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Communication is not just a core leadership skill; it is also an essential ingredient for leadership success. Effective communication includes speaking, writing, listening, and ensuring congruency between your words and actions so that body language does not send an unintended message to your audience. All leaders speak multiple times each day, so it’s crucial that your message, information, thoughts, and ideas are transmitted in a way that is understood by all listeners and that information is communicated in a caring and honest way. It is important to communicate with listeners in a way that achieves the desired outcome that is, to educate, acknowledge, motivate, or persuade the listeners.


In today’s organizational environment, writing e-mails, presentations, reports, and correspondence to employees, customers, or administrative leadership is a key expectation. All successful writing relies on your ability to understand your audience, being clear in the message you wish to convey and thinking carefully about what information to provide and how best to structure it so that it is easy to understand and solicits the response you are seeking. Many people in today’s technology-centered and fast-paced environment rely heavily on e-mail and text messaging to communicate with others. While these skills are certainly valuable tools for leaders in facilities management, leaders should be wary of using these means as dominant communication modalities. There is absolutely no substitute for the personal phone call or face-to-face interactions with your customers, employees, or leadership. Thus, use e-mail and text messaging judiciously to augment your personal communication style rather than as a substitute for personal interaction because you are too busy or because you want to avoid personal interactions or difficult topics or conversations.

Listening Skills

Listening is the most important of all leadership skills. As a facilities leader you need to get out with your people and your customers and listen to their complaints and suggestions so that corrective action can be taken. As an active listener you’re giving a gift of your time and attention to another person. Focus on responding verbally and nonverbally to the people who are speaking so they know you are listening and understanding what they are intending to communicate. By asking probing questions and restating what you have heard, you are conveying a genuine interest and understanding in what is being communicated.

Many employees in a workplace with declining morale say that all they want is for someone to listen to them. They ask, why try to be creative or to make improvements for the sake of productivity, cost reduction, or quality if no one listens? Why make an effort if they don’t care what I think? In other words, employees will become frustrated if leaders want them to leave their brain at the door. This is why being present to your employees so you can listen to their concerns and respond to their questions is absolutely essential to your organization’s service delivery success and to your effectiveness as that organization’s leader.

Employee Feedback

Employee surveys can provide important feedback and give employees an opportunity to voice concerns about leadership. At times, however, the survey instrument may not provide adequate specifics to act on that feedback. Focus groups within the organization allow employees to explain why they feel the way they do about each of the survey topics. Listen to what employees say and ask for clarity or examples as they speak about specific situations or personal experiences. Employees can be amazingly candid and vocal in this process.

It would be helpful to have someone take notes and record comments so the facilities manager can stay present to the employees and be an active listener. When you are finished with the focus groups, you can categorize the comments into theme areas. Follow up on these themes during employee meetings and ask employees whether you heard their concerns. This process should provide overwhelming agreement and validation with the results. Be sure to keep employees informed about the progress you continue to make.

Body Language

Have you ever been in a situation where you didn’t believe what someone was saying? In other words, you had a sense that something didn’t ring true or your gut was telling you that something was off. Body language is an essential ingredient in effective communication, and it’s crucial that leaders understand that they cannot send mixed messages that is, saying one thing while nonverbal body language conveys something different.

Keep in mind that each person is unique and their signs or signals may have a different underlying cause than the ones you suspect. This is particularly true where people have had different life experiences or where there are cultural differences. This is why it’s important to ask questions to ensure your interpretation of someone else’s body language is accurate and what they intended to communicate.

What Are You Trying to Communicate?


It is important to be able to articulate the message you want to communicate. Distill it down to one or two sentences that convey the intended message, and then write it down. Doing so will crystallize your thoughts, which will result in mental and message clarity. Consider message development: Whether someone reads the message or speaks it at a departmental meeting, the communication should be consistent and accurate. The goal is to speak with one voice on the message points you are trying to convey. If you are communicating complex issues such as flat budgets or budget reductions, parking rate increases, or reductions in the workforce, you should consider developing “talking points” or a consistent script. It is also important to develop frequently asked questions (FAQs) to anticipate the common questions people will ask. These questions should be paired with the answers you will give to your audience or to the media. This approach is also applicable to sharing good news. Examples include an energy grant, an APPA Award for Excellence in Facilities Management, an Urban Design Award, or a LEED-certified building.

