Do you belong to a listserv that has gotten out of hand? Do people take things personally and attack? Are misunderstandings abundant? Life and human to human communication can be like that. However, it seems to get worse in email as that critical body language that conveys up to 85% of our communication is absent. Thus, people misinterpret messages. Add groupthink on top of that and it’s no wonder listserves can be a hot bed for contention. To curb contention and increase productive teamwork, here are a few tips to making your listserv communication clearer and smother.
> State purpose of listserv clearly and succinctly in a way that provides an umbrella framework for communication parameters. This purpose statement can be set up as an automatic “signature” that is displayed on the bottom of each reply to reinforce and remind listserv members to make appropriate posts according to the purpose. (e.g. The XYZ listserv is to discuss research, trends, and provide collegial assistance and support to counseling professionals on common practices, procedures, and ethics in counseling along with typical client, classroom and curriculum support.)
> Set-up listserv guidelines (a list of do’s and don’ts) that can be followed by the listserv owner and must be agreed upon before a member can join. This serves as a reminder of what is allowed and not allowed and can be referred to by the listserv owner when mediating a dispute or removing someone from the listserv. Typical guidelines can include items like use of language, political and commercial discussion bans, directives to personal disputes offline, privacy of member information, and references/limitation to Constitutional rights.
> Listserv owners strengthen group communication when they act neutral in disputes. When disputes arise on a listserv, simply remind members to take it offline before it gets out of control and then urge them to respond to listserv with any solutions. This serves as a template for future conflict resolutions. It is also beneficial if the listserv owner does not jump in to discuss the issue, but only serve as a facilitator. This aids the listserv owner’s credibility and neutrality, much like the role of a presiding office in a meeting as described in “Robert’s Rules of Order.”
> For further ideas on member communication, seek out the organization’s by-laws, “Robert’s Rules of Order,” or even the U. S. Bill of Rights. Remember, however, that keeping guidelines simple and flexible is always the best rule of thumb to elicit the beneficial effects of honest and open communication. Also, keep in mind that even a little conflict can serve a purpose and lead to enhanced changes and learning opportunities for members.