Maybe you’ve been in this meeting. A colleague speaks up and with firmness states something like the following:
“A lot of people are upset with our decision.”
Or. . .
“Many of our donors are complaining about our communications.”
Or. . .
“Our volunteers don’t agree with our strategy.”
If you ever hear statements like these, let me encourage you to pay close attention. They may represent a problem far deeper than their content suggests.
The potential problem with such statements is not that their content may be true. They may convey reality, or, on the other hand, the speaker may simply be exaggerating or may be prone to hyperbole.
No, the bigger potential concern with statements like these is that they could also be examples of passive aggression. The speaker could be projecting her own angst or disapproval or frustrations onto the safe (but fake) group persona of donors and volunteers.
The purpose of this projection would be manipulative – to stall or dramatically change the course of action without having to publicly own the sentiments. In fact, the speaker may very well tell you that she doesn’t necessarily agree with what the donors or volunteers are saying, she is only sharing what is being said. You should be grateful that she has her fingers so firmly on the pulse of your constituencies!
To discern more clearly who is being represented by statements like these, you can ask a simple but powerful question:
“What did you say in defense of our decision/our communications/our strategy?”
In other words, as an advancement professional paid to advance our institution, how did you help these donors and volunteers better understand the rationale behind our efforts?
The answer to this question will help clarify if the problem is authentically with your donors and volunteers or with your colleague.