In bad-news scenarios, the media often see an opportunity to create a headline news story, so they may contact the organizational leader to respond to questions. Some institutions will appoint a communication expert or spokesperson to respond to these types of inquiries, but on other campuses the organizational leader may become the institutional spokesperson. To prepare for this eventuality, the leader must have his or her talking points, including FAQs, prepared in advance. It is helpful to send the media person a copy of your talking points and FAQs electronically, preferably in a Portable Document Format (PDF). News reporters can be relentless in their questioning, especially when they have a subject on camera and the topic at hand is a bad-news story. Organizational leaders should seek media training, which will expose them to the dos and don’ts of on-camera interviewing through practice and feedback sessions.

Good news doesn’t travel quite as quickly as bad news does. Hence, it is incumbent on the facilities leader to ensure that good news gets the coverage it deserves in publications on your campus. This will require reaching out to editors and reporters at various newspapers, magazines, or newsletters to share your story or achievement. These publications could include Web sites, an alumni magazine, a campus newspaper, a student newspaper, departmental newsletters, electronic media reports, electronic mailings to campus, and listservs.

Who Matters: Who Is Your Audience?


How you frame your talking points and FAQs depends on the audience you are addressing. Understanding your audience is the key to tailoring all your communications more effectively. The message you wish to deliver may seem clear and obvious to you, but your audience may not process the information in the same way as you. Effective communication is not only conveying information; it’s also about developing relationships and building trust with your audience. Online no one knows who you really are, but when you come face-to-face with your employees, students, faculty, customers, and the like, the real you is quickly revealed. Research has shown that audience members”—

  • Would rather hear from people in their group or someone who understands their concerns and needs
  • Are often mistrustful of people from other groups, particularly those they perceive as a threat to their workplace stability
  • Detest defensiveness and manipulation on the part of the communicator

It is important that the leader understands the audience he or she is addressing, tailors the talking points to the topic or issue at hand and to the audience, is authentic in his or her presentation style, does not read the speech, maintains eye contact with the entire audience, and is prepared to answer any question posed by audience members. Making effective oral presentations takes considerable time and effort in preparation and practice, so be sure that you plan accordingly.

Preparing written documents requires the same attention to the audience as does preparing oral presentations. If you fail to tailor your writing for the readers, you risk alienating or confusing them and losing their interest and focus before they receive the message you are trying to convey. Your readers are the most important part of your writing, so keep them foremost in your mind by using the following steps:

  • Clearly state your message and explain your intent and aims when writing the correspondence.
  • Anticipate the questions your reader will need answered. For example, what is the cost of this improvement, how long will it take to complete the work, how does this project compare to other campus-wide capital renewal priorities, what are the risks associated with waiting to do this work or postponing it indefinitely, and what funding sources should be used?
  • Write as if you are talking to your reader.
  • Keep sentences short and well structured.
  • Use an active voice and avoid jargon or highly technical terms.

How Does Your Audience Receive Information: How Should You Communicate to Them?


Distributing your message in the right format is important to reach your intended audience. Not only do facilities leaders work with different constituencies, but within each, leaders also have a wide range of age groups and technological sophistication. With the advent of blogging, podcasts, digital video, social media, and more, facilities leaders need to have the skill set to reach both the pre-baby boomers, the baby boomers, generation X, and the millennial generation (also known as generation Y). It is hard to keep up with communication in a digital world. Facebook and Twitter are forms of social media, which defines as.

“Web sites and other online means of communication that are used by large groups of people to share information and to develop social and professional contacts: Many businesses are utilizing social media to generate sales.”

