What this is about
Tips and hints for people running gay groups and campaigns.
Interpersonal and organisational skills are important, not just at work but in everyday life, but are of vital importance to activists and to anyone wanting to complain about something or trying to improve things. The better you are at interpersonal skills, the more effective and successful you will be. The best way of upgrading your skills is by getting on with something and doing it. There is no substitute for experience.
This page contains key learning points for useful skills for people running or taking part in groups. These key learning points have been contributed by people who lead their respective fields and provide real insight into why successful people are successful.
Building teams and relationships
Here are some guidelines to help you successfully build teams and relationships with other people.
Do your homework
Keep your promises
Develop a solid work and action plan
Get the word out about your efforts
Build on community contacts and efforts
Create a structure that works
Enlist trusted leadership
Sell the issue
Manage conflict successfully
Recognise the value of different peoples’ contributions
Agree who will speak for the group.
Communication and persuasion
Here are some tips on communication and persuasion.
Have a clear idea of what your responsibilities are. What is your role? What are you trying to do? How do you expect the person in front of you to help you? What do you want them to do for you? What is the minimum outcome you will accept from them?
Maintain the right level of optimism about what you want and the belief that you can make a difference and hard headed realism of what you are likely to achieve.
If you use your own experience as a basis from which to speak with you can be a persuasive person.
Get the right information to the right person at the right time.
People make different decisions if they know they are being watched.
Effective communications key points are:
Identify the issue.
Cite a personal connection or describe its local impact.
Use key facts to support your case.
Make a specific ask.
Say thank you and request follow up.
Most of that advice was centred on us communicating our thoughts to others. But from time to time people ask questions and sometimes we may not know, or be able to instantly recall, the facts, to give the person the quality of answer they are entitled to receive from us. In these circumstances, to avoid making an error and saying something you later regret, it is best to ask them what the facts are, and listen very carefully. Then choose your words carefully. Even better, ask them to submit the facts to you, and to meet you again, so you can discuss the issue with them. That creates an opportunity to increase your support base.
Another thing to remember when communicating with people – including other gay men, bisexuals and lesbians – is that you may know what you mean, but they may not be familiar with some of the terminology and language used by gay people, or they may not be as intimately involved in an issue as yourself, as aware of gay history, culture and organisations as yourself. So whoever you are speaking to, it is useful to get a feel for where they are and phrase your communication as clearly as you can and they need so that you all understand one another and can agree outcomes.
One of the main jobs of speaking is to persuade people. The better the speech the more likely it will impress people. Analysis of the greatest speech of former President Kennedy – the famous “ask not” speech – reveals six reasons why the speech was so effective. The speech contained:
Contrasts: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”.
Three-part lists: “Where the strong are just, and the weak secure and the peace preserved”.
Combinations of contrasts and lists (by contrasting a third item with the first two): “Not because the communists are doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right”.
Alliteration: “Let us go forth to lead the land we love”.
Bold Imagery: “The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans”.
and finally he (and/or his speechwriter) analysed his audience and worked out the best way to persuade them.
Coping with changes
Changes happen all the time. Some people are completely knocked off their feet when there is a major upset or change in their life. Other people seem to cope with it and adapt quickly to the new situation. Which type are you? Which type would you prefer to be?
Know what you want from the change, How can you benefit or profit or increase your stature as a result of this change?
Know your new situation. What are the extents of the change? What will it impact on in your life, and by how much? What problems does this create for you? What opportunities have been thrown into your path by this change?
Know others who can help. Has any one in your family or among your friends or business acquaintances been through this change? Can they tell you about their experience and how they coped? Is there a group of people going through the change you can join so you don’t have to go through the change on your own?
Look after yourself. You are going to need all the resources at your disposal and your health, strength and energy are important resources. Make sure you are eating and sleeping properly. Have some treats if you can. Have some things to look forward to.
Leave the past behind. The past has gone, and you are in a new present now with a new future in front of you. There is no mileage in the past but it is important because it is such a valuable part of you.
Usually people go through a cycle of moods or stages while they come to terms with major changes. You may recognise which stage you are currently at, or remember feeling like that the last time you went through a major change in your life. These stages are:
Testing the new situation
Searching for meaning
So be proactive. Accept the change and benefit from it!
Creative thinking and innovation
Here are some tips on creative and innovative thinking.
Think outside the normal boundaries that surround problems and issues.
Are assumptions being made? Challenge them.
Is there any blinkered thinking? Can you introduce new perspectives?
Develop and adapt ideas from different people or sources.
Having a wide attention span and range of interests helps you become more creative.
If ideas work in one area, can they work here?
Can you use unexpected things which happen to your advantage?
How does your mind work when you are analysing, valuing and creating things? Can you improve it?
Sleep on problems and see if you think of things while asleep.
Have somewhere conveniently to hand where ideas can be written down so you don’t forget them. You could set up a page for these ideas in your diary or organiser.
Find similar models in nature, other products or services, but avoid re-inventing the wheel.
Make the strange familiar.
Make connections between points which appear at first to be unconnected, disguised, outside your expertise or authority.
