Many of you have tried multiple approaches to get your message through but making progress is still slower than you’d like. Sometimes you make headway with one or two teachers, and that’s a big gain. Rather than focus on your frustrations, it’s important to look at what you can do to change your situation. Some self-reflection on how you present yourself might give you a few more tactics you can use to reach more of the faculty and possibly the principal.
In 10 Behaviors for Better Results, John R. Stoker reviews how we sometimes get in our own way and then offers ways to change the dynamic. There is an important theme throughout these behaviors – we can’t let our passion stop us from hearing the same passion and needs in our associates. He frames his ideas as responses to these ten questions:
- Are you so entrenched in your perspective that you don’t hear what others are saying? We know about active listening, but when we are passionate about what we believe, it is not always easy to practice. What is the other person’s perspective? Why do they see it that way? Why are they passionate? Speak first to that.
- Do you really listen when others are speaking? Another reference to the importance of active listening. Because of our own beliefs, often nurtured by experience, we listen to hear the arguments, the negative, and overlook the possible areas of agreement. Instinctively, you prepare your defense and at that moment you tune out. Without realizing it you’ve set up an immediate barrier. You’ve probably been on the other side of this as well. No one likes to be ignored. Listen first.
- Do you push too hard to get the thing that you want? This is probably one of our biggest mistakes. We finally have someone’s ear. We have our message out – fast. In the process, we overwhelm our listeners and they retreat. Watch the other person’s body language for signs they are disengaging. Be prepared to modify your request. If a teacher says s/he is too busy to come to the library, offer to send a cart with materials and an emailed list of apps and web resources. The same is true when proposing a project to your administrator. If you are asking for funds (and that is always difficult) consider spreading the project over several years. Would it work to just get approval for the project along with funding from alternate sources such as DonorsChoose?
- Do you assume that you know better or that you are always right? Even if you do, that can’t be where you start. My motto for years has been, “Do you want to be right, or do you want it to work? If you want to be right, it probably won’t work.” You need to be prepared for a solution that won’t be exactly how you envisioned it but will get you closer. And in the discussion, you might get some new ideas which will be an improvement over your original plan. Plus, being seeing as a collaborator paves the way for your next success.
- Do you allow your negative emotions to determine what you say, do or think in the moment? When we talked with a teacher who has always shut us down, we tend to anticipate the negative and follow suit. Your body language and your tone of voice communicate your negative feelings. This is when you must consciously must your mindset because this time could be your longed-for yes.
- Does your desire to play it safe or to be comfortably secure hinder your ability to be vulnerable and connect with others? This speaks to how we are as leaders. The “don’t rock the boat” attitude keeps us from trying new ideas. We worry about the possibility of failure and hide in our library. After all, you have a ridiculously full schedule, why add to the stresses of your day by trying to add working with teachers to the mix? Remember, we are in the relationship business, and if we are not building relationships, we will soon be out of business.
- Do you avoid heartfelt expressions of appreciation or gratitude? It pays to go further than just saying thank you. Handwritten notes make a big impression in the world of text, email, and emojis. Making sure you have informed your principal when a teacher has worked with you is another way to express your appreciation and one that the teacher will value.
- Do you take the time to reflect and focus on what matters most? Reflecting and focusing are two key components to success. Our days are so full we frequently don’t reflect on what we are doing or why we are doing it. Throughout the National School Library Standards, we are encouraged to reflect. It’s an important habit to develop. This question is also a reminder to prioritize. This means not only our tasks but our relationships with family, friends, our colleagues, and our students. When we become “human doings” rather than “human beings” we lose an important component of our life. Being focused only on the next task makes us less approachable and keeps us from building vital relationships. (See question 6.)
- Are you empathetic and understanding of others? When you are a “human doing,” you are not likely to be alert to signals from others. It’s imperative that you be attuned to what is going on with your colleagues as well as your administrator (and your family). If you want to build collaboration, you start with what they need, and they aren’t likely to tell you immediately. You will often have to figure it out for yourself by staying connected.
- Are you blind to your own behavior? In his poem, “To A Louse, On Seeing One on a Lady’s Bonnet at Church,” Robert Burns said, “Oh would some Power the gift give us, to see ourselves as others see us.” We rarely know how we are perceived by others. We make assumptions based primarily on our view of ourselves, positive or negative. You can get some idea by watching the body language of those with whom you are speaking. Do they move closer to you or move away? Do they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and views with you? If you’re having challenges, return to the first few questions and look at how you can really listen, hear what others are saying and not push to get your own view out first.
Making the case for your program is not easy in our stress-filled environment. Learning more about leadership and advocacy is never-ending. Adding new techniques and skills is an ongoing and empowering part of our jobs. The more we can be a “human being” the more we’re likely to enjoy the journey.