Generational changes in the workforce continue to expand our need to utilize the most effective way to communicate with our constituencies. One size does not fit all!  To assist in utilizing social media to its fullest, take advantage of the millennial generations’ knowledge and seemingly innate connection to social media outlets to help develop your presence and tools for communicating to a broad audience. ‘Lunch and Learns’ can be a great tool to help share knowledge and familiarity with social media of all kinds to your employees, that have been successfully implemented on campuses across the country.

Equally important to consider is that in facilities operations we have employees who do not have access to, or an opportunity to explore electronic communications.  If you rely solely on the computer to get the message to your employees, you will not be successful – the all-employee e-mail blast may not reach the audience you intend, and thus a very important voice will be missing in the communication chain.  Take steps to bridge this gap!  Developing specialized training programs, utilizing tech mentors to provide one-on-one ongoing support, or simply having onsite assistance for employees can be invaluable when engaging in required computer related activities such as annual benefits selections, employee satisfaction surveys, online job applications, etc.  Remember if you don’t have an opportunity to use a new skill regularly, it is difficult to sustain.

Social Networking

Social networking sites like Facebook have rapidly engaged the millennial generation. For the aging baby boomer, this may be befuddling. However, the sheer growth of social networking makes it something that facility managers should pay attention to, learn how to use, and embrace in our quest to communicate our messages appropriately. Facebook has been used as a valuable resource by the Bike Emory Program. The program director, knowing that a large number of bike commuters were active on Facebook, set up a page and “friend” people interested in commuting, or simply interested in biking. The page is used to share updates and new initiatives about the program, and also is a place for those interested in biking to find each other. It has been used to identify bike commuting partners, as well as activities of mutual interest.

Web Sites

The Internet is the mainstay of electronic communication in today’s environment. The challenge and expense of maintaining an interesting and useful Web presence has grown exponentially, but as anyone who has gone to an outdated and ill-designed Web site will tell you, it is one of the most important vehicles for getting your message out to the public. Maintaining an up-to-date Web site is not something that ‘just happens’ it requires a good deal of persistence and commitment. If you have the resources internally to design and maintain your Web site, that is optimal, but many campuses simply don’t have that luxury, so keeping current is a challenge, at best.

Just about every person looking for information about your campus or your organization starts at your Web site. Reporters researching stories on energy conservation, for example, likely will start with what they can find online. If that information is outdated, you may find your institution’s erroneous data listed in a local paper, or worse, in a national publication.

The reasons for keeping your Web site current are many and compelling. If you have hired students to design and populate your Web page, it is likely that when these students graduate, you will be left with a site that no one else knows much about. Designing a Web site with bells and whistles is great, but it must be maintained to be useful. A simple Web design will be easier to maintain. Even with in-house resources, you need logical Web page organization. Each institution needs to decide how creative and high-tech to go. Even with excellent in-house resources, you need good page organization. Look at other Web sites that you find to be workable. Why is that? How are they organized so that they are easy to navigate? Is their design sustainable?

Written Communication

The most common way we have of communicating is via printed material through your departmental newsletters, university news, the student newspaper, memos to department heads, or through all-employee listservs and the ubiquitous e-mail. It may be best to ask your audience what works best for them. Remember that utilizing multiple methods to distribute your message is imperative to reach the broad audience in a university community. Make sure that all university newspapers and reports are distributed widely throughout the organization. Having distribution racks throughout the facilities operations is a great way for your employees to have access to other issues and activities on campus, and helps them feel connected to the place where they work.

Community Outreach

Community outreach is an important function within facilities operations throughout much of the country. Engaging the local community in meetings and town halls, for example, to share future capital projects, land use concerns, real estate purchases, and construction plans may be an invaluable tool for developing transparency that aids your communication and strengthens trust and relationships. Town-gown relationships, in particular, can be a challenge.

In one example, Emory University has developed a series of quarterly town hall meetings where all our neighborhood civic associations are invited to listen to and ask questions directly of the executive vice president for finance and administration. The university’s relationship has improved considerably since this program and other community initiatives started. Similar in nature to a focus group, these sessions allow for a free exchange of information, and a sharing of ideas and concerns.

