This fall, Renee Bourdeaux draws on her expertise in psychological research and her experience as a college professor to offer tips on building strong relationships with academic colleagues. In addition to applying her academic knowledge, each week Renee will also offer a prayer and a practical exercise to help build community in academic settings. Read Post 1 here.
Meetings. Meetings. Meetings. I don’t think that I have made it one week of my career-life without some type of meeting at work. Prior to the week I crafted this blog post, I attended a meeting to interview a potential colleague, a meeting with colleagues over lunch, a meeting about strategic planning for the university, a meeting about curriculum development (I am a pro at those lately), and a meeting to explore organizational functioning. Even though the content of those meetings may not have always been earth shattering, I did enjoy the meetings. I truly liked each and every one of those meetings because I got to hang out and connect with my colleagues. Meetings provide an opportunity for me to talk with my colleagues about our shared experiences at our university.
Symbolic Convergence Theory (SCT) (Bormann, 1982, 1985, 1990, 1994; Bormann, Cragan, & Shields, 1996, 2001) may help to explain why I (and many others) enjoy these collegial connections at meetings. SCT explains that members come together in a group and talk to make sense of their common experience. During this group conversation, members share emotions, motives, and meaning, which then leads to the group feeling more cohesion. SCT suggests that by simply talking with each other during group meetings, we make sense of the commonalities that brought us together for the meeting in the first place, and this communication actually causes the group to become a stronger, more close-knit group.
Although this communication theory itself is somewhat complex, the principles are simple. In a meeting, we must venture beyond the task at hand to also talk about our shared experiences when we come together. By sharing how each of us experiences the group, we not only learn more about each other, but according to SCT, we also strengthen our group’s identity and our motivation for being together. One simple way to accomplish this is to make time in your own schedule to either come early to a meeting or leave late from a meeting so you have time for conversations with others.
C.S. Lewis, in The Four Loves, said, “Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .” When people talk about their shared experiences in a meeting, they often realize they are not alone in experiencing the ups and downs of work. These honest conversations connect individuals to each other, in addition to helping the group develop a stronger sense of purpose and understanding collectively. To forge friendship and connection in meetings, we must make a commitment to share our experiences with our colleagues so we continue to learn about each other, strengthen our group’s identity, and reinforce our motivation for coming together.
Week Two Prayer: Ever-loving God, you have called us to live in communion with each other. We ask that you help us to openly communicate about our shared experiences whenever we are meeting with our colleagues. Please inspire our words so that we may share the experiences on our hearts so that as colleagues, we may work toward a better, stronger work group. Please God be present in each meeting interaction we encounter this week to guide us and our meeting connections.
Week Two Challenge: In your next meeting, ensure the group dedicates time for members to share and then talk together about how they are feeling about work this week.