Mastering the art of communication

In the upcoming Infopeople course Communication is More Than Words, learners will gain a new understanding of how we communicate in every situation, an awareness of the challenges involved in communicating effectively, and tools to improve conversations with customers and co-workers.cheryl_gould

In one section of the course, for example, instructor Cheryl Gould discusses communicating about problems AND solutions.

“Do you have coworkers who are negative? Do you feel like it’s not “safe” to bring up problems for fear of possibly being labeled negative? One of the ways you can change this is to create a rule in your organization that whenever someone brings up a problem she must also suggest at least one solution. Management literature is full of information about the problem of accountability in organizations. Accountability is about taking responsibility and following through when you say you’ll do something. When you bring up problems without taking responsibility for finding a solution, people may say you are not being accountable. Before long, others probably won’t want to hear from you and might think you are not a team player.

If you see a problem or hear of a problem from a customer, ideally you should think of it as your job to figure out how to solve the problem or pass along the information to someone who can. Because of the hierarchical nature of the library workplace, often the people who feel low in the hierarchy don’t think it is their place to make suggestions. If this is how you feel at your workplace, check your assumptions. Any good manager will welcome suggestions for improvement. That doesn’t mean your ideas will always be implemented. That’s another story, completely and far out of the scope of a communication class. What is within the scope of this course is to check your assumptions and find the truth about the best way to share problems and solutions in order to improve service.

These phrases may help you get started:

  • I’ve noticed that…
  • I’d like to talk to staff about…
  • I’d like to make a suggestion.
  • I’ve talked to several staff to collect ideas…
  • Can we set a meeting to discuss my ideas?
  • May I email some ideas to you, or would you prefer to talk in person?
  • What would be the best way for me to share some ideas with the team?

When you do communicate about problems or solutions, don’t forget to pause and let the person respond. This is especially important if you’ve caught them in a hallway or another situation where they weren’t prepared to talk to you. Remember that your sense of urgency is probably not the same as theirs. Problems and solutions require thought and conversation. Don’t expect to have a satisfying experience without setting up a situation with the right amount of time and the right people in the conversation.”

The course is filled with great information like this, covering topics including non-verbal communication, self-awareness, habits of great communicators, communication with customers, handling conflict (with customers and co-workers), choosing appropriate modes of communication, communicating with supervisors and managers, and more. A complete description of the course and registration information is available.lssc logo

This course, in combination with Infopeople’s Beyond Books: Advanced Readers’ Advisory course (offered annually), is approved as covering the Adult Readers’ Advisory competencies for ALA’s Library Support Staff Certification (LSSC) program. Both courses must be taken to meet the competency set. To learn more about the LSSC program, see the ALA website.

Dan Pink and Improv Skills

Dan Pink is coming out with a new book on December 31, 2012.  It’s called, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others.  To “sell”, for him, includes much of what we do all day which is convince, persuade and motivate people to do what we want or need them to do.

An applied improv colleague of mine, Lindsey, has been emailing with him about improvisation and like little schoolgirls amped up about a cute teacher, we’ve gotten excited each time there’s been contact.  Lindsey recently sent me a link to a video of Dan talking about his new book.  In the video there is a section where he talks about what skills are needed to sell/persuade/motivate and he says “the three skills of improvisation are possibly THE most important skills to have for persuading people.”

Those of you who know what I’ve been up to for the past 5 years know why I’m excited about this.  The skills of improvisation are what I’ve been promoting and training in my management, customer service and teambuilding workshops.  So those of you who’ve been in them, we’re ahead of the curve.  For those who may not have understood why I’m so excited about the skills of improvisation, I’m hoping that Dan’s book will clarify the need.

In my work with libraries, these are the skills I focus on the most, all of which must be practiced with the spirit of “Yes, And.”

  • Be Present
  • Listen
  • Support your partner
  • Take risks

I guess I’ll have to buy Dan’s book to find out what three all important skills of improvisation he chooses.

In my pondering what Dan will call his three important skills I got inspired to poke around to see how other applied improvisers talk about the skills of improvisation.  (I’ve done it many times before, since it’s a relatively new field, there is always something new to discover.) Here’s a list of skills that make perfect sense when you think about improvisational theater.   They are also absolutely relevant to libraries thinking about the future.

  • Notice more
  • Be changed by what you hear
  • Accept offers
  • Let go of your agenda
  •  Embrace constraints
  • Make the other people look good

No matter what the exact language, the intention behind all of this is to have us all reduce stress, communicate better and do more creative solution finding to serve our communities.  Thanks Dan.

