Communication Channels

Every conversation is an opportunity, yet many are wasted or don’t use the best channel for a particular communication. With our limited time, we can’t afford not to use these interactions to get the maximum possible benefit.

In looking at these different channels, keep in mind that the underlying purpose of any conversation is building relationships. When we get to know people better and allow them get to know us, ties are forged, and future advocacy developed. As a leader, particularly in these times, you need all the supporters you can get.

Joel Garfinkle focuses on 5 of The Most Effective Communication Channels at Work. Each offers a different opportunity. The challenge is to know which one to choose for a specific purpose and what you can accomplish.

In Person – This gives you the best opportunity to learn more about the other person. You have a host of non-verbal cues, including body language and even appearance, to help you understand and communicate. In Person is the perfect channel to meet with your principal or other administrator (as long as your principal knows the meeting is happening).

Summer is the ideal time for this meeting when your principal is less harried, and there is less likelihood of interruption. This meeting is especially important if you have a new principal. Your past achievements don’t count.

This is the time to learn their vision, what they want to achieve, and a perception of libraries and librarians. Share your mission and vision and spin it to show how you and the library can support their goals. Use your knowledge of body language to recognize when it’s time to bring the meeting to an end. It’s best if you can do this before the principal does. Change channels and follow up with an email — or a handwritten note—thanking them for their time and highlighting one important take-away.

Video Communication – We have all become Zoomers. Within the school setting this isn’t used as much as now that we’re back to in person classes, but it offers some interesting possibilities.

If you are fortunate enough to have several librarians in your district, a Zoom meeting can help in unifying how you deal with similar challenges. While not the same as in person, it does help you to get to know your colleagues better and build those relationships. You lose some ability to read body language and eye contact isn’t as clear, but it’s a good start. Consider this channel for reaching out to the public librarian.

Phone – These are best for shorter, more direct conversations. Garfinkle recommends you check at the start to be sure this is a good time to talk. The phone is best used for setting up an in-person meeting or reporting in on something. Be specific, clear, and quick. Stay focused on your purpose. You might want to have notes to keep you on track. Follow up with a confirming email. Without any visuals to guide you, listen for verbal cues to hear if the person sounds rushed or background noise that hints at distractions.

Voice Mail – Sometimes this is the only option. You called and the person didn’t pick up. Be prepared to leave a succinct and clear message. Identify yourself and, if necessary, give your preferred call back number. Repeat that at the end of the message – slowly. Keep your message focused on the reason for the cal. Garfinkle advises if you are not prepared to capsulize the reason for your call, hang up. Get your thoughts together then try again. Smiling as you talk will help you sound upbeat and increase the chances of being called back. Your tone is your most important signal in this method.

Email – Although Garfinkle likes this channel the least, it continues to have its place as long as you are aware of potential pitfalls. The first rule is to keep it brief. People are busy and often don’t read all the way to the bottom. They are also often checking on their phones and so are reading on a small screen.

The next rule is to proofread, particularly if it’s an important communication. Spelling errors have a negative impact on you and your message. Also check to be sure your language is clear and is unlikely to be misconstrued. Obviously, this is not the place for sarcasm and emojis aren’t appropriate in the work environment. All you have are your words in this form of communication – no tone, no inflection. Clarity is key.

Before hitting “send,” make sure you haven’t included people who shouldn’t get this message in the “To” section. A “reply all” can get you in trouble. We work so fast, it’s easy to make these mistakes. If it matters, take time to get it right.

Knowing the best channel for initiating conversations is an important leadership skill. Don’t waste or miss your opportunities to reach out and build those vital relationships.

How Strong is Your SPINE?

The recent rise in book banning and attacks on school librarians have made our already stressful lives even more so. Dealing with challenges – or anticipating them when preparing a book order— has been something school librarians have typically faced alone. But the nation-wide organized campaign has taken the issue to a much more intense level.

ALA, AASL, and many of our state library associations have joined with other groups to respond and defend intellectual freedom and freedom of access to information. The resources on ALA’s Fight Censorship page keep growing. But at some point, it’s one school librarian making a choice that will impact their lives and the lives of their students. Until recently, that private decision didn’t stress or threaten job security for most school librarians. Today, we are all in the crosshairs, and the stakes are higher than ever. How do you decide?

