It's so simple, isn't it? Communication, that is… It can be, I suppose, but it's often unduly complicated. Heck, even when I try to communicate to myself I can make it difficult.

Just today I tried to decipher a note on my daily planner. "Who's Kevin Shannon, and why am I supposed to call him at 8 a.m.? I wonder where that area code is? Here goes nothing…"

It's when Kevin answers the phone that the light goes on. But still, why do I do this to myself? Would it kill me to write a more in-depth note to myself?

At least in this case I can trace the problem to its source. At the time I wrote the note I knew exactly who Kevin was and why I was calling him, though I had just spoken to him for the first time minutes before I wrote the note to myself to call him at 8 the following week.

The next thing I did was pack for a week-long trip. I left the next morning in my usual haste, and in between my departure and tired arrival seven days later, my immediate memory of speaking to Kevin had vanished.

The realization that even "internal" communication can be faulty teaches me two important lessons (I hope).

First, I shouldn't be too harsh when I receive rather unclear messages from others. Instead of reacting compulsively and rejecting the communication offhand because it's unclear, I should redouble my efforts to understand and seek clarification.

Second, I need to think my communication through more thoroughly before I send it. Follow-up goes hand in hand with this second point, because follow-up demands detail.

Having been on the outside looking in as a volunteer or participant in a sports league, for instance, I can tell you from experience that follow-up and detail are extremely important.

Those on the inside of an organization can easily fall into the trap of subjectivity where those outside the organization are expected to understand, innately, how it works, when the meetings are held and what -- exactly -- they're supposed to do.

Communication is often a quick, nebulous e-mail or voice mail with no personal attention or follow-up. No wonder there are mixed feelings about working with volunteers… Those volunteers are often at a disadvantage right off the bat, which creates the self-fulfilling prophecy that volunteers won't work to expectations.

Especially with volunteers, it's a good idea to create clarity and redundancy. Make sure they know all of the parameters and include a personal touch -- whether it's a phone call or an in-person meeting. We all know what happens when we assume.

Please keep in touch and let me know how we can improve our communication as the year progresses. We're looking forward to hearing from you, and working with you.


Regan D. Dickinson