Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The way to interdependence and open communication

Are we a burden to our local colleagues instead of a support?

During the last virtual meeting between several Young Professionals working abroad, a new interesting topic came up, addressing the fear of overburdening our local colleagues, that all of us seem to recognize somehow.

Where does that feeling come from?
We tend to feel very responsible for the progress and results of our labour, taking initiative where we can – always keeping in mind the need for sustainability. We are not here to create dependence, in fact, we want the contrary – we would like the local people to do their work on their own, maybe inspired by us.

At the same time we might see lack of structure, of communication, of financial possibilities – so we take an observing, analysing, suggesting, interfering and sometimes resolving role.
Maybe this gets to a point when we feel guilty of repeating the needs for regular meetings, a more structural approach of activities, better communication between the organization members and so on. When our advices are not taken into account, we might feel that we have crossed the line of being an inspiration to being an irritation; overburdening our colleagues.
How do I find out if this really happens – or is it just in my head? How can I handle the situation if a colleague really feels that I'm a burden?

Be connected, young people in Honduras

Some ideas of my junior colleagues all over the world were the following:

* Make things explicit: Ask what people expect from you and even ask whether they feel as if you are a burden to them. You might find out that it is only your feeling, yet others don't really see it that way.
* Do not give up on being an inspiration: Keep on observing and asking questions openly, instead of giving advice directly – try to connect to the priorities of the organization and contribute explicitly.
* It is useful to do an evaluation and ask people what they remembered most during a certain period of time, for example in the last year. How do they look back on your contributions?

Time for reflection and evaluation

* Let go, if asking questions does not work. You've tried and shown your initiative.
* Trust your own observations and analysis to see what your main contributions can be. When you find these, and people see its value, the feeling of being a burden might get less.
* It is not necessarily bad to play the “policeman” and to keep reminding your colleagues about agreements you made. They might even appreciate it, especially on a long term scale.
* Make a point of working in the weekend: Even just stating the importance of having some personal time for relaxation or private activities, might eventually lead to a reflection of your colleagues.

I personally would aggregate the question to ourselves, if we ever feel that someone is a burden to us – and under which circumstances. If it is that way, we should address this feeling and talk about it openly with our colleagues. Maybe this could clarify any mutual feelings or assumptions and generally relax the working atmosphere, especially because in most of the cases I think that the feelings would be based on assumptions and personal preoccupations instead of real conflicts.
In my time here in Honduras, I sometimes had the idea of being a burden to my colleagues with all the activities I wanted to evolve around, through and with them – while they had hardly time to settle down at night, with all the work they had to deal with.

In the end, not all the activities written in my plan could be carried out as they were proposed, but I showed my intentions repeatedly, which seemed to be very appreciated by the direction and members of Arte Acción. While first I was the one apologizing for asking over and over again for attention, now they apologize for not having dedicated all the time and space needed in order to accomplish with all the established goals in our plan.

I have come to the end of my time here and I feel that all people who have taken active part in my intervention, including myself, did the best they can. In the end, everyone realizes that the idea is to work together – in a constant “interdepence” - being conscious that through open communication and relying on each other, we can create a small change within this society.

Johanna Pohlman
Young Professional Togetthere