It’s such a simple statement – “Leaders Are Communicators” and, typical of communication, there’s a wealth of implied information underneath it and a vagueness that makes the statement less significant. If I wanted to be clearer, I should have titled this blog, “Leaders Are Effective Communicators,” or give you a push by saying “Librarians Must be Effective Communicators,” but even this only scratches the surface. Most days it feels as though we are in some form of constant communication. While some are important and significant, much of it superficial. Yet it’s in the daily superficial communication that we lay the foundation for how our important communications are heard.
In our daily interactions we tend to pay scant attention to our verbal conversations and a bit more to the written ones. Both send important messages about us and our abilities as a leader. We are busy—even harried—which means too often we don’t focus our attention on the person with whom we are speaking. We want to get the conversation finished so we can get on to the next thing. We also want to make certain we get our thoughts in, sometimes even interrupting the other person.
If this sounds like you, it is detracting from your leadership. Leaders must pay attention to others. They “see” them and welcome their thinking and information. You don’t want your teachers and students to think you don’t have time for them.
We do pay somewhat more attention to our written communication, especially if it’s to an administrator but how often do we check our emails (and definitely our texts) for misspellings and phrasing that may not be as clear as we intended. The recipients notice.
In her post, 3 More Communication Tips to Implement Today, Diana Peterson-More says, “Clear, concise, and intentional communication is the key to successful relationships — even more so in today’s workplaces, when miscommunication leads to misunderstanding.” You can never forget that we are in the relationship business. It’s key to developing collaboration and to building advocacy. It is why leaders need to be effective communicators.
Peterson-More offers the following three tips:
Communicate in different methods or modes – How does the recipient like to receive communications. We are all drowning in e-mails. Is sending another one the best idea for the person you are trying to reach? How long are your emails? I know I have inadvertently missed important information because I didn’t read to the end of a long email.
In-person conversation tends to be more effective, but even here you must be alert. Is the recipient listening to you or are they too busy to hear what you are saying? If the information you are trying to impart is important, let the other person know you recognize this isn’t a good time, and see if you can meet at a later time.
Peterson-More observes that some people like to hear the information once while others prefer that you restate it in different words. It’s a good practice to start by making your point succinctly, clearly stating what you want from them, then asking if they want more details or information. In dealing with students and teachers, going into more detail is sometimes necessary because they don’t have a complete foundation, the information is new.
Check for understanding: Was the communication clear? Was it understood? – Don’t assume your message got through. What seems obvious to us is not always clear to someone else. Even within education, each of our disciplines use different words and phrases.
Be careful about buzzwords. They tend to blur meaning. My New Yorker Day-by-Day calendar shows a comic of a man doing a presentation and saying, “Enhanced branding metrics drive robust solutions for scalable monetization of jargon.” I have heard all those words often. Do I understand completely what they mean? No. It’s important to speak for clarity not to impress.
When you are the receiver of the message make sure you have understood it. You can restate what you believe you heard or ask for more clarity. It will ensure that you don’t miss the mark in your response. You certainly don’t want to misunderstand what a teacher wants to have their students do or what an administrator needs to reach his/her goals.
Use the subject line on emails effectively: Get the message out – As noted earlier, we are drowning in emails. Many of us delete that don’t seem very important without opening them based on the subject line. Or I open them and do a quick scan – and perhaps miss something. Use the subject line to grab attention.
Peterson-More suggests including all important information in that subject line. You can be fairly long and no one will skip over it. Do you need a reply? Ask for it there.
Her final recommendation is to change the subject line when a long thread develops. I have never tried that. I think if the subject is specific to a meeting time, it might be a good idea, but in general it seems best to me to keep the original one so everyone knows what is being discussed. It can be helpful if a secondary subject has come up and needs people’s focus.
Communication is a pathway we travel every day. The more we learn about keeping it clear the better our relationships will be. The better our relationships are, the more likely we will build advocates for our library and realize the vision we have for our programs.