Monday, October 31, 2011

A Lack of Communication

PS Magazine Nov/Dec 2011 Issue

"Any problem, big or small, within a family, always seems to start with bad communication. Someone isn't listening" - Emma Thompson

I just returned from a business trip to find ten voice messages awaiting my attention. Eight of those messages were from coaches or skating directors seeking my counsel regarding a wide range of topics but all centering on poor ethical behavior. Some were perpetrated by management, some by parents and few; by fellow coaches… this is not an unusual occurrence. Most Mondays I spend the morning talking on the phone. That being said, eight messages are a little more than typical. I have to reason that as the economy continues to sputter, anxiety among the general skating population grows. Honestly, some of the skating community, PSA members AND non-members alike, are doing whatever it takes to stay in business, regardless of ethics.

There lies the problem. As we have all heard, "Adversity does not build character, it reveals it." It seems in a number of instances it is revealing a lack of character. Why does this happen? This can not be a phenomenon exclusive to the skating industry. A study conducted in January of 2010 by the Police Executive Research Forum reported that 44% of police departments believed that they were seeing an increase in crimes that were directly related to the poor state of the economy…Ok, it’s a stretch from high crime to ethical issues in figure skating but tight funds create bad decisions.

And bad decisions almost always come from poor or no communication at all. The reality as I see it is when times get tough, we stop communicating. A major majority of those problems come from a lack of direct communication. Would you believe something you heard from Sarah’s brother’s girlfriend’s hairdresser who was talking to a client who told her that Jimmie was talking smack about Jamie’s teaching style…really? But this is what I often hear and my advice is almost always to do the following – communicate!

Remove all emotion from the equation
Write down the facts and review
Sleep on it…a good decision today is a better one tomorrow!
Ask for a one on one meeting with the opposite party. Invite a third party as a mediator if warranted
Lay out the issues, again leaving out the emotion…don’t make it personal.
Listen and don’t interrupt
Listen some more
Hopefully come to a resolution that works

Even if you don’t come to a mutual decision, at least you have done your due diligence.

This works when your problem is with the arena as well. Poor communication is not exclusive to coach to coach tribulations. Often a lack of information to coaches from their club or rink management is just as much to blame. Your arena or club has an obligation to tell the coaches what is expected of them; a written “job description” and the policies and procedures of the organization. How can you be expected to follow those rules if you have never seen them? The coach should know what to expect from the arena and vice verse.

There are some other unique issues when dealing with a club or rink. In fact the list is long. Is your rink public or private? Is it a school or co-op? Does the club buy the ice or is it sold by the rink? Each ownership type will have its own style of management and rules to follow.

State laws are another matter. Do you teach in an “at-will” state? According to Employeeissues.com, it essentially means that employers may fire employees for any reasons, no reasons and even unfair reasons, as long as they are not illegal reasons. One thing we know for certain, “He who has the gold makes the rules.”
To cut a long story short, communication is the key to any successful relationship. If you don’t communicate, or even more importantly, make yourself available for communication, you should not be surprised when you find yourself in the middle of a huge predicament.

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