Suspend judgement while you are creating. Let your ideas flow naturally.
Put a problem to one side and come back to it – ideas might emerge later.
Expect a degree of uncertainty while things clarify.
Be curious in yourself about everything and develop your skills of observation, listening, reading and remembering.
The main barriers to creativity are:
fear of failure;
lack of quality thinking time;
over-conformance with rules and regulations;
making assumptions; over-applying logical thinking; and
thinking you are not creative. You are!
Customer focus is one of the hardest things in activism; but if you regard all the people you have to deal with as customers and treat them with respect, hopefully they’ll respect and pay attention to you. It usually works. Here are some useful tips on customer care.
People are at the heart of everything you do and strive for. By focusing on what satisfies customers and building that into your approach and methods, when you do campaigning, letter writing or deal with someone, you can make sure you are effective and they are more likely to respond positively.
A survey by the Office of Public Service Reform in 2004 focussed on the critical factors that ensured customers were satisfied with a product or service offered. The percentage figures are the number of customers who said it was the most important factor for them.
The key factors were:
Delivery (30%) – the final outcome, the way promises are kept and issues are handled.
Timeliness (22%) – the initial wait, how long things took start to end, number of times the service had to be contacted.
Information (18%) – accurate, comprehensive, kept informed.
Professionalism (16%) – competent, customers treated fairly.
Attitude (12%) – polite, friendly, sympathetic with the customer.
In other words be professional and friendly, keep promises, do what you say and do it effectively.
Here are some tips on delegating. Some people find it very hard to delegate. These tips are tried and tested.
Delegating tasks to other people stretches them and gives them a chance to learn and get experience, so when you delegate you are investing in people.
Before you delegate something ask yourself whether it really is necessary.
If it isn’t, cancel the task.
Fact finding, preparing drafts and reports, analysing problems and coming up with suggestions are good things to delegate.
Delegate things which are outside your normal skills or experience.
Have a plan for delegating. Don’t give out assignments haphazardly.
You should never delegate performance reviews, hiring or firing and the like.
Delegate doesn’t mean abdicate. You’re still responsible for the task’s completion and managing the delegation.
Delegate the end objective, not how it should be achieved.
Outline the desired results.
Delegate to the right person.
Ask for progress reports and agree how these will be done.
Spread delegation around, encourage everyone.
Get feedback to see how they are getting on with you as a delegator.
Delegate the authority to make sure they don’t keep coming back to you for decisions.
Give praise and feedback at the end of the delegation, and then additional responsibilities. The person you delegated to has earned them.
If you are delegating the control of money held by your organisation, put in place a set of controls to protect you, the organisation, and the person handling the money, so that you know at all times that all money is accounted for, properly spent, and properly authorised. This sounds at first that you are not trusting the person you have delegated the task to. In fact you are providing that person with security because the checks you put in place are designed to protect that person while they are doing that task, especially protect them against any allegations of wrong-doing. There should also be an independent review of the finances by someone selected by the members of the organisation to audit the accounts. Your members, supporters and officers deserve nothing less.
Listening to people is probably one of the most important skills there are. Really listening to people means you really understand what they are saying, and can ask better questions of them to find out even more; also, the person realises that you are really paying them attention, and feels more confident and valued.
Here are some guidelines to help you really hear and understand people.
Deal with any emotional disturbance.
Reduce or eliminate distractions.
Like the speaker.
Focus on what they say, not who or what they are.
Don’t relax. Listening is active, not passive.
Be aware of speech lag – the mismatch between the speeds at which people listen (up to 400 words a minute) and speak (up to 120 words a minute).
Practice makes perfect.
Here are some tips on setting goals. They were originally designed to help people stop smoking.
Set realistic goals. Try to make goals which you should be able to achieve. Then try to stretch yourself a little bit.
Visualise. What will life be like when you have achieved the goals, what do you want to be like, what do you want to happen.
Be positive. Don’t have negative goals, don’t dwell on the things that go wrong or the people who let you down, focus on the things that go right and build on that positivity to give you more confidence to be successful.
Here are some pointers for handling issues of conflict between other people.
The main conflict handling methods are:
accommodation (you do what they want),
avoidance (you side step the issue or withdraw),
collaboration (you work with the other person and agree solutions between you), confrontation (you get into a power struggle with the other person), and
compromise (you find a middle way with the other person).
If there is conflict with someone it needs to be resolved and the best way to resolve it is by having a positive outcome in mind. The usual method taught is the Conflict Handling Framework of clarify – identify – access – recognise – plan – implement strategy.
Clarify – what is the persons attitude, what is the conflict about, what is the person saying, what is the person not saying, and what does the person want?
Identify – Whose claim is the greater? What is the nature of the claim? Who has more to lose?
Access – what are the pressures on the person? Does the person have a problem with their self esteem? Are there any other social or organisational pressures at play?
Recognise the persons strategy – is the other person accommodating, avoiding, collaborating, competing or compromising with you?
Plan your strategy – do you recognise the other persons strategy? Which one will you use?
Implement your strategy.