Oral Communication

Oral communication is perhaps the most challenging way to communicate in the twenty-first century, but also the most important. Being able to see the people you want to communicate with is a significant aide in ensuring your message is heard. More than half of the message we intend to communicate is conveyed non-verbally, so being face-to-face is important. Holding regular meetings at your facility can give the entire organization an opportunity to receive updates and ask questions. Answers to these questions can be published in a newsletter, which further enables the organization to hear directly from its leadership, and to get answers to any questions staff may have. Employees recognize this level of transparency, which is important to developing trust.

When Should You Contact Your Audience? Timing for Each Level of Communication


Understanding the political environment in which you work is one of the most important aspects of delivering your message. Leaders must be decisive and respond to a situation with authority, but at times it is equally important to develop the conversation slowly, allow for others to hear concerns, and enable others to come to their own conclusions. If leaders issue directives as though the decision were only theirs to make, they will miss out on opportunities to develop the confidence and good judgment of their employees, and will have stifled their growth. Leaders should understand the importance of taking steps toward what they want to see happen, but should allow the process to unfold naturally. By allowing others to reach conclusions, they can take ownership of the results.

Department News

Within a department, always ensure that the supervisor is informed before something is publicized. As obvious as this may sound, the reality is quite different in day-to-day operations. The current pace of work is so quick that employees often respond to tasks immediately and forget to share information with the leaders. Many employees have experienced the consequences of this.

For example, consider how a facility manager would feel if he or she heard of news within his or her own department from a colleague outside the department. If it were good news, the immediate reaction might be positive. But this reaction quickly would be followed with confusion. Why hadn’t the manager been informed about this initiative by his or her own staff? What does it say about an employee who continues to forget to inform his or her manager? Does it suggest that the leader cannot keep up? Does it mean that the staff does not see this level of communication as a priority, even if the manager does?

Nothing is more important than knowing how to manage expectations and meeting them as often as possible. Each university environment is different, and each will have its own hierarchy of communication. It is important to spend time observing your organization, learning who the decision makers are, and understanding their circle of influence.


When working with media, there is more to the timing of your message than just knowing the date and time of a particular publication deadline. Often the question is not whether you can meet a deadline, but whether you want to. Considering whether or not now is the right time is an important leadership decision.

At times, facility managers cannot control the timing of a message going out, but sometimes they can. And doing so with forethought is an important consideration. Before publicizing your message, answer the following questions:

  • Have I told those up the line from me about the issue?
  • Are there consequences of getting this publicized immediately that I’m not prepared for yet? Is there additional work to be done first?
  • Are we ready to answer the questions that will likely follow this announcement or piece of information?

University News

When communicating university news, electronic and social media can be an excellent tool. For example, to control rumors, an online campus newspaper can be used to explain a staff reduction. By publicizing the facts of a sensitive situation quickly, it is possible to manage the fears and concerns of the university community. Waiting to communicate using printed materials can cost the university valuable time. Using electronic media can be a key to success in communicating the right message.

Kinds of Communication


Caring Conversations

Inevitably, leaders will be faced with the need to give people critical feedback on their performance or workplace behavior, discipline an employee, demote an employee, eliminate a position, implement a reduction in force (RIF), or tell people they are not a good fit for their job and ask them to seek other employment. How the leader has these conversations and how he or she conveys the message that needs to be delivered is crucial for organizational success.

Most leaders fear having these difficult conversations because they are stressful and often are emotionally charged.The anxiety associated with this important responsibility often causes long delays between the actual performance deficiencies or workplace behaviors that need to be discussed and the discussion itself. Not giving timely performance feedback robs the employee of the opportunity to fix the problem and erodes your credibility as a leader in the eyes of your other employees. Unlike wine and cheese, bad news does not improve with age.

Learning how to say “no” is an area of communication that people struggle with. In itself, “no” should never be an absolute response to any situation. It always needs a context and explanation so that the receiver can understand where you are coming from.

