Why effective and supportive communication matter

  • Effective and supportive communication is a critical factor in retaining and promoting faculty.
  • “I think that open communication is the single most critical factor in a healthy department. Faculty will certainly not agree with everything that a department chair does, but they are willing to support decisions if the reasons have been openly discussed and they feel that their input was considered.”
    Joe Merola, Department of Chemistry, VT
  • Clear and open interaction with faculty fosters the generation of knowledge by introducing new ideas for research, teaching, outreach, and service. Administrators who communicate effectively with faculty members gain insight into new opportunities and creative solutions.
  • Supportive conversations with faculty, both formal and informal, strengthen bonds between faculty and administrators and remind faculty of their paramount importance to the university.

What our survey data tell us about departmental communication issues

  • Many department heads work hard at sharing information. 77% of respondents agreed that the administration in their department kept the faculty informed about key issues (Faculty Work/Life Survey 2005).
  • The surveys provided quite a bit of data on mentoring and collegial relationships. Here are a few nuggets from those findings:
    • Formal mentoring programs at Virginia Tech leave a lot to be desired according to the pre-tenure faculty – only 7% thought they were very effective; 35% thought they were fairly effective. The remaining respondents were either neutral or found them to be ineffective. Informal mentoring is working better – 60% of the respondents thought informal mentoring was very or somewhat effective (COACHE 2007).
    • Half of the respondents (all tenured and tenure-track faculty) in the 2005 Faculty Work/Life Survey somewhat or strongly agreed that they have received effective mentoring in their department; half disagreed (Faculty Work/Life Survey 2005).
    • 67% of pre-tenure faculty members were somewhat or very satisfied with the interest that senior faculty members take in their professional development; 24% were dissatisfied (COACHE 2007).
  • Two-thirds of pre-tenure faculty were somewhat or very satisfied with personal interactions they had with other junior colleagues; 55% were satisfied with personal interactions with senior colleagues (COACHE 2007).

Points to consider about effective and supportive communication

  • Communication is potentially explosive, especially with regards to sensitive issues. Tenure and merit compensation are topics of considerable concern, causing the most anxiety and eliciting the most questions.
  • Communication is bilateral. Simply providing information to faculty, especially information of a sensitive nature, is not sufficient. A timely and convenient feedback mechanism is necessary to prevent misunderstandings.
  • Communication is complex, the opportunities for misunderstanding innumerable. Keep messages simple and discuss intricate matters face to face. Remember that non-routine messages concerning novel events are likely to be misunderstood.
  • Active appreciation intensifies a sense of belonging and makes faculty feel valued and respected. Praise accomplishments and extend your attention beyond faculty members’ research and funding successes.
  • Really difficult and persistent tensions in the department may require special interventions. Seek help from a professional facilitator or consultant to work through rough times. The Office of Organizational Development in Human Resources can assist in identifying someone appropriate.
* compendium_component_three_supplement.pdf
This supplementary materials document contains information relevant to effective communication, such as: responsibilities of mentors and mentees; examples of successful mentoring programs from other universities; a sample faculty guide from the department of communication; and a sample core values survey.
* department_climate_compendium.pdf
Download the entire compendium as a pdf file.