Worried About Being Labeled a Negative Nelly?

“How does one correct imperfections without noting them, when noting them means being tagged as negative? “ was the question I recently discussed with one of my librarian contacts.  It’s a question that comes up a lot in my work these days with managers and their teams.  I realize that I have answers to that question that may help so  I thought I’d share.  I hope that one or more of them may help you if you find yourself worried about being labeled a Negative Nelly:

  • Response A:  keep noting the problems cause it’s important and others may not see things from your vantage point.
  • Response B – If you’re sick of getting seen as negative, change tactics and see if there is a way to help people see the issue that doesn’t make them defensive so they can hear you.  It’s more work but in the long run, it pays off.   Try “I have a concern about…”  “I’d like to share my thoughts about…”  “When would be a good time to talk to  you about…?”  “I have another perspective…”  or trying stating the reason why you think something is a problem that’s related to the libraries mission or how your solution better matches the mission.
  • Response C – one person’s imperfections are another person’s solution.  Be open to the possibility that they might be right.
  • Response D – Some of us care deeply about things and tend to want to fix things that aren’t in our sphere of influence.  Whether we are “right” or “wrong” it may be that the Serenity Prayer is your best choice.  Particularly the part that says, “give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed”.

After thinking about all of these answers, I realize I use another tactic sometimes, which is a combination of the serenity prayer and what I teach in my stress management/change resilience workshop.  We humans tend to think that things are either going to stay the same (think about something that isn’t changing that you’re frustrated about) or that once something changes it will be like that forever (think of something that’s changed recently that you don’t like.)  Neither are true.  So you can always try saying something to yourself like “Apparently, this isn’t the right time given our current resources and structures, but eventually, there will be an opportunity to address the issue”  😉

Mental Models of Community Engagement Hold Us Back

My colleague Gail Griffith and I did a preconference at ALA called Mental Model Busting.  One of the mental models we explored was community engagement.  As you might guess, people’s mental models of community engagement were all over the map.  Not that there was disagreement, just wildly different assumptions about what is meant by “community engagement”.  The flipcharted responses revealed that to some it was partnering, for others it was identifying community.  For some it was having the whole community read the same book, for others it was letting the community see our value and for others it was just “messy” 😉  flipchart of Mental Models of Community Engagement

If you want to get your library involved in engaging your community you may need to have a mental model busting conversation with your staff.  Why does it matter?  Because your mental model determines how you expend time, money and resources.  For instance if your goal is to “let the community see our value” you might hire someone to beef up your PR efforts.  If “finding partnerships” is your goal you might prioritize your time looking for partner opportunities outside the library.  If “having the community read the same book” is community engagement, you might say “We’re already doing it!”

The process of surfacing mental models exposes a group to the fact that there are multiple concurrent realities and that there is not one correct answer. This allows people to see for themselves where they might be limited in their thinking.  Instead of convincing people that they are wrong and you are right, the conversation should allow people to hear different perspectives and bust up their assumptions.  If you can create the right atmosphere where people are really listening, they’ll be able to find their own limited thinking and learn from each other to create a shared, and presumably much broader, view of community engagement.  The point of the exercise is not to figure out who is right and who is wrong or to more perfectly define community engagement.  The goal is to figure out what decisions should be made about spending our limited time, money and resources so the library can have an impact on community engagement.

Are You Listening?

Everyone seems to be saying….

  • We need to be responsive to our communities!
  • We need to innovate!
  • We need to do things differently!

They may be right, and the question is HOW do we do these things?  I believe there is a set of skills we need in order to get where we want to go.  And, one of them is learning how to really listen.

I’ve asked thousands of people if they are good listeners and more than half of them say they are.  Then, we do an activity to test whether it’s true.  It turns out what most people think is listening is really preparing an answer, or judging the other persons grammar, or waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Then there is the kind of listening where the listener is on a mental holiday– thinking about what’s for lunch or whether they need to get to the store to buy cat food.  There’s the all-too-common listening that involves the voice in your head saying, “Why won’t she stop talking already?”  And then there’s often a judging voice saying something like “Well, that’s a stupid idea” or “Tell me something I don’t know” or “No way, I know ten reasons why that will never work.”

Listening involves more than standing in front of another person and refraining from talking.  Listening requires openness, suspension of judgment, belief in the possibility that something of value is being transmitted, patience, and the ability to reduce one’s own internal distractions.

If we trained all staff to do this kind of listening – real listening — we just might find ourselves more responsive to our communities, more innovative, and open to doing things differently.  What do you think?