It is essential to be sensitive, respectful, and empathic to the employee throughout these conversations. Be especially cognizant of what you are saying and how you say it. Leaders who have little empathy are prone to giving feedback in a hurtful fashion. Also, voicing your frustration to the employee or attacking his or her character will usually cause an emotional backlash and undoubtedly will escalate the tenor of the meeting. The intention is to provide the feedback in a caring and respectful way, such that the employee remains whole throughout the conversation rather than emotionally scarred as a result of it. The steps to provide feedback in these difficult conversations are as follows:

  • Prepare your notes and bullet points for the discussion. Be specific and pick significant incident(s) or events that illustrate the problem you are discussing or the reasons behind job elimination. Being vague or oblique in this discussion is demoralizing because it does not give the employee an opportunity to improve behavior or performance.
  • Walk through the conversation mentally and think about how you intend to deliver the message. Consider the array of responses you might receive from the employee and mentally prepare yourself for how you would respond in each scenario.
  • Meet with the employee and give him or her feedback in a simple and straightforward manner. Do not beat around the bush.
  • Tell the person how he or she needs to change performance or behavior and what positive impact doing so will have for the organization. Make certain the employee understands the consequences of choosing to do nothing–that is, it means risking his or her job and career.
  • Reach agreement about what the employee intends to do to change the behavior. Set a due date or a time frame in which to review progress.

A particularly difficult yet caring conversation, for example, could be sitting down with a director-level person and telling him or her that he or she is not meeting performance expectations and furthermore suggesting his or her skill and expertise are better suited to another position rather than the one he or she occupies. Numerous examples and leadership miscues that illustrated why it was necessary to make a change could be discussed, as well as how the person can be successful in another position. This example illustrates another expected role of the facilities leader–getting staff on the bus and in the right seats. On the bus means you’re heading in the right direction and supportive of the leadership vision and direction. In the right seats suggests that your role in the organization is consistent with the skill set and experience you bring to the institution.

Difficult situations, such as RIFs, require the same level of sensitivity to affected employees as the job performance example above. But they also demand that leaders be equally sensitive to the colleagues who remain in the organization. RIF situations raise anxiety levels in organizations to unprecedented heights because employees fear they might be next or worry about retaliation for continuing to exhibit loyalty to affected employees. Remaining employees will want to know why the RIF occurred; how the organization was sensitive to the needs of affected employees; whether there will be more budget cuts and additional RIFs in the future; how decisions about employees were made; what criteria were used to decide who was laid off; what alternatives to layoffs were considered.

Leaders need to be present to their remaining employees immediately after the layoff notifications are made so they can explain the situation and answer these and other questions that will surely arise. Leaders must be honest and consistent with their messaging when giving notice to affected employees in this circumstance and when meeting with the remaining staff afterward.

Crucial Conversations

A team member has just missed a critical deadline-what is being said to him or her? You disagree with your boss but you are afraid to push back with him or her. Top-performing employees are leaving the department because poor-performing employees are being ignored–who do you speak to and what do you say about this situation? Your boss is micromanaging your every move, but you hesitate to speak up. Every organization has problems similar to these, and they play a significant role in the quality of the work environment and work life employees experience day to day.

When faced with these or similar situations, it is quite common to back away from discussing them. It is easy to fear that the situation will become confrontational and that it will cause pain or escalate emotions or problematic behavior. In these situations, usually a lot is at stake surrounding the issue, opinions of the parties are varied, and emotions can be highly charged. Humans are experts at avoiding these conversations. We send e-mails to nearby coworkers rather than speak to them face-to-face. We leave voicemails when we are delivering bad news or trying to avoid contact with someone. We give the silent treatment to a significant other or friend. We change the subject when the topic gets too risky, and so on. Do any of these behaviors sound or feel familiar to you?

