Know How to Negotiate

You go to your principal with a great project in mind. They turned you down. What do you do next? If you are like many, you shrug your shoulders, tear up your plan, and complain to other librarians about how the administration doesn’t support libraries. There is another way. In these situations, “no” doesn’t always mean “no.” It may mean “not that way” or “not yet.” To turn the “no” into a “yes,” you need to know how to negotiate. This means being aware of what you want, why you want it, and how it will benefit not only your library but others as well.

Two examples from my past illustrate this point. Working in a district where they spent as little as possible on education, I wanted to purchase what was then the latest in technology – a CD tower that allowed multiple access to several databases now available digitally. The cost was about $20,000. Rather than submit it in my budget where it would be turned down immediately, I went to my Superintendent. I explained to her why the purchase was important and proposed I cut from other places in my budget to make up for the cost. I also highlighted benefits to students. I got the tower and didn’t have to make up all the money from cuts because the Superintendent knew if I purchased it, I would use it.

In the second case, in a different district, a new Superintendent visiting the library envisioned a major renovation project. I was on board with that and contacted a vendor I had seen at a conference. In 24 hours, I had a projected quote. It was much higher than the Superintendent expected. I went back to the vendor letting them know my challenges if they wanted to work with me. One day later, I had a proposal for the project with the costs to be spread over three years. The renovation went forward, and the Superintendent saw me as a valuable person on the team who could get things done.

Knowing how to negotiate pays. Before putting yourself into this situation, check with a mentor, your PLN or favorite social media group for support and encouragement from your peers. They understand the challenges and needs you face. Greg Williams gives the following practical advice to Negotiate Better: How to Increase Your Leadership Skills:

  • Plan for negotiation – You plan for the project, but you also need to plan your “Ask.” Williams says these are the needed steps:
    • What-if scenarios – Life happens. You see that the principal is not in the best of moods. Or they are busy and want you to meet with the assistant principal. Pushing through with how you planned your presentation of the project won’t work. Reschedule or use an alternate approach depending on what you think would work best. But be prepared.
    • Know when to make offers and counteroffers – In both my scenarios, understanding the parameters of others was necessary so we could make compromises. Be open to suggestions;p know what you are and aren’t prepared to give up.
    • Control emotions – Keep a positive mindset throughout. You don’t want to show frustration or anger. Show that you can handle it if you’re turned down. Remember – “no” can be temporary but being negative can leave a lasting impression.
    • Control the environment – The time and day of your meeting matters. You don’t want to do it on a Monday when the week’s crises are beginning, and you may not want a Friday afternoon when thoughts are on the weekend. Summer is my favorite time when administrators are creating their plans for the coming year, but Thursday after school can be another good choice.
    • The value of reading body language in negotiations – It’s like a “tell” in poker. Watch for attitude changes showing interest or impatience. Williams suggests you notice hand gestures, voice tonality and intonation, and shifting physical position. By being attuned to these silent communications, you can adjust what and how you continue with your presentation.

When it’s over, make time to reflect and review what happened. Did you get what you wanted or most of it? Think about what worked and what you could have done better. How has this negotiation affected your principal’s perception of you as a librarian and a leader? And when negotiation gets you what you wanted – don’t forget to celebrate.

Quiet Your Inner Critic

Of all the people with whom we communicate with each day, the one we speak to the most is ourselves. And all too often we are not kind. We say to ourselves things we would never say to anyone else. And we certainly wouldn’t be saying it so often. Yet, each day the barrage continues, and it takes a toll.

A result of this negative self-talk is a decrease in our ability to believe in ourselves. When something new comes up, we step back, sure if we take on this challenge, we will mess it up. Our inner critic blocks our path to leadership, adds to our stress, and it leads to feelings of overwhelm and burnout.

But how can we turn off, or at least turn down, the critic that lives inside us? It’s not as if we seek it out. It speaks up almost without us being aware of it. And there is the core of the answer. Being aware of your self-critic is the first step.

In a recent article on Edutopia, Kailyn Fullerton presents the following  7 Ways to Identify and Overcome Self-Criticism:

