I often say “We are in the relationship business” What goes along with this is without communication you can’t develop a relationship. That shouldn’t be a challenge. After all, we are always communicating, aren’t we? Not necessarily the message we want.
Communication has three distinct elements:
- the sender,
- the message, and
- the receiver.
If you remember the game of telephone you played as a kid, messages can easily become distorted, and in real life that distortion can occur within any of these three elements. In order to communicate effectively you need to be aware of how this happens and what you can do to prevent it. It is your responsibility to make sure the message is sent on a “clear channel.”
Assume you are the sender. Before you do anything you need to identify your receiver, your audience. Is it your principal? A teacher? A parent? Next you must consider what your message is. Are you reporting something to your principal? Offering help to a teacher? Responding to a parent query?
To be sure your message will not be garbled as it is received you must be sure it is in language the receiver understands. Educators have jargon they use so frequently they are not always aware they are using it. Scaffolding and differentiated instruction are quite specific terms for educators, but would parents understand them? Librarians have their own jargon as well. We talk about information literacy and digital citizenship and don’t stop to think that not even our principals or teachers fully understand what we mean.
In communicating, it’s important you don’t make assumptions. You might say, “Our teaching of information literacy ensures students are able to identify their need for information, locate relevant facts, evaluate them, and use them to communicate effectively.” In essence you included the definition without either insulting someone who knows what it means or using a term they didn’t understand.
Your next challenge is to select the right medium for the message. In the previous century, your choices were limited. Do you want to talk to the receiver (in person or the telephone) or write to them (memo, report, or letter)? Today you have an array of options. To some extent it depends on what the message is, but there is a further consideration. What is the users preferred source of communication?
If your principal wants e-mails, use that. If he or she is a technophobe (getting rarer) schedule a meeting. Do the parents in your school use Twitter? If they don’t it’s not a good medium for communicating with them. Do they go to your library website, your blog, or only like the print or emailed newsletters? You need to take your message to where they are.
Besides language, the structure of the message is critical. When you are tweeting you are limited to 140 characters. Conversations, emails, and memos have not such limit. It must be self-imposed. Most of you are aware that text messages need to be fairly short and emails should also be brief. If they are too long people skip some of the last part of the message. I work to keep these blog posts to a specific length and no longer, knowing they are being read on devices more than computer screen.
What isn’t as well recognized is how to craft a message, oral or written, to an administrator, and this works for others as well. We have a tendency to provide “background” so the receiver knows we are well versed in the topic and have done research, when appropriate, to be certain that what we are proposing is the best course of action. By the time the recipient gets your point, they have become lost in the verbiage.
As journalists have always known, “Don’t bury the headline.” Lead with it. Give one or two supporting statements. Particularly if the message is directed to your administrator let him or her know that if more information is needed, you will be glad to provide it. The same is true if you have a face-to-face meeting. Start with what you are seeking.
Note how this and all my blogs are written. I keep paragraphs to a few lines. Too large a block of text tends not to be read. In my presentations I almost never have a PowerPoint slide with a lot of text. It doesn’t work in today’s world.
Once you have “sent” your message, you may become the receiver. When you are on the other end you must do what you can to be certain you heard the message correctly. This means engaging in active listening and restating in your words what you understood.
Although the focus here is on verbal/written communication, never forget the presence of nonverbal communication. Any written messages should be proofread. We hit send (or replay all!) too fast. It’s not serious when dealing with your friends, but when communicating with administrators, teachers, and parents it communicates a message about your skills and how much you care about what you are saying. When it’s important, I create my emails in Word first and then do a copy/paste.
When you are speaking to someone, watch their non-verbal communication. Are they subtly checking the time? Are their eyes glazing over? Do you need to rephrase for their understanding or is it time to bring the conversation to an end? Stay aware.
Good communication skills can be learned and can always be improved. Practice makes perfect – or at least better. How well do you communicate? What’s your best medium? What do you need to work on?