News, Info, & Updates

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Good communication is essential for a good outcome. Yet, as it plays out between house corps and active chapters, it’s often not so good. To quote a famous line from the movie Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Many house corp members are old school in how they communicate (sometimes really old school). Take the email style that is written in ALL CAPS. This style is typically only used to emphasize something IMPORTANT. So, how is an email to be interpreted that has every word IN CAPS? On the active chapter side of communication is Millennial Shorthand: LOL, BTW, OMG, WTF and hundreds of emoticons. What’s to be made of this? This is the fraternity equivalent of Mars and Venus.

Many house corp members grew up in a generation where rugged individualism was the norm. Brother John Wayne epitomized this trait and was famous for saying “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.” Today’s active brothers rely more on group think. They value the opinions of others and seek them out with social media. This difference in and of itself can be a big hindrance in good communication with house corps.

Millennials tend to be non-confrontational. When confronted by a house corp mandate, they will often be unresponsive, evasive or placating. Unresponsive can be maddening because it’s uncertain whether the communication was received at all. Evasive is intended to shift blame or focus on to someone or something else. Placating is agreeing to do something without really doing anything (tell them what they want to hear).

Active brothers have vastly different priorities than their house corp landlords. While one of those priorities is, hopefully, to excel in academics, many are more self serving: girls, parties and no one to tell them what to do. They have been released from mom and dad’s chore wheel so can view the house corp as surrogate parents and best to be avoided. So how can this communication breakdown be fixed?

1. Engage in personal contact. Face to face communications reveal a host of issues that the written word cannot including body language and verbal tone. These nuances are HUGE in understanding what is really going on. To achieve this:

2. Schedule house corp board meetings at the chapter house. Good things will happen: board members will get personally acquainted with active brothers. You will find that they are really not all that different than you were at that age. They have hopes and dreams and are trying to figure out what life is all about. (Hell, I’m still trying to figure that out.) They are seeking approval from supportive and mature brothers. In spite of how they act at times, they know that they don’t know a lot about life. Positive encouragement helps point them the right way. Criticism, on the other hand, generally shuts down communication.

3. Encourage potential leaders. Sigma Chi is all about growing leaders. Some think that leaders are born but, for most, it’s a learning and maturation process. Sigma Chi provides actives a governing structure to learn leadership. Consul, Pro Consul, Quaestor, Tribune, Magister, Kitchen Steward, Risk Manager, House Manager and other roles are training ground for career and family obligations to come. They also instruct about the importance of giving back (it’s about others and not about me). So, house corp members can encourage potential leaders to step up to the challenge. Many of these brothers don’t yet have the confidence to step up on their own. A word of encouragement could make all the difference. The added bonus is that with the right brothers in charge of active chapter, the house corp is likely to have fewer problems.

4. Establish and grow a scholarship endowment. While house corp’s main focus is housing, it can also raise money for scholarship. If the chapter benefits from annual scholarship awards, it will help recruit more academically inclined brothers. The awards should be handed out by alums at a scholarship dinner so it’s clearly understood that alums were the source of the funds and so the winners can be showcased as an encouragement to lower performers. With that in mind, instead of handing out all scholarships to the highest grade earners, consider awarding scholarships to Most Improved. Moving from a 1.0 to a 2.5 grade average can make all the difference whether a brother that graduates or flunks out. Encourage better performance. The lesson will last a lifetime.

ALL CAPS or emoticons? Communication between the generations can be a challenge but using these time tested techniques will improve the results.

Originally published in the Summer 2016 issue of the Sig House newsletter.

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