  1. Understand the negativity bias -Fullerton explains it’s natural. All animals are hard-wired to identify threats, humans included. Unfortunately, we do this even when the situation isn’t dire and as such, look for – and find – all the things going wrong at any given moment. By being aware of this bias, we can notice when it’s not serving us, when it’s not true, and even when others are doing it by having their focus solely on what they think is wrong.  
  2. Monitor your inner voice –What are those negative phrases that play in a loop in your head? Fullerton says these self-critical statements often repeat themselves and suggests identifying your “top ten.”  The “shoulda,” “coulda,” “woulda”s” are always up there, along with “I always,” and  “I never.” Absolutes in a statement are usually a warning. Putting this negative self talk to a “truth test” will help remind you see where the critic is lying.
  3. Set realistic expectations – Having high expectations isn’t a problem as long as you accept the learning and growing process that goes with it. Otherwise, you give your inner critic a space for those negative phrases (back to Monitor Your Inner Voice). Remember, too, that depending on the importance of the task, excellent and “good enough” can be sufficient. Learning takes time, and you can’t rush it.
  4. Create realistic goals – Don’t set yourself up for failure. Is what you want to do likely to happen given all the interruptions you face or do you need more time? Don’t forget the “A” in a SMART goal. If it’s not reasonably achievable, don’t make it goal however much you want to get it. Find a way to break it into something smaller. You can also try the W-O-O-P (Wish-Outcome-Obstacles-Plan) method for creating goals recommended by Fullerton which allows you to acknowledge the things that will get in your way and how to manage them..
  5. Find the helpers – Who can you turn to? Rather than beating yourself up or venting too often and sounding negative, look for supporters. Let those you have a good relationship with knew you are trying to find a solution to some challenges. If you don’t have a mentor, look for one or turn to library-related social media. Someone has already experienced this and will be glad to offer advice and support.
  6. Give yourself a break – If you criticize yourself, you can also be kind. Create a practice of self-compassion. Tell yourself supportive things. My favorite reminder is, “I have done tough stuff before and faced difficult challenges, I will do so again”. The advice is old but true, “Speak to yourself the way you would speak to someone else.” Acknowledge how difficult something is, recognize that this is part of the process, part of being human, and then say something kind to yourself. “I am taking on a big goal. I knew this would be hard but worth it. I am learning and getting closer to my goal every day.” It’s a worthwhile shift and you’ll feel your emotions and energy lift.
  7. Look for the good – Mute that inner critic by loading up with self-congratulatory thoughts.  This counteracts the negativity bias. Do it just for yourself. Make note of your successes. Savor compliments you get. Keep track of them. Create a Success Journal (this is the action that works for me). It’s so easy to overlook what went well. Moments of joy and positivity can make a difference.

Your inner critic is not going to become silent. Note that the title of the article was “Quiet Your Inner Critic” not eliminate it. As Fullerton says, your inner critic is natural and, sadly, well developed. Notice it, release it, find supportive truths, and be kind to yourself and others.

Achieve Your Goals

I often cite Yogi Berra’s quote, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” It’s goals which help us identify our direction and give us a focus for what we do. Goals motivate us to go forward, raise our awareness of procrastination, and give us a sense of achievement.

Except when they don’t.

Setting goals isn’t the hard part – reaching them is. So many goals, whether personal or professional, are set with great enthusiasm. But we don’t always get what we aim for. The result is we feel defeated. We lose faith in our ability to make changes. Rather than blame ourselves for not achieving our goals, we need to look at what may have gone wrong in our approach.

A post on Dialogue Works entitled “Have You Ever Eaten a Bicycle? offers 11 steps for achieving your goals. The title refers to the author’s college roommate attempted to eat a bicycle – one teaspoon at a time. Here are the steps along with my reflections.

  1. Start where you are – Sometimes the way we write our goals sets us up for failure. Be realistic about your starting point in connection with where you want to go. If teachers aren’t collaborating with you, don’t start with a goal for getting an entire grade or department to work with you before the year is over. Find the best first step.
  2. Strive for 1% improvement – A small goal with regular progress is better than an overwhelming large goal that leaves you feeling defeated. Having one teacher collaborate with you who has never done so before is an achievement. Succeeding with one give you the motivation to reach for a second.
  3. Create a specific plan – It’s the “S” in a SMART goal. Without the specifics, it’s hard to find your starting point. Using the collaboration assignment, a goal to work collaboratively with a grade level is too general. Instead, identify a teacher you are friendly with and a unit you know that teacher will be doing. Start specific and build from there.
  4. Be consistent – Related to “strive for 1%, if you can’t be consistent in the steps toward your goal, then it may be time to change the goal (and go back to 1-3 for that). When working consistently, be aware of the steps and timeline of your plan. The plan is your “How,” the timeline is the “when” in your goal. Without a timeline, you are always starting tomorrow.
  5. Expect setbacks – Not only expect – accept them. It is rare when a plan goes exactly as outlined. Be prepared to adjust. For example, if the teacher is absent on the day you planned to initiate the conversation, you will need to go back a step and set up a new date. The date changed, not the goal.
  6. Forgive the fail– This is critical. Beating yourself up is an excuse not to keep trying. The article stresses, “You are not your performance.” Failing isn’t missing the target. Failing is not staying committed to the goal. Learn from what happened to tweak your plan.
  7. Keep moving – The author’s roommate didn’t stop after the first bite. Expand your plan and build on your success. Where can you reach out next? What’s the next 1%?
  8. Make adjustments – Different from “expecting setbacks,” this asks us to look at our results when they aren’t what we want. Is there something we’re doing or saying that is causing us to miss the mark? (Look for an upcoming book on successful communication I am doing for Libraries Unlimited.) Becoming attuned to how people react to you – and your reaction to them affects whether you will reach them with your plan.
  9. Build support – Mentors are great. Do you know another librarian who frequently collaborates with teachers? Ask for their help. Have them explain how they established their connection. Use social media as another source of advice. You can also look for someone with the same goal and work to support and encourage each other.
  10. Don’t compare – Only compare with yourself. Measure your success and progress against how far you’ve come, not based on how someone else looks as though they are doing. You don’t know the other person’s entire situation. I have a friend who says, “Don’t compare your inside with someone else’s outside.”
  11. Celebrate your successes – Each step accomplished deserves a personal acknowledgement of your achievement. Each 1%, consistent step, failure released, and adjustment made deserves recognition. Don’t wait for the big finish – although you definitely need to celebrate that. Keep yourself motivated by noticing your wins along the way.

