|Susan's Tip of the Month: Beware of Mental Conversations
We all talk to ourselves. That's fine as long as we remember that we are taking both sides of the conversation and so are really only hearing one point of view: our own! Sometimes mental conversations can help us to take successful action by anticipating someone else's reaction and rehearsing our response. But if we manage to talk ourselves out of doing something, we may be giving ourselves bad advice.
This is especially evident in recruiting new volunteers. A prospective volunteer needs to be asked to become involved, but one of the biggest mistakes we make is not actually issuing an invitation to the people we most want. Why? Because we have mental conversations in which we effectively say "no" for the prospect.
It's important to aim high for the best volunteers. This may mean engaging a company CEO, a university professor, or anyone well-known in the community. Too often when we identify a great, top-choice person who is super qualified for a volunteer role we want to fill, we get cold feet about asking him or her to join us. In our heads we picture ourselves explaining the need and then - in our own voice - start thinking:
- S/he will never want to do that (or come here).
- S/he is much too busy (or important) to want to volunteer with us.
- I am not important enough to get his or her attention to invite them.
- I'll bet they get a hundred invitations like this all the time.
Of course, if you talk yourself out of giving the person the chance to consider your volunteer opportunity, you cannot ever snag them for your organization. Not because they said no, but because you did!
A variation on this theme is deciding, all by yourself, that no one will ever want to volunteer on a Sunday afternoon (and so you don't even plan an activity for that time, even though the clients would love it). Or being certain that no one under the age of 70 will be interested in a quiet activity or that no one over 70 will agree to communicate by texting. Until you speak up and ask, you cannot be sure and you risk missing some wonderful opportunities.
Mental conversations can also work against us when there is a problem involving a volunteer. Before we even give the volunteer a chance, we are thinking:
- S/he is going to be really offended when I say something.
- What do I do if s/he stomps out...and then calls the executive director?
- I'm so much younger (or less experienced) than him or her, why would they want to listen to me?
- S/he is going to tell me that we've always done it this way.
It may require a bit of courage to open a real dialogue with the volunteer, but why anticipate hostility or resistance? After all, talking together can uncover many other things. Maybe the volunteer has been dissatisfied for a while but did not know how to open the subject with you or really wants to move on to something else but didn't want to leave the organization in the lurch. Maybe you'll discover that the situation is not what you thought it was: rather than the volunteer being at fault, some other factor has caused a problem, whether that might be another volunteer or employee, a change in procedures, new equipment, or whatever. A real conversation can therefore lead to a course of action that's mutually acceptable.
The sooner you get the conversation out of your head and onto the table, the less a problem will fester and grow. Address something done wrong the first time it happens, when your comments will be heard as helpful feedback or even training.