Most people in crucial conversations at work or in their personal lives resort to the “fight or flight” approach. This approach describes the way the primitive region of our brain responds to stress and anxiety. Flight in our environments usually means silence or absence. Fight, on the other hand, often translates to pushing, yelling, screaming, slapping, and other forms of violence. To have successful crucial conversations we must shift from how we traditionally have faced difficult situations and conversations to a dialog that encourages the free flow of meaning between individuals. In the book Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler, the authors outline seven tools that can lead to profitable conversations:

  • Start with the Heart. This means starting with yourself and examining the role you play in the crucial conversation, including your real motives. Selfish motives like saving face, looking good, winning, being right, getting even, or punishing the other person will destroy any chance of having a successful conversation. So the first step is to identify and correct your motives. You want ones that are honorable, like learning, growing, understanding, making the best decision, or getting the best result. Keep in mind that “you can’t fake an honorable motive”–none of us is that good at acting.
  • Learn to Look. This involves learning to see any signs that the safety of the parties is at risk from someone in the conversation resorting to either the silence or violence mode.
  • Make It Safe. Making it safe for others enables them to speak honestly and candidly without experiencing negative responses or results from you. If either mutual purpose or mutual respect is violated in the conversation, parties will revert to their flight-or-fight behavior. Mutual purpose means you care about the other person’s goals and they feel likewise about yours. Mutual respect suggests that you each genuinely respect one another.
  • Master the Stories. Being in control of your emotions and recognizing the stories that create emotions in you is the essence of this principle. The concept is that emotions are not passed off to you by others. They are of your own making. For example, we often blame others for making us mad when the truth is we make ourselves mad because of someone’s comment or their behavior. Additionally, once you have created that emotion, you must either find a way to master it or become a hostage to it by allowing it to control your future behavior.
  • State My Path. This principle involves speaking persuasively and not abrasively. In other words, you share your facts and share your story and what you’ve begun to conclude. State your story as a story rather than a fact. Ask the other persons to share their facts and their stories. Make it safe to be candid in this sharing and to hold or express differing points of views.
  • Explore the Other’s Path. This encourages the free flow of meaning. Begin with an attitude of curiosity and patience. Start by asking about the other person’s views. Acknowledge the emotions people are feeling. Paraphrase what you’ve heard to convey that you understand and also that it’s safe for others to voice what they are thinking.
  • Move to Action. This turns crucial conversations into action and results. Turn your conversation into decisions and united action by avoiding the traps of violated expectations and inaction. Decide on who does what by when and agree to a method of following up.

Customer Conversations

Customer conversations take many forms, but all require a sincere interest in what customers have to say and a keen ability to listen, as well as discerning underlying issues, responding appropriately, following up consistently, and then closing the matter. Regardless of whether the customer contacts you or you contact the customer, these steps are necessary for a successful outcome.

As discussed earlier in this chapter, listening is probably the most important skill a leader must exhibit. At times, the words that are spoken appear to beat around the bush and dance around the real issue. Good listeners will seek to understand, ask questions, repeat what they hear, and seek clarification from the customer.

Consider a situation in which a key customer is regularly complaining about service. After looking into the matter, you might discover that your response and action steps were right on the mark, and that the constant complaint is a mystery. In this case, the customer may have an underlying issue that has not been clearly stated. This will require a sharp focus on what really is at the heart of the matter. After digging a bit deeper, you may discover the real issue. Perhaps the customer was expecting a significant savings, but it was not showing up in the financial statements. Their frustration manifested in the form of complaints about service, when the real issue had nothing to do with that. Active listening and asking questions can help you gain an understanding of the real concern, and this will result in more focused dialog to resolve misperceptions.

The foundation of establishing strong customer relationships is built on effective listening and follow-through from the facilities operation. People tend to think that follow-up means to inform the customer when a problem is fixed. Although that is important, it is equally important to make sure the customer receives communication from the beginning and possibly the middle of service delivery as well, depending on the nature of the request. Although staff may know that they are working to resolve an issue, the customers may not, and may be left wondering if their concern fell into a black hole and disappeared. In the absence of good information, people make up stories. In the world of customer service, that is not a good thing for a facilities organization, because inevitably those stories reflect negatively on the service provider.

