This week’s blog is another entry in the ongoing discussion of the art of communication in an age of too much information. It’s a reminder that data—even the beloved “big data” – is not what will carry the day. For your message to be received you first must connect in some way with the receiver. Being able to make this connection depends on Emotional Intelligence (EI). EI is now recognized as a major factor in success in school and beyond, which is why so many schools have incorporated Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) into the curriculum. The Core SEL Competencies are the same as those used to define EI.
Although you are probably incorporating SEL into your instruction, you may have not integrated it into your own advocacy program. Emotions underlie all our decisions whether we are aware they are at work or not. The more conscious you are of your emotions and those of the people you are speaking with, the more likely you are not only to be heard but to inspire action.
If your words have not yet penetrated the wall your listeners have built, Lisa Rabasca Roepe gathered These Techniques from Professional Speechwriters That Will Help You Get Your Point Across. She presents seven ideas which are highly applicable to what you need.
Personify Your Data – Generalities contain no emotion. People hear them and can’t repeat them five minutes later. If you want to discuss the problem of aging resources, don’t lead with a Titlewise collection analysis. Talk about a student who used out-of-date or incorrect information because the book she chose was twenty-years-old. Or you can take one of those aging books and say, “Imagine what would happen if David (use a name to make the example more personal) was doing research on planets and found this book discussing Pluto. If he researches what is known about Pluto from this book and other sources, he never discovers that Pluto is no longer considered a planet until after he turns in his assignment.” The story, focused on a single individual, captures attention. You can then follow up with your collection analysis.
Know Your Listener – Be mindful of your listener’s attention span. In my experience, principals have so much on their plate, they have a very limited amount of time to hear you out. Get to the point quickly. If they want more details, they will ask. When I would set up an appointment with my principal’s secretary, I asked for ten minutes and was prepared to finish in five – and leaving the data at the conclusion of the meeting. It made it much easier to continue getting appointments as I needed them.
Be Personal But Not Confessional – It’s always easier to connect with someone you feel you know. Include some relevant stories of your experience. The most important word here is “relevant.” The story about yourself should connect to and reinforce what you are discussing (such as my principal story above). Try to avoid topics such as politics, religion or others that lead to heated, not connected, dialogue. It’s also best to steer clear of serious personal issues such as illness or loss, lest it seem like a bid for sympathy.
Be Specific – My husband reminds of this all the time. He asks me, “Why are you telling me this?” “What do you want me to do about it?” We tend to slowly edge up to our request. By the time we get there, our listener has tuned out. Don’t say, “I know you have seen our Makerspace and liked what the students are doing.” Go right to what you want. “It is time to take our Makerspace to the next level.”
Aim for a Home Run – Play big. Go for what you really want. The big idea captures attention. Having done that, your back-up plan is likely to be approved, possibly with additional modifications. If the issue of money is raised, you can offer ways to do your idea in stages or cut back somewhat. And your principal will know that you have big ideas that may well be used to showcase the school.
Re-enact Your Story, Don’t Just Tell It – Suppose you are trying to convince a teacher or administrator that books in the library shouldn’t be leveled. Don’t cite articles on the subject. Make it personal by putting a face on the issue. Talk, for example, about Darrin, a boy who has hated reading. Last week he found a book in the library on his favorite baseball team, but it was below his reading level. You decided to break the rules and let him take it out. Now he is reading so much more, and although he still wants books below his Lexile level, he’s more likely to improve because of this change.
Build a Story Bank – Be aware of the power of story and the emotions they carry. Keep track of incidents and moments that happen in the library which you can use at some later date. This may seem odd at first, but the more stories you collect, the more you will notice.
You can tell teachers, administrators, and others how important the library is, but, as you well know, that doesn’t mean they will hear you. Bring story and the techniques of speechwriters to grab your listener’s attention, hold it, and get them to take action.