Some of the GLC Cabinet members attended the American Student Government Association‘s New Member conference in Orlando, FL from July 22-24, 2016. In the following post, you will be able to access some of the key takeaways from the workshops we attended. If you want to learn more about how we will use these tools to better serve the AU Graduate student community, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Below are the overarching themes:
Session 1: Cleaning Up the Dirty Fighting in Your SGA
This session dealt with the inevitable fact of conflict arising in Student Government Associations and the costs as well as benefits that can accrue from conflict. The costs are obvious: disharmony, contention, animosity, and the lack of efficiency and lost camaraderie that results. However, often not highlighted are the possible benefits of conflict: diversity of opinion, value of opening debate to the arena of ideas, and the better outcomes that can result from multiple perspectives. The key is channeling the contention and conflict in a positive direction.
Channeling possibly diametrically opposed energies and viewpoints into a consensus is not easy but is possible. It takes consideration of all perspectives and compromise where necessary and appropriate to congeal a consensus that all parties involved can get behind. It boils down to the following as elicited in the session…
-“in every communication each person has a right to be heard and a responsibility to listen”
-“each has a right to make a request or ask a question, and the recipient has the right to make his or her own decision without apology”
-“being assertive does not mean that you get your own way but that you did what you could to be heard”
-“practicing relation leadership… you would have done best to include their involvement, listen for true understanding and be a productive community member”
When multiple viewpoints are considered, consensus is reached, and collaboration is fostered a truly cooperative endeavor can be brought to fruition.
Session 2: 25 Worst Mistakes Your SGA Can Make
This session treated upon the most common mistakes that Student Government Associations make during the course of a year. The mistakes ranged from the level of the individual, to one-on-one relationships, to the dynamic of the entire group. The mistakes also ranged along multiple thematic lines: financial (being too loose with money or conversely too tight), institutional (focusing too much on constitutions and governing documents), and contextual to the school itself (seeing administrators and other constituencies as “the enemy”).
The biggest thing learned from this session was the one our parents always taught us, “don’t repeat your mistakes,” and hammered it home. We need to learn from the past as far as not “reinventing the wheel” so that we do not expend time that could have been better spent. Another key takeaway is to focus on doing a few events extremely well versus doing a lot of events moderately well. Following through is also extremely important, and links into the previous idea. If you say you are going to do something, do it, and do it well.
Session 3: Conflict Resolution
There are multiple conflicts that can arise, some of which were discussed in the notes on Session 1. They are as follows:
-Different and competing goals/interests
-Mindset: looking for a fight/compromise/etc.
-Different financial interests
-Different wants from processes
And as in the takeaways from Session 1, there are many solutions and potential benefits:
-Better outcomes through debate
-More ideas, more nuance
-Save time by choosing one direction
-Get people on board
-Better understanding of people and their stances
-Mitigates future conflict, opens communication
-Excitement instead of dread
Across the board, throughout multiple conflicts, contentions, and personal divisiveness there is always opportunity for positive outcomes. It isn’t always what you say, versus how you say it. Being able to say and being able to listen to the sentiment of the previous sentence means a lot: intention matters as much as meaning. Getting to the Root Cause of an issue is much more important than treating its surface realizations.
Session 4: Ethics and Your SGA
This session focused on the ethical dilemmas that will arise throughout the course of the year in student government. Issues such as misappropriation of funds, conflicts of interest, and the like are not absolutely bound to arise but are a possibility to be prepared for. Not only are these ethical dilemmas on a personal level, in certain instances they can become professional and legal issues that can negatively affect both individuals in their lives as well as the SGA as a whole.
There are three big questions to ask in situations such as these: Is it legal?; Is it balanced?; How will it make me feel about myself? If the answer to either of the first two is “no” then there is a clear need to either report said unethical activity to the correct authority, and if the answer to the third one is “bad,” “uncomfortable,” or something similar then there is a clear need to desist in whatever action is being undertaken.
Session 1: Who said there’s no I in the team – Vicky Owels, Ed. D(www.drvickyowels.com)
Objective of the session:
To learn about your personality so as to understand the work environment you are likely to be comfortable in. Also this helps to identify the areas of self-improvement This is imperative to work better in group settings.
Tool used: (a) Myers Brigs Test:
We answered a set of questions about making decisions, commitments, meeting deadlines, intent of helping others, drawing conclusions step by step or based on feelings, preference for planning or acting spontaneously, for ideas or facts, interest in meeting people or being alone and so on.
