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Communications compass
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 11/19/2007

Joe Bouchard is a librarian at Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility within the Michigan Department of Corrections. He is also a member of the Board of Experts for “The Corrections Professional” and an instructor of Corrections and Psychology for Gogebic Community College.

Imagine that you are disoriented in thick and impenetrable woods. You have no idea how to find your way out. You are without a GPS, cell phone, flare, and the most basic tool to help with one’s bearings: the compass. Without those tools, can you imagine the helplessness of not knowing where to go?

In departmental communications, like in finding our way out of the forest, a compass will not work unless all points are present. If East is missing from the compass, you're still lost. All directions of communication flow are equally important.

If we do not know where we are and where we are going, we are effectively lost. Do we always have our bearings in the realm of information exchange? Our jobs would be much easier if we had a communications compass.

It has been said that communications is a two-way street. Certainly, we benefit from data sharing between two parties rather than a one-way lecture. Listening and talking are complementary actions with equal weight. It is not so simple, though. In fact, the two-way street of information exchange can be expanded into four points on a compass.

There are four elements or directions of the communications compass, and they correspond nicely with the four main compass points. They are up the chain of command, down the chain of command, across to peers, and across to colleagues at other worksites.

Up the chain of command involves how information flows from line staff, through various levels, to site supervisors. An example of this is seen in a total prison shakedown. As each area completes their search, they report what is found (if anything) up the chain of command.

Guidance and directives descend down the chain of command through levels of supervisors and into the hands of all employees. The dissemination of a new policy directive is an example of this.

Facts, theories and observations move between peers of all classifications. This lateral movement of information forms the foundation of much of the data that keeps us safe. For example, an officer observes different prisoner seating arrangements during a meal and alerts other staff. If this is a prisoner with perceived influence, the information possibly contains a warning of importance.

Prisoner dynamics do not cease at the fence. They move across to colleagues at other sites; with our many prisons, we know that offender interaction transcends facility limits too. The same should always be true between staff at different institutions. It is our duty to pass crucial information to all worksites as needed. For instance, when an institution transfers a prisoner who was prominent in orchestrating a disturbance, the receiving facility should know this.

A compass will not work unless you know how to use it. You really have to know where you are and the general direction of your objective. By using the communications compass, we can find our way through the tangle and uncertainty of information.

Remember that information is power. When we master its flow, we become more effective agents for facility and community. This article is reprinted with permission from the Editor of FYI, the newsletter of the Michigan Department of Corrections. Joe Bouchard can be reached at (906) 353-7070 ext 1321. These are the opinions of Joe Bouchard, and not of the MIDOC or Corrections.com.

Other articles by Joe Bouchard

Assessing the great glass organization, 10/22/07

Lurking beneath the surface, 10/12/07


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