Maintenance & Operations (Managing the Physical Plant)
How We Communicate
- By Michael G. Steger
- December 1st, 2014
Working in education, maintenance managers often
find themselves in an unfamiliar
community of faculty and staff with a
completely different mindset than their own.
This group communicates in a way that is quite
different than the maintenance team. Educators
tend to be more of a congenial bunch;
meaning they are polite, supportive, friendly and by nature quietly
get along… that is, as long as they are allowed to do as they please
without much outside influence. (Apologies for use of such an
extreme example for this column’s purposes.)
Maintenance folks, on the other hand, tend to be a bit more
outgoing and direct in how we manage, and therefore communicate.
When we are asked a question or for input on a particular
situation, we often tend to give our gut response and expect that to
be OK. However, when we give that direct, to-the-point response,
people outside our ranks sometimes take that as a bit harsh and
wonder what set us off, even though we were simply offering up an
opinion. (No apologies here, this is simply a statement of fact!)
Think Before You Speak
How we communicate with one another is obviously of significant importance no matter the setting. It is important that we
remember with whom we are communicating. What may work
for the guys back in the shop is different than how we present
ourselves in a department directors’ meeting and different still
on how we might communicate to a board of directors. We need
to remember that the message should always be the same, and the
delivery should be tailored for each specific situation and the audience.
In addition, communication is a multistep process that also
includes listening and affirming that what has been conveyed was
properly received and understood.
Consider the Medium
However, the full communication circle isn’t always completed
during the process of “getting stuff done” each day! We must be
careful in using the various methods of communication available
to us. Additionally, we should recognize that we need to tailor the
form of delivery used to the situation, as one form or the other may
not be the best for delivery of certain messages, especially if the
topic is a critical or touchy situation. Never opt for an electronic
form of communication when a face-to-face or phone conversation
is necessary. Remember; tone, intensity, humor and sarcasm all
work together when speaking in person with another, but are not
always conveyed properly in a voice message, email or text.
What does this have to do with maintenance, you ask? Everything!
We get our jobs done by communicating with others… be it
giving or receiving instruction, gathering or sharing information,
or simply wishing someone a good morning. Unfortunately, all too
often we find a serious lack of communication among maintenance
employees as well as between the maintenance department and
the school as a whole.
As the faculty and staff work to serve our collective primary
customer, the student, maintenance and education priorities often
intersects in a (hopefully) common course of action. We are typically
brought in to assist with setup and management of an event
in support of the educational mission. Sometimes we are asked to
provide a higher level of facilities support that may include building
something, altering the way a mechanical system operates, or
some other crazy thing I’ve not yet thought of! These are the times
when we must be very clear in our communications.
Meetings for events such as these may have only a few participants,
or there may be many participants and it will be up to
the meeting organizer and us to ensure that things stay on track,
ensuring the vision of the event is communicated effectively. It is
times like these that we must dial in to who our audience is and
deliver our information or response in a measured and appropriate
tone… with the correct content as well. I always try to remember
the adage “Be firm, be fair, be courteous” when working with
everyone… especially faculty!
Sometimes you will need to say “no” to something, and there
is skill to this. I often look at it somewhat as a negotiation. I never
like to give a “no” without a “however,” and that “however” should
include either an alternate solution or an apology!
All this may seem a bit fundamental, but we get caught up
in our routines and from time to time need to remind our staff
that how we communicate is as important as what we communicate,
along with how well we perform our work in support of our
This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.
Michael G. Steger is director, Physical Plant, for Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, FL. He can be reached at Stegemik@berkeleyprep.org.