Working Through Contradictions and Achieving Great Things

By Jennifer Grau, Grau Interpersonal Communications and presenter at the upcoming Destination: Vibrant Communities in Detroit.

Human beings are full of contradictions.

  • We are social animals, yet crave privacy and autonomy.
  • We live in a hyper-stimulating world, yet complain we are bored.
  • We accomplish remarkable feats, but can only exist in a narrow range of physical conditions.

Understanding people and their complexity is the secret to conquering the obstacles that keep us from giving our best and achieving remarkable things.

The business world calls this engagement.

Where Business Meets Community

Grau IC LogoI spend a lot of time walking between two worlds. By day I am a trainer, coach, facilitator and professional speaker. I work with people to enhance their communication, and by extension, their effectiveness in life. By night, I’m a community organizer. I work with my neighbors to make our community a vibrant, safe and welcoming place to live, work and play.

P1000383The day job makes my night job easier. I’ve learned that unless there is a crisis most people don’t have time or attention to participate in community activity. But that does not mean they are unwilling to make time if they feel valued, respected, needed, appreciated and welcome. They need to find some joy, connection, success, worth or growth when they give you the precious gift of their time. And the same holds true for staff in the work world. If you want the best from people you need to create the conditions for them to thrive … not just survive.

The Care and Feeding of Volunteers and Staff


  • Have you ever worked on a project that was joyous?
  • Have you worked on a team that was productive and fun?
  • Have you felt exhilarated and satisfied overcoming obstacles?

Experiences like these feel like magic but they are not. Chances are someone in your world created the conditions for your productivity, joy, growth and success.

Here are a few things you can do to foster an engaging environment for volunteers and staff.

  • Acknowledge and appreciate someone’s work. Even if it is their job (or volunteer commitment), it feels good to have your efforts and outcomes recognized.
  • Identify and express the connection of their work to the bigger picture. Essential tasks like stuffing envelopes may be dull and repetitive, but are fundamental requirements for a successful event or initiative to support your mission.
  • Transform your next mundane activity into something special. One easy way to do this is to bring food.
  • Design tasks to people rather than expecting people to be a perfect fit to the volunteer roles or staff description. Inquire about their interests and talents, along with what they might want to do or explore.  Support them in fulfilling those growth  needs.
  • Meet people where they are. Whether physically or ideologically start where your staff and/or volunteers are and create safe places for open interaction.
  • Level the playing field. There are lots of ways to do this, but too many to cover in a blog.

DVC-Postcard-print-v2Join Us to Learn More

Are you ready to understand more about the complexity of humans and how to nurture productive, engaging environments that advance your community?

Destination: Vibrant Communities is a single day of premier training hosted by CEDAM and CDAD in Detroit on November 4, 2015. I am leading a two part interactive session on community engagement. I will teach you how to create experiences like these for yourself and others and will explore the ways you can support, encourage and engage your staff and volunteers. I hope you will consider joining me and a bunch of talented, motivated and interesting people who are busy changing the world.