Sunday 18 November 2007

Safe People, Safe Places, Safe Practices

Organisational Ethos and Self-Disclosure
An agency's culture, or ethos, significantly influences the quality of life of its people.
Personnel also help shape the ethos and the quality of life within the organisation.
Every cross-cultural worker needs acceptable and safe outlets (people, places, practices) to openly share personal and group concerns. Some ways of doing this include spending time with friends and confidants, getting staff feedback from questionnaires, planning meetings where ideas and perspectives can be exchanged, and providing opportunities for confidential counseling. These outlets not only help develop staff, but they are also are real safeguards to prevent poor morale, bitterness, and needless frustration.
An agency's ethos influences the types of outlets that are made available for its personnel. This in turn affects the way in which staff relate personal struggles and express feelings about departmental or organizational practices.
In consulting at different faith-based contexts, we have observed various organizational styles for making self-disclosures. Agency/group ethos becomes a type of monitor, determining what and how comments can be made. This is especially true in group situations. Most agencies/groups seem to gravitate towards one or possibly two styles in particular, although this can change over time.
Style 1--Spiritualisation of the past. The organization is most comfortable focusing on past issues using spiritual terms. Problems are usually only talked about when they have already been overcome. An example is the statement, "I thank God for victory over my temptation last month to rebel against my supervisor."
Style 2--Past focus. Issues are discussed fairly openly, but usually not until they have already been resolved. They are not necessarily spiritualised, yet only shared when it is safe--that is, after the fact. Here is an example. "We were really upset about the decision to decrease furlough allowances, and were privately hoping that it would get overturned."
Style 3--Spiritualisation of the present. Current issues and problems are discussed but referred to largely in spiritual terms. Spiritual concepts may be used as a metaphor to refer to other ideas and feelings. For instance, "This mission station needs to pray more", may mean "I am feeling really hurt that people around here seem to overlook me."
Style 4--Present focus in vague terms. Current problems are mentioned in indirect, general, roundabout ways. Potentially threatening material is kept at a distance. An illustration would be a team leader who states at an inter-departmental meeting, "Its interesting working around here these days" when the real feeling might be more "The Personnel Department's chronic shortage of staff is significantly undermining our team's ability to recruit needed members."
Style 5--Present focus with contact. This involves making genuine, usually direct comments, in which issues, feelings, and reactions are shared promptly. Feelings are seen as vital sources of information rather than stumbling blocks. The result is that everyone involved senses that real contact with each other has been made. "I so appreciate the quality of your work on this project" or "I am frustrated that this agency has an inner circle which makes all the decisions," would be examples.
By and large the healthiest style in which to operate is Style 5, for those with a growing relationship. Well, at least this is true for many personnel from the Western world. We believe this reflects the Biblical admonition to "speak truth and pursue peace with one another" (Ephesians 4:25, Zechariah 8:19). The timing, attitude, and setting for such disclosures are, of course, crucial. It is easy to understand the inappropriateness of giving critical feedback at certain organizational or team meetings. The basic guideline is to edify, not simply express oneself candidly (Ephesians 4:29, Proverbs 12:18). Responsibility always takes precedence over spontaneity.

(Based on “Understanding and Managing Stress”, Michèle and Kelly O’Donnell, in MCare 1992)
Reflection and Discussion
**List three core qualities that are needed for the "safe people" in your life.
**List some organisational/group practices that help or hinder self-disclosure.
**What are some suggestions to adjust your organisational/group ethos--to provide safe outlets for personnel to authentically connect more with each other?

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