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Its 38 degrees outside but it sure feels like 19

Brrr, when its bitter cold outside, we dress for the “feels like” temperature index, right? This apparent temperature takes into consideration the way wind speed, relative humidity and actual temperature feel like on the human body. If humidity is low and the wind is strong, 38 degrees feels like 19 degrees.

Maybe we, volunteer managers need our own “feels like” index based on the “feels like” temperature index utilized in weather forecasts. Let’s call it the “Intent Index.”

Our “feels like” intent index is based on the addition of tone, (TO) and preconceived notions (PN).

So, in other words, what someone says to us can feel quite different from their words alone convey, based on their tone and preconceived notions. We, volunteer managers are really used to hearing these underlying intents.

Some examples are:

Volunteer Todd: So, that was an interesting assignment. I suppose you had a good reason for putting Humphrey in charge of us.  (did you just feel the temperature drop?)

click to hear what Todd is really saying:

Marketing staff member Zoe: Thank you for getting those five volunteers last-minute. We managed to muddle through. (get your coat, it’s getting colder in here)

click to hear what Zoe is really saying:

Corporate volunteering partner Dana: I’ve already been told by other volunteer coordinators that volunteer organizations can’t accommodate fifty people on short notice. I guess we can send twenty. I’m sure our CEO will understand. (oh my, the temperature just plummeted!)

click to hear what Dana is really saying:

When you feel the tone and preconceived notions at play, the question then becomes, should we ignore the intent index and just let these things go? Or, just as we dress for the “feels like” temperature outside, shouldn’t we be prepared to address conversations that have underlying messages?

What to do? Well, when we feel someone utilizing tone and preconceived notions as a not so subtle message, it’s ok to ask about it, to get these intents out in the open so as to find their origin, dispel the myths and clear the air.

We can counter with statements and questions such as:

  • “Thank you for that feedback, but I’m hearing something else too. Can you tell me what you felt went wrong?”
  • “That’s very helpful. But I’m wondering about your other statement which seems to imply something else. Did you experience something or hear someone’s negative experience that makes you think that?”
  • “I’m glad you brought that up. I’m perceiving some dissatisfaction and it’s my goal to provide excellent volunteer experiences. I’d love for you to share with me the reasons you are dissatisfied.”

Now, none of these responses mean that we have to fix or agree with everything we hear. These are simply meant to open a dialogue so as to understand these underlying intents. From openness, we can begin to show, educate, resolve and repair.

When it feels like 19 degrees outside, we get out the gloves and mittens. There’s no reason we can’t also prepare ourselves for the drop in meaning when confronted with the “intent index,” and take charge to address the intent.

Feels like something a leader of volunteers would do.