Including transgender people in your organisation
The US National Gay and Lesbian task force have published (this link downloads a pdf) guidance on making organisations more relevant and inclusive to transgendered members of our community. They identify nine key activities:
1. work toward full integration at every organisational level,
2. recruit a broad range of trans people,
3. create a welcoming environment,
4. deal with prejudice,
5. acknowledge past mistakes regarding trans inclusion,
6. have trans-inclusive programming, services and advocacy positions,
7. understand transgender experiences,
8. understand ones’ role as an ally,
9. have fair employment practices.
We all know what it is, but putting “Leadership” into words is hard. Then I heard a sportsman define it perfectly. He said: “A leader shines a light so that other people can follow him.”
Now you know exactly what you have to do in order to be a leader; but while some leaders succeed, others fail. You often hear them blaming everyone but themselves for their failings. Leaders also have to be accountable, not only for the money they spend, or their actions, or indeed their ideas, but for their successes and failures. If someone is wriggling and trying to avoid blame, they are not a leader. They are a failure, and every time they fail they will find it harder to lead and succeed.
Leaders also have to be informed, and have trusted deputies who want to be led and will not only do the tasks for them, but also provide information which is trustworthy and credible back to the leader so he knows he is going in the right direction and can make those little adjustments to his plan and idea and make sure he succeeds.
People are not fools and they will not follow every person who knocks on their door and says, “I am a leader, follow me.” They will question and challenge the potential leader and make up their own mind whether to be led. Fortunately I have first hand experience of watching a leader leading and I saw why people will follow that person who stands out as a leader. They do it because they love him. The leader is probably completely unaware of that until it is suddenly revealed to him one day when he suddenly needs their help and leadership, and without being asked, they are there and it is there, unconditionally.
Leaders who have successfully led a major change in an organisation or achieved a major change in society usually reveal that the time spent in initially persuading people and getting them on their side and supporting them was significant and probably the most important step in leading people through a change. ‘Leaders’ who are not being followed wholeheartedly are not leading at all.
So anyone can be a leader, there are really no special skills or secrets to it, you just have to be yourself, shine a light, and keep checking.
It’s also worth considering the difference between a manager and a leader. A good manager does things right; a good leader does the right things. Think about it.
A further insight into leadership comes via the executive of an airline. His maxim is: “Companies don’t grow. People grow.” That shows that the good leader realises that the most important asset he has is the people he is leading.
Here are some tips on making decisions.
Define the objective.
Evaluate the options and decide.
Implement the decision.
Monitor the consequences.
Sense the effects.
Review, and learn from, your decision and its outcome.
Here are some tips on how to motivate people.
Be motivated yourself.
Select highly motivated people.
Treat each person as an individual.
Set realistic and challenging targets.
Remember that progress motivates people.
Create a motivating environment.
Provide fair rewards.
Running a focus group
Here are some tips on running a focus group and making sure it is a success.
A ‘focus group’ is a panel of people who are asked to give their reactions to something, or maybe brainstorm or test-run a subject or product. Here are tips on running a focus group successfully.
Probably the most important feelings to engender are confidence and trust. Don’t invite too many people – 12 to 16 will get a good spread of views and reactions.
Select a quiet and private venue.
Suggest an agenda for the focus group meeting – try to focus on one or two things.
Suggest terms of reference for the group. These should include; the meeting is being held in a private and safe place; your privacy is respected; all contributions will be anonymous; everyone can speak their mind in safety; everyone’s contribution is equally valuable.
Open the meeting in a professional manner and ask if the panel would like to make any changes to the agenda or terms of reference. Then get them to agree them.
Welcome all contributions and ensure everyone has their say.
Look for anyone unsure of themselves or holding themselves back, and support them.
Summarise the views expressed and points raised, and draw up an action plan to deal with any outstanding issues. Only make promises you know you can keep.
Agree the action plan with the panel and agree how you will tell them of the follow-up, and when.
Thank everyone for coming and for all their help.
Stick to your promises.
Writing fact sheets
A good fact sheet:
Describes the problem or issue using facts or data to support the claim
Describes a proposed solution and the top three or four arguments in favour of your decision
Responds directly to the main arguments against your decision
Lists key supporters and partners
Lets you leave something that can be referred to after you’ve gone and gives you something you can refer to in your meeting if you get stuck.
Some tips on writing things down clearly:
Be human. Write as if you are talking to another person.
Know your audience. Common sense really but often forgotten. Keep what you write appropriate.
Don’t use jargon.
Use verbs in an adventurous fashion, to create interest in your writing. Verbs are doing words and people like to do things.
Try to entertain because it helps your reader to identify with you and help you.
Jot things down and examine what you have written critically. Does it say what you meant to say? It is always better to take a little time and look at it again rather than rush into publication. That way you can avoid omissions, errors, and misunderstandings.
Gay Activist is always pleased to receive further insights, suggestions and tips at any time. Feel free to send us your comments and suggestions.
National Gay and Lesbian task force Opens a pdf
Coach for skills
Links checked 30 March 2013
Proof read 30 March 2013