Four months into the year and most of the way through the school year, it can be hard to remember the goals we started with, but by remembering where we want to go, making a plan, and taking the action to get closer, our goals are within reach.

Finding Happiness

I blogged about Happiness back in January but since I’ve noticed happiness and unhappiness are the subject of many blogs and posts, I thought it worthwhile to look at it again with another perspective. So many people have happiness as a goal. In the United States, the “pursuit of happiness” is listed right after life and liberty. But is that how you wish to invest your time and effort? Is it a worthy goal?

While there are many things that make me happy, the underlying sense of happiness I feel most of the time comes from having a life of purpose and meaning. It comes from making my choices based on my priorities, purpose, and passion and living that with others.

My priorities are my family, myself (self-care), and my profession. My purpose is to show librarians they are leaders and build more librarian leaders. My passion is promoting the value of school librarians and the work they do.

Guided by these three P’s, I know what new tasks I will undertake and which ones I will refuse. Yes, I still wind up with a lot on my plate. And sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming, but it’s all doing stuff I love. And it brings me happiness.

LaRae Quy agrees. She suggests we focus on living “a eudaemonic life…purposeful, full of meaning” and offers the following 4 Reasons Why a Good Life Is More Important than Happiness:

  1. Fewer Regrets – Your life may not have turned out the way you thought it would. You may be miles away from where you started. If you’re feeling unsure, Quy suggests you check your inner compass, and find “the individual purpose in your lives.” It may take time to discover, but it’s time well spent.

Think about what you are doing and how it fits with your life’s purpose, the change you want to contribute to with your time, talents, and efforts. Monetary compensation is rarely great if you are in education, but knowing you make a difference in others’ lives may connect with your purpose. And if you are not recognized for your contribution, then work on enlightening them.

  • Noble Sacrifices – If you are school librarian, you obviously sought more than financial rewards. Obstacles and difficulties are a part of life. As Quy points out, “If something is important to us, we will endure the pain to make it happen.” And through those challenging times we learn and grow.

You are making a noble sacrifice when you go that extra mile – or mile and a half—for someone else or for a program you believe in. It happens when you volunteer for your state school library association, or anytime you voluntarily step out of your comfort zone. And you will get more than you give.

  • Significant Relationships – Quy asks us to look at the important people in your life. Do their values match yours? The old expression, “tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are” is a good reminder. It’s not the purpose of someone else to make you happy, but they shouldn’t be draining you of your happiness.

Some relationships are toxic. They are exhausting. You steel yourself for every conversation knowing they will be complaining or ranting about something. If they are not family or someone you work with, look for ways to end the relationship or add distance in it. By contrast, Quy cites a 75-year study showing that “good relationships keep us happier and healthier.”

  • Clear Sense of Direction – Quy asks, “If you had a year to live, what would you do?” I think too many people would think first of their bucket list. My question is, “What you want your eulogy to say?”  We may or may not believe in the afterlife, but there is an “after life” when you are remembered.

A life focused on pursuing happiness won’t be remembered for long. You are touching lives today that will be affected many years into the future. And they will be passing down the wisdom they learned from you.

Take joy in life. Celebrate happy times and achievements. Just don’t make happiness the only goal. As the late Gilda Radnor in her Roseanne Roseannadanna persona famously said, “If it’s not one thing, it’s another.” Things happen. Keep your priorities, purpose, and passion close to you. You’ll be happier for it.