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.

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”  😉

Why Nations Fail

My mother, who knows about the work I do in libraries around culture change to produce vibrant organizations, sent me an article from the New York Times Magazine online called “Why Some Countries Go Bust” ( The article reviews a new book by Turkish M.I.T. professor Daron Acemoglu and his collaborator James Robinson called “Why Nations Fail,” What seems obvious to me is that the principles they present apply not only to nations but to organizations, as well. As the author of the NY Times article says,

 “Their great contribution has been a series of clever historical studies that persuasively argue that the cheesiest of slogans is actually correct: the true value of a nation is its people. If national institutions give even their poorest and least educated citizens some shot at improving their own lives — through property rights, a reliable judicial system or access to markets — those citizens will do what it takes to make themselves and their country richer.”

 I say “hooray” for these guys. Yes, the true value of an organization is its people. As cheesy as it may sound as a solution, improving communication skills throughout the organization and involving all staff in determining the library’s future just may be the answer to keeping libraries relevant. Since we’re not likely to get a large influx of money soon, why not consider a solution that’s right in our own backyard?  For starters, how about a staff day run as “open space” or using the world cafe method or as a facilitated meeting .  Those would all be a step in the right direction and can be done with almost any number of participants.  If all staff get empowered to contribute to making themselves and their communities “richer,” who knows what can happen!