Interpersonal Relationships

4.1 Communication is Key

Communication is important in all spheres of life, but especially when one is in a leadership role.  Some authors even go as far as saying that being a good communicator is the determining factor for the success of any leader as it is the basis for interpersonal relations (Campbell, 2006). As you already know communication has two components, the sending and the receiving; the message needs not to only be sent, but also received.

An important portion of your time will be spent informing others of decisions, new processes, etc. Choosing your delivery method (e.g., email/phone/in person, individual/large group) and the timing of the delivery will play a major role in how well the message is received. Furthermore, deciding which information to share (you must tailor your message to your audience) is vital; this is not to say that you are not transparent or that you are hiding things from your colleagues, but it is your duty to ‘digest’ the information which comes to you and pass on the necessary facts/data to the relevant people.

One of the biggest complaints that faculty members have is that they don’t get open and honest information. The chair serves as the communication link between the administration and faculty members. This involves more than posting notices or circulating emails. A chair must be able to explain, persuade and address issues as changes occur or new policies are announced. (Hecht, Higgerson, Gmelch and Tucker, 1999).

Please be kind to your colleagues and do not bombard them with unnecessary information and multiple emails. Beware of using reply all; do not send emails in the evening or on weekends; change the topic of the email if you are addressing a new subject. For more email etiquette, see section 3.9. 

Although a big part of your job will consist in sending information to others, most of your time will be spend on the receiving end – not only for all those messages where you act as “postman”, but because your colleagues will come to you to request/share/demand/ask for advice/. A crucial skill to develop is active listening where you fully concentrate on what is being said rather than just passively ‘hearing’ the message of the speaker. You should clarify (by paraphrasing and reformulating), demonstrate empathy, and ask appropriate questions.

You can read more about active listening at: Skills You Need (or any result your favourite navigator search throws at you) and there are some exercises available as well (search 'active listening exercises').

By communicating effectively, you will build trust which will improve the quality of the relationships and this could in turn lead to great achievements. As a department chair, you have no real authority; you only have the power of influence which can be formidable if you have gained the trust of your colleagues by maintaining great relationships. “Chairs with low personal power and credibility will encounter resistance to their ideas and are ineffective change agents for the institution.” (Hecht, Higgerson, Gmelch and Tucker, 1999).

Further readings:


Campbell, Kim Sydow. (2006). Thinking and Interacting Like a Leader: The TILL System for Effective Interpersonal Communication. Chicago: Parlay Press, 141 pp. DOI: 10.1177/0021943608319389

Hecht, I.; Higgerson, M.L.; Gmelch W.H.; and Tucker, A. (1999). The Department Chair as Academic Leader. Phoenix, Arizona: American Council on Education Oryx Press.

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