Nothing as important as face-to-face conversations, and customers value them as much as employees. Whether you pick up the phone to check in, schedule lunch to catch up, or develop a formalized process for gathering information, personal connection is the way to go. Focus groups with eight to ten customers are a great way to gather information about service delivery, what we do well, and what we need to improve. The group dynamic in a focus group usually provides a lot of valuable feedback in a short period of time. The selection of the right facilitator who can listen to the comments without being defensive is key to getting good results from the process. Ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to contribute, asking probing questions, and keeping everyone on track are responsibilities of a good facilitator. A surefire way to call a screeching halt to a focus group conversation is for the moderator to become defensive and not listen to what the customers are trying to say. The result of a poorly facilitated group will be resistance to communication in the future and the continuation of mediocre customer satisfaction rates, at best.

Disney’s approach to dealing with customer complaints is intriguing, and its philosophy is worth instilling in your organization. Disney’s approach is based on the fact that if a customer comes to you with a complaint, you are in the enviable position of being able to correct it. When you correct a situation for a customer, you have gained an advocate and they will tell others. If the customer never came to you, but simply stewed over something that was broken and did not get repaired quickly, you never had an opportunity to make it right or to make a positive impression. This is why we work so hard to train our staff to welcome customer concerns and feedback. Be open to receiving feedback, thank the customer for sharing, communicate your progress, and complete the process. This is how your reputation as an excellent service organization will grow.

Contractor and Vendor Conversations

To meet the demands and responsibilities of a facilities organization, facilities managers must utilize contractors and vendors consistently and often. Although many organizations have skilled resources within their frontline staff, there are always times when someone from outside the university is called in to provide specialized service. It is worthwhile to spend some time exploring these conversations.

The current economic situation has hit the building industry hard and escalated the number of vendors pounding the pavement to round up business. If you are like us, you have several vendors a week wanting face time with you. This can be a significant interruption in your day-to-day work activities if not managed carefully. To better control schedules, designate specific days each week on which contractors and vendors can make appointments to make their presentation. When you receive a call, have the vendor routed to a specific administrative staff person who schedules these half-hour meetings. Walk-ins also can be directed to this established process. It is important to be available for these types of meetings, but equally important to manage the time to meet your needs rather than theirs.

Specific vendors may want to show you a product, which can be burdensome if not managed. Setting up a process to allow frontline analysis of the product can be a way to ensure that your time is well spent. Not every vendor gets face time! For example, a particular vendor of LED lighting systems may want to conduct a demonstration of their product in a building’s elevator lobby. If you direct this call to a staff electrical engineer to look through the material and talk to the vendor, the engineer can determine whether the product has a return on investment or cost-efficiency. This process not only helps with time management, but also engages the expertise of the frontline staff in the decision-making process for the organization.

Much of the information listed above is germane to all facilities organizations, and should be an important part of everyone’s communication skill set. There are different needs and expected outcomes depending on with whom we are in communication, whether a competitively bid contractual relationship, a single project proposal, or a product vendor. Knowing the desired outcome helps determine the direction you take. In all cases, transparency, honesty, and integrity are the fundamental values to maintain.

Executive Conversations

Top leaders in facility organizations are frequently called upon to make presentations to the president’s cabinet, the deans, the ways and means or budget committee, and the board of trustees. Virtually all these presentations are intended to update the group or seek approval and endorsement for a new building site, a capital project, energy conservation, or capital renewal budget requests. Many times you are invited to these meetings to elaborate on a project or respond to questions or concerns the parties may have regarding a proposal you are trying to advance. All of these presentations require excellent oral and technical skills plus graphics to illustrate the chosen site, the schematic design for a new building, a deferred maintenance problem, and the like. The combination of PowerPoint graphics or photographs together with oral explanations and elaboration is crucial to the effectiveness of these executive briefings.

