The Empowerment Pyramid

Empowerment requires that ideas be closely linked to information and intentions. We now turn to each of these four building blocks of group empowerment and suggest ways in which group members can master each of these four fundamental functions.

Communications

Often, the most serious problem in the communication that occurs in a group concerns selection. We live in a world of information overload. Each of us is confronted on a daily basis with a wealth of memoranda, reports, statistics, and news. We often come to a meeting in dread of assimilating a large chunk of new information. An informational meeting should be designed to convey essential ideas, statistics, plans, procedures, etc. in a clear and concise manner. Meeting leaders must screen out the peripheral and extraneous material before the meeting; otherwise, participants are likely to retain the unimportant information and forget that which is important.

Decisions regarding participation in the meeting also require some soul-searching and establishment of priorities. Considerable research has shown that accurate information-transfer tends to decrease as a function of group size. The larger the group, the more likely will be miscommunication. The reasons for this effect are rather obvious. In a small group, members can ask questions, comment on the information, or ask the speaker to repeat a particular point or state it in another way. This type of receiver involvement is less likely to occur or be acceptable in large groups. In selecting members for the group, therefore, it is usually preferable to invite a few people who will accurately receive the message than to invite many people who are likely to walk away from the meeting with inaccurate information. A few well-informed group members can, in turn, inform other people in other small groups, thereby enabling the message to spread accurately and more personably.

Accuracy in information transmission also can be improved by attending to the sender of the information. The conveyer of information should have credibility with specific reference to this body of information, should be minimally distracting (in terms of other roles and relationships with those attending the meeting) and should have command of the information to be conveyed. These characteristics sometimes come into conflict. The boss may be most authoritative and knowledgeable about the information but will elicit an emotional block that prevents subordinates from hearing the message accurately. Conversely, a more neutral party may have neither the credibility nor the knowledge to be an effective communicator. Under such circumstances, both the boss and neutral party might be present, with the boss making an initial presentation and the neutral party leading discussions, attempting to clarify and mediate between the boss and subordinates to ensure accurate communication in both directions.

The way in which information is conveyed also increases (or decreases) accuracy. If information is complex, emotionally laden or unusual, then it should be conveyed in a redundant manner; i.e., it should be conveyed several different times in several different ways. Preferably, this information should be communicated through at least two different media, for example, speech and the written word, or speech and a visual diagram. If questions arise, they should be answered, if possible, by shifting to a different medium. If information is being conveyed verbally, for example, then questions might be addressed by constructing a visual model or demonstration, or by telling an illustrative story.

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