We analyzed the responses and identified following basic characteristics of humans based on how one acquires energy. Different combinations of these characteristics result in 16 type of personalities viz. ETSJ, ISTJ, INFJ and so on.
- Introversion (I): Loses energy in a social setting but they are great in smaller group situations/family
- Extroversion (E): They have a lot of energy. But they cannot be E’s all the time. They will revert to I.
- Intuitive (N): Story tellers
- Senses scale (S): How you view world through your senses.
- Thinkers (T). They want to be fair
- Feelers(F). They want to make all feel good but they can think
T and F help make decisions.
- Perceiver (P). Do not organize and plan.
- Judging (J): Super organized, the Doers. In SGA we need J’s.
Some are fake J’s. You plan but don’t execute it because several other things get priority.
P and J: We need a balance of P and J. They go with the plan but they don’t always need a plan.
To understand how different personalities interact in a group, a simple game was played between the introverts and extroverts. The task was to balance plastic straws. It was observed that introverts absorbed directions from extroverts however they were not vocal about their inputs.
- No one is an extreme personality. Some have characteristics that lie in the middle of the scale.
- This test is useful for academics, career choices, relationships, working in teams. Everybody must find out about the environment they are comfortable in.
- We could stay the same or our personality may change because we go through different roles over time. However, overall we remain the same. The intrinsic qualities do not change.
Note: Those interested can appear for the Myers Brigs test:
- Send an email to Vicky Owels at email@example.com with subject line: Myers Brigs test or
- Facebook: Look for Vicky Owels and take the test online through her Facebook page.
Session 2: Origins of War: Communication, miscommunication and everything in between – Rasheed Ali
Tools used: (a) Demo 1:
A volunteer made a sandwich using instructions communicated to him by other students. Following flaws and lessons were learnt in the process:
- We assumed that the volunteer already knew what it took to do the job.
Lesson: Don’t assume. Leader is not the frame of reference. Everybody’s background/ where they come from is different.
- Too many people gave instructions and they were not clear.
Lesson: As a leader, you should know what you need, the level of specificity and must be clear in communicating these needs.
- People who were giving instructions knew different ways of making the same sandwich.
Lesson: To duly consider different approaches and use the best fit.
- Nobody from the audience volunteered to show the person how a sandwich is made, simply gave instructions. Nobody thanked the volunteer after the task.
Lesson: A leader leads from the front. Step in to demonstrate how a task is done.
A leader is effective because of his/her team. Appreciate them.
(b) Demo 2: Students were asked to describe the weather. Everybody came up with different levels of specificity.
- Reason for different level of specificity among people is because things are relative
- 3 primary ways to process information: By sight (Visually), Feeling (kinesthetically) and hearing (auditory). If you miss any of these methods, you are missing vital information.
- Understand how you process information. It will help to conceptualize, tie together concepts and work better in group environment. E.g.: Some like visuals or speaking out aloud for communication.
- Understand how does the rest of the team process information. E.g.: Sport coaches do a demonstration for their athletes.
- You should sell your vision and ideas in the manner others process it. At times, opposite person may not be impressed with the information you give. E.g.: You may be conveying pictorially but he must be a kinesthetic individual.
- Revaluate your strengths. Reposition yourself to something you are not used to. At times, it may not work for you but communicate it accordingly
- In meetings: Either be a facilitator or an active participant. Help everybody focus, draw their attention. Ask questions like how do they feel about xyz idea? Make sure everybody thinks in a certain way about xyz.
- Communication using a projector is a supplement/an enhancer. However, be prepared to communicate without any tool.
- Kevin hart, an actor, comedian has rightly said, “7 % is communicated by what you say and 55 % is by your facial expressions/demeanor.
- Observe body language in a group. If you see somebody uncomfortable in mannerisms, it is your duty to ask them if they are alright and help.
Session 3: No more drama: Conflict resolution the “right way”
Conflict situations that may arise in student governments:
- Government split into smaller groups. One group shoots down ideas of the other.
- Forcing others to confer to your ideas.
- Time conflict.
- Non agreement.
