decision making. Although it is much more time consuming and more frustrating for the leader, it is less frustrating for the group members and much more effective in the long run since the experience of all group members is brought to bear.

Sending Messages Effectively

  • Clearly own your messages by using “I” language. (See Leadership Concepts below).
  • Make your messages complete and specific.
  • Make your verbal and nonverbal messages congruent.
  • Be redundant.
  • Ask for feedback concerning the way your messages are being received.
  • Make the message appropriate to the receiver’s frame of reference.
  • Describe your feelings by name, action, or figure of speech.
  • Describe other member’s behavior without evaluating or interpreting.
  • Acknowledge how the other person is feeling.
  • Make sure that your body language communicates your attentiveness to the person. You should be looking at them, have a focused body posture, etc.

Receiving Messages Effectively

  • Paraphrase accurately and non-evaluatively the content of the message and the feelings of the sender.
  • Describe what you perceive to be the sender’s feelings.
  • State your interpretation of the sender’s message and negotiate with the sender until there is agreement as to the message’s meaning.

Leader’s Radar

Leader’s radar is all about listening and assessment. It means being attentive to all of the members of the group, including your co-leader and yourself. From a safety perspective, it means being aware of increasing Accident Potential (see Section 10). From a group dynamics perspective it means being aware of how each individual member of the group is doing emotionally, physically, are they being challenged, under stress, getting along with others, in conflict, etc. It also means having a sense of the group as a whole. How well are they interacting and cooperating, etc. All of this “information gathering” is for you to determine what each person needs from you in terms of education, support, encouragement, being left alone, etc. Leader’s radar is made up of concrete listening skills, conversations with your co-leader, careful observation, and intuition. As you develop this skill through actual trip leading experience, you will be better able to determine what roles and steps you should take in working to facilitate a positive group experience.

[Category: Leadership Skills|Communication]


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