As family historians, we spend a great deal of our time finding the perfect software program, looking for the ideal database and creating a faultless organizational system. While all these things are important in our success as the resident genealogist, our communications skills are equally significant.
Family historians are on the frontlines in acquiring information from their living relatives. However, time and time again stories are lost, undiscovered and just plain ignored because family historians fail to use their communication skills to engage relatives. Family members can be difficult to communicate with; many of us would sooner talk to strangers in a cemetery then call up a living relative for information.
Whether, you are researching your family history or writing a family history book, your communication skills with your living relatives are critical. Often you will turn to family members for information, pictures, facts, dates. Many family members will be very cooperative while others...well let’s just face it will be a thorn in your side. It is in handling the difficult ones that we procrastinate and cower in the dark.
No family is complete without a few relatives destined to make your journey a little more challenging. There is the family member who “doesn’t know anything”, or the relative who claims,"I have never received that email”, and the standard “didn’t I send that to you already” and then those who are silent hoping you will go away and finally the relative who has no interest “in dead people I never met.”
The only way to engage the naysayers in your family is through excellent communication skills. In this day of technology, there are many avenues of communication available to you to acquire necessary information from your relatives. Email, family websites, facebook, phone calls and blogs, all can act as the vehicle for communicating with family members. Depending on the generation, you may have to enlist several of these avenues to solicit information. However, without engaging in some solid communication skills you may become the most disliked person in the family.
Motivating relatives to forego family information is not magic; it is all about effective communication. Anyone can achieve effective communication by using four simple steps; they are comprehension, connections, credibility and contagiousness.
You don’t have be a communications experts to achieve success, and regardless of whether you choose an email, a newsletter, a blog, or a family website to communicate with family members utilising these four steps will help pave a path of least resistance.
Is the message clear?
In the communication world, Step 1 is about the message. Does the audience get the main idea? In the genealogy world does your relative understand your message, the main idea of your project, what you are attempting to achieve. Do they comprehend it? In order for that to happen, your message must be clear and to the point, sometimes even to the point of repetition. Keep it simple, don’t go into too much detail and muddy the waters. If you make it complicated, they will quickly shut down and want nothing to do with your genealogy project.
Did you make a connection?
In advertising when you create a commercial, not only do you want the viewing audience to get it, you want the message to resonate with them. In genealogy, you want family members to understand the meaning and significance your project will have on them. It needs to elicit an emotional trigger, pull at the heartstrings and make them want to be counted among your confidants in this project.
Do you hold credibility?
The audience needs to believe you. Your relatives can completely understand your message but if they don’t believe you will actually pull this project off , they are not going to waste their time with you. In genealogy, it important to establish yourself as the family historian, get the word out, let it be known you are serious about genealogy, this is not a passing fad. Once you start knocking on doors asking for their support, they will have faith in your abilities.
Is your message contagious?
In communications, contagiousness is a good thing. You want your audience to “catch the message,” I saw this happen with my own family. Some members who were excited and enthusiastic about the family history book became contagious. They talked, and before I knew, it was spreading like a disease, a good disease. I no longer had to chase people (too much) and others who were not even relatives were interested in our family history book. Contagiousness will evoke a vivid emotional response, have “talk” potential, motivate relatives to do something, and elicit a demonstrable reaction.
Once you start using communication to solicit genealogy information from your relatives, or to create some interest in a family history book you will find the entire process will be more effective and a lot less challenging. Practice these communication skills; they may be the key to uncovering some of your families’ greatest stories.
Take the Communication Quiz at http://www.mindtools.com/ and find out what kind of a communicator you are?