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Retreat challenges student mentors' communication skills
Understanding is key to become effective leaders
Shane Sullards, managing member of Lapdog Inc., leads a group of Honors Mentorship Program students in a team building exercise during a retreat at Lakewood Baptist Church Thursday afternoon.

Some people are direct and blunt. Some people sugarcoat difficult things.

Both, however, need to understand each other's communication styles in order to be effective leaders.

That was the goal of Thursday's Advancing Communications retreat for Hall County students in the Honors Mentorship Program.

"Pretty much everything we do is about positive change," said Shane Sullards, who coordinated the retreat through the Chestnut Mountain-based Lapdog Inc.

"We want to get across that today's your day to change. We challenge them to do something new and different ... With texting and Twitter you don't get any body language these days. You don't know if someone's mad at you or whatever. You're just reading a static message."

Thursday's challenge was taking 55 kids with different communication styles and having them articulate instructions to one another. Groups of students built an object and kept it hidden from other groups. They then had to attempt to teach the other group to build the same object, which is a lot harder than it sounds.

"It's a difficult exercise, just to realize that when you think you're articulating something well you're really not," Sullards said.

Students also were presented with ethical issues they had to react to using exaggerated versions of their communication styles.

Sullards said it's a lot easier to overcome differences in communication than it seems.

"It's a matter of learning why you say the things the way you say them and why you hear the things how you hear them," he said. "You may think you're giving the message the same way each time but you're not."

With the students in the program working to communicate with community mentors and become leaders in their chosen fields, it's vital they understand how to articulate and talk with others, said Jennifer Killingsworth, south end Honors Mentorship coordinator.

"If they have a passion for it, we place them with someone who can develop the love for whatever they're doing," she said.

As part of the mentorship program, the students, who are chosen through an application and interview process, take field trips such as the retreat and work on weekly blogs with their mentors.

"I'm hoping that (the retreat) will guide them a little bit to speak up," Killingsworth said.

"They're only going to be able to get as much out of the mentor program as they put into it."

She said she hopes students will take away some new experiences and skills from the retreat.

"We can set things up, but it's up to them to grab hold of that opportunity and make it whatever they want it to be," Killingsworth said. "It's up to them to chart the course."


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