For example, when managing communications with various board of trustee committees, you may meet with the Real Estate Buildings and Grounds Committee. During these monthly meetings, you may make presentations on new campus projects ranging from a $10,000 marble bench to a $1.2 billion health care redevelopment master plan and every kind of project in between. Update them on all the projects under way on campus by using the same combined oral and graphic techniques described above. Trustees were not interested or engaged in the conversation during past presentations done orally without many graphical aides. In fact, they appeared to be downright bored. Use photographs on the active project briefings together with a few oral comments. This approach will engage their interest to the extent that you may now need to be prepared for questions about contractor means and methods on some of the projects.

Transparency and Confidentiality


Transparency is a key attribute of an ethical organization. In an ethical organization roles are clear, responsibilities are defined, rules are understood by all, trust is fostered, fear is eliminated, and situations and/or processes are openly discussed. This kind of environment values individuals’ right to express their opinion and be heard without fear of intimidation. In other words, people are encouraged to voice dissenting points of view, and the organization values that level of openness and that type of dialog among its staff. In the daily business activities of any organization there will be conflicts between when to be transparent and when confidentiality should be the prevailing principle. An example of such a dilemma would be in personnel actions and decision making, where confidentiality must always take precedence. Conversely, full transparency should be expected, required, and practiced when addressing employee performance concerns, departmental reorganizations, hiring new staff, opening promotional opportunities, discussing new policies/procedures, planning for budget reductions, or any similar aspect of organizational life that affects or addresses individuals and/or the common good. Building transparent cultures that make bad news safe to discuss is essential to earning and maintaining a reputation for credible leadership. When it comes to setting the tone for ethical behavior in an organization, all eyes are on leadership. Remember, what leaders do has greater import and impact than what they say.

It is possible to have situations in which a leader must be both transparent and confidential. The following example illustrates that point. In response to a recent budget reduction directive, it was necessary to begin planning for a significant reduction in force. To address this requirement, the director worked with the department’s leadership team and appointed an advisory board of 21 frontline employees representing all the departments in proportion to their employee count. The purpose of this advisory board was to facilitate communication with frontline employees and to assist the leadership team in evaluating departmental policies, procedures, work practices, customer service issues, etc. When the magnitude of the budget cut and its potential impact on employees was known, this information was shared in detail with the advisory board. The leadership team also shared information on the areas and services most likely eligible for budget cuts: areas and services that are revenue dependent, such as project management, interior design, and painting services. The advisory board was then invited to give advice about how to approach the decisions regarding who would be laid off. Its response was to use performance as the principal decision-making factor.

Given this advice, the leadership team developed an assessment tool that would be used for ranking all like positions within a work group using seven different performance factors. This assessment tool information was shared with the advisory board for its comment/input. The next step included review, comment, and input from the supervisors and managers over the impacted work areas. They were asked to independently rank the employees in their area. Those employees with the lowest average assessment ratings would be selected for the reduction in force. The affected employees were notified as quickly as possible that their jobs were being eliminated. Once these notifications were completed, the director met with the advisory board again and shared the number of positions impacted by the RIF and the names of the people involved.

There is no question that walking the transparency vs. confidentiality line is challenging. It takes purposeful decision making and a high level of caring about the people within your organization. We all know how quickly rumors spread throughout an organization, and in a situation where accurate information is not available, inaccurate information is invented. It is probable that there will be greater negative backlash by employees from what is circulating on the rumor mill than what is being shared openly and transparently with them.

This is an example of a tough situation where some key guidelines are illustrated: Always deliver the news in person rather than via e-mail or memorandum; be transparent in delivering as much information as you can at the time you do it; allow your audience to ask questions and provide input; and deliver bad news as soon as you can. Your credibility will be at risk if you wait for the right time to share the news.


  • Collins, Jim. 2001. Good to Great, Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t. New York: Harper Collins Publishers Inc.
  • Patterson, Kerry, Joseph Grenny, Ron Mcmillan, and Al Switzler. 2002. Crucial Conversations, Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High. New York: McGraw Hill Publishing.

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