In Leading with SPINE, John Baldoni presents the following acronym to guide you in taking stock of how strong your spine is, and possibly what you might want to do to strengthen it.

Strength – Are you standing up for your beliefs? Speaking out? This is one of the hardest things to do. Silence is consent, but voluntarily choosing to put your beliefs out in the open, leaving yourself open to attack is scary. Look for others who do it and stand with them. Speaking out as part of a group is easier and helps you build that strength.

Principle Baldoni equates principle with your purpose. What is your Mission? Are you acting in a way that furthers or hinders that Mission? He quotes Confucius, “To see what is right and not to do it is want of courage, or of principle.” Your choices need to be in support of your Mission whenever possible.

Integrity – Integrity is always cited as a core leadership quality. It describes who you fundamentally are. You keep your word and behave justly. It’s living with a moral code. Politicians and companies are often accused of not having that moral compass that guides their decision-making when they act only in their best interests. What is your moral code, and how do you live up to it?

Nurture – This is a great addition which refers to developing others’ capabilities. Leadership is not about creating followers. It’s about creating more leaders. You need your spinal strength to help them grow strong and take on the risks of leadership. It also includes nurturing yourself. What are you doing to grow as a librarian and a leader? Who are you learning from?

Energy – Being a leader is hard work. It requires Vision, self-reflection, and assessment. It means not being satisfied with doing a good job but looking to do a better one. With so much of library ethics and core values under attack, we need to keep growing and learning. Becoming more knowledgeable about how to get the word out and build advocates will strengthen our spines. Build and create momentum that will help carry you through the challenges.

Our spines hold us up, physically and metaphorically. To be spineless is to not have the courage to do what we can when we can. Being a librarian takes courage. Although we are stronger together and getting stronger at dealing with the book bannings, the reality is there will come a point when it’s just you making a decision for your library potentially taking a huge risk as you take a stand. Hopefully, we can all do our best to strengthen our SPINE.

Dealing With Avoidance

Procrastination and avoidance may look outwardly similar, but their internal differences need to be recognized. Procrastination can be healthy, such as when used to give your brain a rest. Yes, it can be overdone, but normally you get back to the task. Avoidance has few positives. It refers to something you know should and must be done, and you keep doing other things hoping it will go away. It could be a dreaded task or a conversation you don’t want to have. At its core, it is a form of denial.

We cannot not avoid most big things in life. Avoiding something doesn’t make it go away, and often makes it worse. And it looms in our minds adding to our stress. Leaders need to face the tough stuff.

In his blog post, What Are You Avoiding, Gregg Vanourek lists what we most commonly avoid, why we do it, and the problems caused by avoidance. He concludes with a list of 14 ways to stop doing it. They are brief, and many you have heard before, but they are worth reviewing and recognizing.

  1. Recognize our avoidance behaviors—but without beating ourselves up over them – You can’t deal with a problem unless you recognize it’s there – and is a problem. Whether it’s choosing less important tasks until you have used up all available time or waiting until you are in the right frame of mind, there is a pattern for you. Be honest about it.
  2. Seek their root causes (continue asking why until there’s no deeper why) – There are reasons for our behaviors. What are we afraid of? Do we fear we can’t do it? If so, why do we think that way? Our brains try to protect us, but sometimes they prevent us from developing further.
  3. Engage in relaxation and self-care activities such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, gardening, art, or journaling – These can be key ways to understand what you uncovered in the first two steps.
  4. Get support from a friend, mentor, therapist, and/or coach – Support is a great means of dealing with a tough problem and getting past avoidance definitely qualifies. Reach out to the people who will talk you off the ledge and help you get back on track.
  5. Process emotions by talking them through with someone or journaling – Similar to the previous one but focus on the underlying emotions, not just the actions. Emotions are powerful controllers of our behaviors. The journaling or talking will help you identify them and see how they are getting in your way.
  6. Divide the problem into smaller, more manageable chunks – Once you can see both the behavior and the emotion behind it, chip away at it by breaking it into manageable steps.
  7. Start with an easy task to get momentum and small wins- As you divide the task, look for the small pieces you can start with. Early victories create momentum.
  8. Give ourselves motivations, such as rewards for accomplishing tasks – Acknowledge the achievements as you take these steps, no matter the size. It will keep you going.
  9. Reframe a situation to note the positives and avoid focusing only on the negatives – What are the positive emotions you’re noticing as you take these steps? Look for these rather than how far you have to go (remember #1 – don’t beat yourself up!)
  10. Change our inner monologue, quieting the negative self-talk – The words we use when we talk to ourselves are extremely powerful. Give yourself a break. You are getting there.
  11. Practice communication skills, including assertive self-advocacy – Speak up for yourself. We frequently avoid difficult conversations and topics, including advocating for what we need.
  12. Set deadlines and goals to commit to action by a certain time – Set a “by-when.” Make sure it’s realistic. Without that you are more likely to continue to avoid.
  13. Build action and proactivity habits, training our brain and helping us become a “doer” – Knowing your best time of day for getting big jobs done is the first step. Do the next small chunk then and celebrate you win.
  14. Recognize that doing something we’ve been avoiding can feel amazing, giving us a sense of agency, accomplishment, momentum, and confidence – It is liberating. That looming elephant that you have been pretending not to see is gone!  You are ready to take on the world.

