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Organizational Consultation XXII: Empowerment (Part Two)

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What about when the meeting is called solely for the sharing of information, rather than for either instruction or inspiration? While meetings are often called primarily for the purpose of sharing information, this purpose is not formally acknowledged, perhaps because most people envision their role as listener to be passive and rather unimportant. Unfortunately, many people do not adequately value the role of listener and do not realize that effective listening is a highly active role, requiring skillful performance on the part of both sender and receiver. Group members also fail to recognize the need for frequent shifting in roles between speaking and listening if information-sharing transactions are to be successful.

While it is true that other modes of information dissemination often are more effective than face-to-face communication, there are occasions when a meeting should be called for information sharing. Reasons for calling such a meeting include:

  1. A specific body of information must be communicated to a specific group of people in a short period of time or must be simultaneously communicated to several individuals (to avoid rumors, distortions, or animosity).
  2. A specific body of information that is particularly complex or subject to misinterpretation (because of its subtlety, emotional tone, or potential impact) must be conveyed to and clearly understood by a group of people.
  3. All of the pertinent information that is available regarding a specific problem or decision has not yet been collected, but can be accessed through a specific group of people. This information is needed in a short period of time and/or is readily misunderstood, given its complexity or emotional tone.
  4. A specific group of people must feel a sense of owner-ship for a specific decision that is to be made or a specific problem that is to be solved, based on information that they now possess or could readily receive.

Perhaps because communication is rarely acknowledged as an explicit purpose for meetings, little has been written about procedures and techniques for making information-sharing meetings more effective. Joan North has suggested that actually there are three purposes subsumed under this one category: (1) communicating information to a group, (2) obtaining group feedback on an idea, and (3) exchanging information among group members. Each of these purposes requires different interpersonal skills and strategies. They all require pre-meeting planning, however, with reference to (1) what information needs to be communicated (or generated), (2) who needs to receive this information, (3) who needs to or should communicate this information, and (4) how should the information be conveyed. We will consider each of these four issues with reference to each of the three types of information-sharing meetings.

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