Agricultural Communications, Purdue University
An electronic newsletter with communication tips and information

December 1996

From the "On Target" Team

Teamwork--a communications issue if there ever was one--takes center stage in this issue of "On Target." So, besides the latest "Grammar Trap," you'll find articles on the why's, how's, and wherefore's of teams and team building, all drawn from presentations made at this year's Extension Annual Conference.

And please be on the lookout soon for a reader survey we're going to be sending to find out what you think of "On Target." We want to know how often we are "on target" with our topic selection and story quality--and how often we're not. In other words, we'd really appreciate it if you'd help us with our aim.

Happy Holidays!

Grammar Trap: I vs. Me, Two

September's "Grammar Trap" discussed using "I" and "me" in compound constructions. Choosing between the two pronouns can also be tricky in shortened sentences, where part of the sentence is implied instead of stated.

Take the sentence "Sam likes Mary better than I." Is that correct, or should it be "Sam likes Mary better than me"? Well, it depends on what you mean.

Example: If you mean "Sam likes Mary better than I like Mary," the correct answer is "Sam likes Mary better than I."

Example: If you mean "Sam likes Mary better than he likes me," it's "Sam likes Mary better than me."

Helpful Hint: When in doubt, fill it out. That is, in a shortened sentence, fill out or complete the thought. Then you'll know which pronoun to choose.

If there's a grammar trap you'd like us to discuss or you have a tip that will help the rest of us avoid a grammar trap, please let us know.

Take Time for Teamwork

Teamwork and team building have been the topic of retreats and meetings such as the recent Extension Annual Conference--and for good reasons.

The process of exploring, or, for some, re-exploring, teamwork issues helps us find better pathways to solving problems. We all struggle to balance the amount of effort we put into team work with our other obligations, but the struggle's worth it.

At Annual Conference, Hank Wadsworth pointed out that a team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. Teams can bring a higher level of energy, allow a wider perspective to find the correct solution, and enhance the quality of our work.

Hank's observations set the stage for what was to come.

We also heard from three teams that have gone through the pains and shared some successes: Dietary Guidelines Issues Group, Integrated Resource Management Team, and the Design Team for Home-Based Micro Business. Team representatives Susan Barkman (4-H Youth), Byron Fagg(Washington County), and Barbara Rowe (CFS) generously let us learn from their experience.

Here are some pointers from their presentations.

Assert Yourself

At Extension Annual Conference, Taggart E. Smith, from the Department of Organizational Leadership, shared some observations and tips on assertiveness.

Why do we need to be assertive? Assertive people get more done in less time, are more creative and more honest. They take responsibility and get along better with coworkers.

But what IS assertiveness? Different people offer different definitions. Smith likes to define the word in terms of action.

Assertiveness is ...

... acting in your own self-interest.
taking the initiative in organizing activities
trusting your judgment
asking for help from others
setting goals and working to achieve them
... standing up for yourself.
saying no
setting limits on time and energy
responding to anger or criticism
supporting or defending an opinion
... expressing feelings honestly, comfortably, without anxiety.
agreeing or disagreeing
showing anger, affection, or expressions of friendship
admitting fear or anxiety being spontaneous
... exercising personal rights.
acting competently as a member of a work group
expressing opinions
working for change
responding to a violation of your rights and those of others
... upholding the rights of others.
avoiding unfair criticism of others
avoiding hurtful behavior toward others
avoiding name-calling, intimidation or manipulation
not trying to control others

Lead, Follow, & Succeed

In his session at Annual Conference, Organizational Leadership's Rodney Vandeveer explained that, in an effective team, leadership is a dynamic, fluid process in which different members of the team take the lead at different times. Thus, everyone leads at times and follows at others. Vandeveer thinks that this kind of synergy is the catalyst that transforms potential into action.

Vandeveer stated that trust is especially important in the process of leadership and outlined these suggestions for building effective teams.

Vandeveer also pointed out that we frequently overlook the opportunity to celebrate our successes. All too often we move on to the next project without congratulating ourselves for a job well done.

He offered these pointers for us to follow.

Confront Conflict in the Workplace

According to John Lillich, chief administrative officer with the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board, getting people to work cooperatively in the workplace is a sensible goal. "Too many people say they can't keep the peace, so they keep score." He said being up front about the need to work cooperatively is THE best approach. Based on his own experience, he heartily endorsed confronting any warring factions in the workplace and doing whatever is necessary to get them to cooperate.

He discussed the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument. This instrument assesses an individual's behavior in conflict situations. Thomas and Kilmann define "conflict situations" as those circumstances "where the concerns of two people appear to be incompatible." In such a situation a person's behavior can be measured "along two basic dimensions: (1) assertiveness, the extent to which the individual attempts to satisfy his own concerns, and (2) cooperativeness, the extent to which the individual attempts to satisfy the other person's concerns." Managers can use this instrument to interpret employees' behaviors and point them to more effective ways of dealing with workplace conflict.

Lillich noted that the five `conflict-handling modes' identified by the above researchers are competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding and accommodating. He said that collaborating is really the ideal behavior and that compromising behavior is "blah," leading to nothing productive.

R.E.L.A.T.E. to Your Team

Dr. David Frantz, a minister from the Richmond, Indiana, area, gave a seminar during Extension Annual Conference on interpersonal communications. Here's a brief overview of his talk.

The success of any team is based on the relationship between the degree of output and the degree of skill within the group. The interpersonal communication that takes place with the team, in turn, is based on how we R.E.L.A.T.E. to our fellow team members.

R-espect team members' ideas, even if they do not agree with yours.

E-quip yourself with materials and facts needed to be a good contributing member.

L-isten to others and their ideas with an open mind.

A-cknowledge the right of others to disagree.

T-rust your instincts because they are generally correct.

E-mpathize with your team members. Try to understand how and why the feel a certain way.

To be able to relate, we must develop four skills. First, we must be able to use authority without power. This means using influence, NOT power, to get our point across and to develop common commitment and ownership.

Second, we must recognize individual and shared accountabilities. This means picking a common objective, clearly outlining the individual and group tasks, and rewarding collective efforts (in other words, celebrate our successes).

Third, we must recognize that we all have unique personalities. We need to value different styles and approaches; examine "patterned responses," responses that may be based on things like emotions rather than on content; identify strengths of other members; and acknowledge the different status and abilities of the team members.

Finally, we must maintain a fine balance between the people and the process. To do this we must start by eliminating the lowest common denominator in the problem-solving process. This will eliminate the easiest answer and will result in a better, more creative solution. Additionally, we must confront difficult members directly and spend time developing relationships while managing the communication process.

To see just how good our interpersonal communication skills are, we need to evaluate ourselves by asking the following questions.

The challenge is now ours.

We want to hear from you. Do you have a communication question? Do you have a comment on this issue of "On Target"? If so, please e-mail any of our writers.

It is the policy of the Department of Agricultural Communication Service of Purdue University that all persons shall have equal opportunity and access to its programs and facilities without regard to race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age or disability. Purdue University is an Affirmative Action employer. These materials may be available in alternative formats.