Conflict resolution: It offers endless opportunities for everyone:
- Saves time
- More gets done resulting in concrete projects
- Leads to harmony and more respect among each other
- Helps trouble shoot problems by joint efforts
- Helps recruit more students making the government functional
- Other students would be excited to join the student’s council as they will perceive it as a positive experience
- Helps in character building which has applicability in the corporate world.
Pet – peeves and pop-ups:
- These are the root cause of conflict. We are conditioned to relate an action to a behavior.
E.g. If one does not say thank you when you hold a door for them. Based on your thought process, some may confer this as a rude/ an inconsiderate behavior.
- Unconsciously this idea pops up and one takes that adjective to a higher level.
Key Takeaways: To stop conflict from taking root –
- Manage the pop ups. Don’t be judgmental.
- Restorative justice. Consider what is going on with the person in question. The person in the example above may have a family emergency to attend to. People may have difficulties that are not apparent on the surface.
- Analyze the reason for your pet-peeves so that you don’t end up creating a conflict.
Demo: Discussion of a conflict situation where you were proved wrong.
- Knowledge can change
- Give others a chance to explain.
- Collaboration achieves much more than Competition.
- In general, people are not mean even though they may come across that way.
- Always consider your role in the conflict. You must do your part correctly.
- There is more to a person than what you see. It is important to have empathy towards others. Self-actualization and self-sacrifice is very important.
- You must connect with people who you are working with.
- In order to reach consensus in a group: Discuss with group members about their needs, its importance to them. If the other person cannot figure out his/her need, allow them few days to figure out details and to get back with their need. This way you help others and also find a way out.
In a nutshell, a culture in an organization happens by choice or by chance.
Session C: The Gift & the Curse: Young, Talented & Overextended
This workshop was quite interactive and forced everyone to list all of their obligations. Once this was accomplished, we were forced to prioritize and figure out what we could cut out to make sure we were able to give everything on our lists our all. The moderator asked us to move away from a cycle of overcommitting and instead move toward efficient modes of delegation if possible. He asked us why we were spread so thin and pointed to an overarching theme: we do not trust anyone else to do the work & because of it we overcommit.
Key Takeaway: We have to learn to trust our team so that not no one person is forced to overextend themselves. Building trust within the GLC is essential to our work.
Session J: D.E.L.E.G.A.T.E.- Just Do it!
This workshop revealed that it’s necessary to have a clear & consistent vision that plays to officers’ strengths and to be inclusive of co-creation for buy-in from the rest of the SGA. Good delegation saves time, develops your time, groom a successor, role of leader is to motivate & develop people not just manage the process. Poor delegation on the other hand causes frustration and de-motivates. The process includes defining the task, engaging individuals on the team, listens, explains, gives boundaries, agree or disagrees, trains as needed and eases off.
Key Takeaway: This workshop pointed to the importance of S.M.A.R.T. goals through the following: Specific, Measurable, Agreeable, Realistic & Time-bound.
Session M: Moving On: Tips to Avoid the “Terrible Turnover”
This workshop allowed us to vent our frustrations as many were coming into these positions without much orientation. Luckily, previous GLC left us in way better positions than most of the folks in that room- some of which had no overlap with their counterparts or had to start from scratch. The workshop emphasized the importance of preparing now for a smooth transition in the future which included starting a selection process at the beginning of the Spring semester not at the end.
Key Takeaway: We should definitely continue the retreat next year for new GLC members so that they start to get to know one another and build trust. We should also have a swearing in ceremony- we can invite distinguished guests and the moderator revealed that the level of school administration that attends indicates the level of seriousness of our SGA.
Bonus Workshop: How Your SG Can Connect With Students: Survey Them!
Essentially, this workshop pointed to the importance of understanding what the student body needs from us through surveying them whether in person or via online tools like Survey Monkey. They stressed the importance of finding ways to reach out to them because they will not seek us, we need to seek them & ask them the right questions to obtain what we are looking for & improve how we can be of best service to them.
Key Takeaway: This workshop pointed to the importance of having face to face contact with our student body and I think that moving our offices to a more accessible location will certainly help both increase our visibility and access on-campus.
Session P: Do the Right Thing: Ethics & Your SGA
This workshop had a number of different case studies to observe how we viewed different ethical situations. Interestingly, everyone had an argument for a different path but clearly communication here was vital because what may appear ethical and/or logical to one member may not necessarily to the next member.
Key Takeaway: We have to hold each other accountable and hold ourselves to the highest standards