When carrying out community engagement it is likely that you will come across attitudes and actions which discriminate and exclude particular groups of people – you will find this within communities and amongst colleagues. It can be hard to know what to do – challenge or ignore and thereby collude?
Batari’s Box (below) helps to demonstrate the cycle of communication: if we want to change a situation, the point of change is with our own thoughts and feelings. Changing how we think or feel about something affects how we behave. We have an element of choice through raised awareness!
Can you think of a situation when this approach would be helpful?
Imagine… You are a youth worker, doing some engagement work with kids, hearing a load of prejudicial comments around sexuality; instead of jumping on them and judging them, you could think what lies beneath their views and change how you respond.
Imagine you are in a community meeting and people make comments about immigrants coming over here to take our jobs – you can choose to say nothing which means that you could be seen to agree, which could strengthen their viewpoint. Alternatively, you could point out that you don’t agree and offer another viewpoint. This could change how others think and feel about that issue. Although it may not change a thing, at least you have done what is in your gift.
The important point here is that the only things we have control over are our own thoughts, feelings and behaviour. These are our tools for change.
Giving constructive criticism or feedback
The most important thing to remember is that to focus on a particular behaviour/action or an opinion, not criticise the whole person. The following are useful guidelines:
- Have good intentions: be clear about your own motives; criticise in a spirit of respect and a desire to make positive progress
- Be concrete: avoid generalisations and vague statements; concentrate on behaviour and action; if necessary give examples of what it is exactly that someone has said or done that you are criticising
- State good points as well as bad ones – this can be a useful opening and make it clear that you are not criticising everything they have said or done
- If appropriate, describe your feelings clearly: criticism and disagreement often comes with a lot of feelings – anger, frustration, guilt, resentment, bitterness etc ‘I’ statements are important here – I feel, I think, I believe, I would like etc. Don’t risk exposing feelings though, if you feel the other person will take advantage of you
- Listen to their explanation
- Say what you want to say: this is important, whether it is about a change of behaviour or a change of mind; explain your reasons