Volume 4, Number 1, Oct. 2003
Developing Departmental Communication Protocols
There are several issues to consider prior to the implementation
of a new “Protocol”. They are as follows:
- If you are in a unionized environment, the union may see
the implementation of the “Protocol” as a change
in working conditions requiring at a minimum official notice,
if not bargaining. This would be particularly true if employees
were to be evaluated on their adherence to the “Protocol”.
- The “Protocol’s” value is that it reflects
communally developed “ rules of the game”. Some
managers see the end product as useful and simply impose
it on other parts of their organization. This approach is
inconsistent with the notion communal ownership and understanding,
and typically leads to the imposed “protocol”
being largely ignored.
- The “Protocol’s” value is related to
its being a document that reflect group norms and expectations.
It must be periodically revisited and if necessary revised,
or it will pass into oblivion as just another flavor of
the month management project.
- The “Protocol” is meant to address basic communication
and conflict management issues. Participants should understand
that certain issues such as allegations of sexual harassment,
violence and “whistle blowing” are not covered
by this process.
The First Protocol: A Case Study
The Davis Mediation Program came into official existence
in 1994. The first actual “Communication Protocol”
was developed in1996 in the department of one UC Davis’
volunteer mediators. The mediator brought to the attention
of her management group that she had observed some of the
indirect communication and non-productive problem solving
problems she had both learned about in her mediation training,
and had observed as a mediator. She discussed the matter with
the management team, who in tern advised staff of the process.
This department consisted of approximately 25 individuals
including four management personnel. The entire group fully
participated in the three hour session, and in a post session
process of further editing and refining the material generated
in the class. The “Protocol” was distributed to
participants and posted on the department bulletin board.
The “Protocol” is also used to orient new staff
to the department’s behavioral expectations for effective
communication and productive conflict management.
The “Protocol” has been in effect for seven years.
Management of the unit describe the “Protocol”
as “highly effective” and “has led to much
more direct communication and depersonalized problem solving”.
The Communication Protocol has been a useful tool at UC Davis.
This year Mediation Services worked with nineteen departments
to develop their unique “Protocol”. It is a tool
that mediators are invited to use and give us any feedback
which may help us with the evolution of this tool. Comments
may be forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org
The following principles and ground rules have been agreed
upon for communication and conflict management.
- Deal directly with the person involved, unless it is
a supervisory matter, in which case you should talk to the
person’s supervisor. If, after dealing with the person
directly and you are unable to resolve the matter, then
bring in the supervisor.
- Appreciate that different communication styles exist.
- Be civil – no yelling and no profanity.
- Stick to the issue at hand – no “kitchen sinks”
or irrelevant issues should be brought up.
- Be aware of the work environment; use a private office
when the situation calls for it.
- Be honest and trustworthy.
- Be consistent, especially when delivering your message
to more than on party.
- Don’t undermine by griping behind other’s
backs. If you are brought into this type of situation as
a third party, support our protocol by reminding the person
to talk directly to the appropriate person.
- Do your fact-finding, especially when representing the
position of others in a critical manner.
- Be willing to be identified if you have a concern or complaint;
anonymous complaints will not be addressed.
- During all aspects of communication, conflict management
and decision-making, separate the issue from the person.
In other words, don’t personalize an issue when delivering
- When receiving a message, demonstrate verbal acknowledgment
that you have received the message; avoid withdrawal, passivity
or passive-aggressive behaviors
The following protocol for decision-making was agreed to
- Solicit input from the appropriate parties at the appropriate
time. Different levels of involvement and responsibility
will determine who is ultimately involved in the decision-making
process. This step should be a proactive, information-gathering
one without pre-judgment.
- Acknowledge opinions/input and express appreciation for
ideas. If information is known that has bearing on the decision,
that information should be shared at this time, using language
such as “Yes (acknowledging input), and (sharing information)….”
A good faith effort will be made to address serious and
- When decisions are announced, provide information as to
why the decision was made, including what the department/program/person’s
Note: Information is communicated through a variety
of channels including through the Program Coordinator
and/or through supervisors, e-mail, individual meetings,
- If an individual has questions, s/he is responsible for
seeking answers from the supervisor or Program Coordinator
Note: Factors that go into decision-making are often
numerous and complex, and information will be shared to
the appropriate extent. Recognize that there often exist
constraints in decision-making including time, scheduling,
budget, management prerogative, etc.
- After seeking clarification, the individual staff member
should express any remaining concerns or complaints in
timely (two-week period) way to the decision-maker(s).
Anonymous complaints will not be considered.
- Staff are expected to support the decision.
Note: It is important for everyone to trust that
input was weighed in the final decision and for staff
to be able to “get on with it” rather than
always wait for consensus which may never be achieved.
Consensus is not only not always possible, it is also
not always desirable. It is also important to “let
go”. If an individual finds him/herself in a pattern
of disagreement with decisions and philosophies of the
department, s/he can always pursue other available options.