You are not the only one who has avoided doing difficult things. It’s human nature. But if you keep dodging them, you don’t build the self-confidence you need to draw on to be the leader your students, teachers, and administrators need you to be.

The Sound – and Benefit – of Silence

We live in a noisy world. Throughout our waking hours, noise, information, background sounds and beeps, dings, and other signals of incoming messages on our phones, tablets, and computers assault our brains. We’ve become so accustomed to it that we don’t realize the toll it’s taking on our mind and body. Schools are out, or nearly so, across the country. We need to take a break from all the noise and luxuriate in silence, at least for a little while. Silence allows us to recuperate, reflect, and rejuvenate.

Justin Zorn and Leigh Marz offer insight into the issue in this article, and their new book, Golden: The Power of Silence in a World of Noise. Using five key insights, they move us through recognizing the scope of the problem to finding a solution that fits us as individuals.

  1. Silence isn’t just the absence of noise–The statement made me pause—and in essence that is what true silence is. It’s the full stop that has us being solely in the moment. Zorn and Marz say it is, “the experience of pristine attention, the space where no person or thing is making claims on our consciousness.” Can you recall a moment of such silence? Frequently, the moment was provided by the natural world. It could also come from reading a perfect sentence that stops you from going on. Sometimes, it’s a deeply spiritual moment. Whatever it is, the world comes to a halt, giving us a gift that’s important to recognize and cherish.
  2. The world is noisier than ever—in our ears, on our screens, and in our heads. Just as many of us lose a lot of time to being stuck in traffic, so to do we lose time figuring out what we were up to before phone call or other noise interrupted us. According to the book “Researchers have found that most people switch between different online content every 19 seconds, and the average person spends one full hour per day working to get back on track after interruptions from phones or social media.” In addition, the mental conversations we have–frequently negative self-talk–are another distraction. All of this noise makes it harder for us to stay focus and take time for what we most want to be doing.
  3. Noise is our society’s most celebrated addiction. We measure and celebrate progress based on what is being produced. Silence adds nothing to that measurement. We have forgotten we are human beings. We are all about being human doings. These moments of pristine attention are not valued. If not valued, we move to the assumption that we shouldn’t waste time with it. And in so doing, we have missed the true value attention and silence bring to our well-being.
  4. To get beyond noise, look beyond the typical rules and tools of mindfulness. We have all been advised and even trained in bringing mindfulness into our lives. While mindfulness has brought improvements into our lives, most of us find we are not managing it well enough. Instead, even knowing that mindfulness helps, we’re more distracted than ever. While there is no one size fits all solution, Zorn and Marz offer this recommendation –“notice noise, then tune in to silence.” Be aware of those great moments of pristine attention. What grabs you is different from what does it for others. Enjoy what moves you.
  5. The simple act of listening to silence can regenerate our brains. The duo quote Pythagoras, “Let your quiet mind listen and absorb the silence.” According to Duke Medical University researchers, listening to the silence promotes neuron development. How wonderful to discover that silence is productive.

Get out in nature, Contemplate art. Sit with your coffee and your thoughts. Learn where your moments of silence occur and seek them out. Silence is truly golden.