Words of Praise, Words of Encouragement

We know compliments are important.  They can make a person’s day, but we should be more conscious of the ones we give.  Too often we praise students saying, “good job,” but our words fail to make much of an impact without specifics.

If you tell me I did a good job, I’ll be glad to hear it, but I probably won’t think about it again. However, if you said, “that story you told to make your point really resonated with me,” I will remember.  The difference between the two?  The second compliment offered something specific. It showed you weren’t making an offhand, polite statement. You noticed what I did and how I did it.

Making your compliments specific takes time and requires that we “see” the person.  We go beyond the surface and recognize what the other person has done. Telling a student that the design of their presentation had a professional look then going on to ask how they learned to do it will make an impression and a memory. 

Encouragement is also best when specific.  When we say, “You did much better with this assignment,” the student will appreciate it.  But pointing to the examples of the improvement and noticing what they learned will mean much more.

Even better than giving someone a verbal compliment or an encouraging word is to write it. I have been known to copy/paste and print comments my students have written to me at the end of a course so that I can refer to them, especially during those times of Imposter Syndrome.  It means a lot to know I reached them and made a difference.

In The Value of Mailing Encouraging Notes to Students, John Tiersma takes the concept a step further by making a commitment to send a handwritten note to each of his students every year. The results have been long lasting. Tiersma tells the story of a former student who displayed his note, written seven years earlier, on her dorm room wall. His reasoning on why this works is:a

Feeling Important Is Important – Our inner voice is a harsh critic.  Sometimes it’s all we hear. The school dynamic may compound that sense of not being smart or worthy.  A note is a physical representation that you are seen as being of value.  Having positive skills and characteristics recognized is a motivator to build on them and become engaged in learning. Tiersma stresses the importance of making your words “specific, genuine, and true.”

Another Way to Connect – For those of you who cannot do handwritten notes, Tiersma suggests “authentic compliments”, which I discussed earlier, and he encourages having “non-school conversations.” It’s how you get to know the person, not just the student. 

These conversations are also an effective relationship building approach with teachers.  They are not their job.  We only see a portion of our colleagues and students if all we see are their job-related personas.  As you connect with praise or encouragement, you may be surprised to learn what you have been missing.

With everything already on our to-do lists, starting small is probably the best approach.  Pick a student who has been looking bedraggled or one who has been showing improvement, then send them a handwritten note. Or, set a goal to have at least one to two “authentic conversations” each week. Tiersma suggests focusing on someone you don’t know well.  Learn their interests and hobbies.  I built a relationship with one teacher when I learned she liked fly fishing. I don’t share that interest, but I was able to get articles to her she might otherwise have overlooked.

As we deal with students who have been traumatized because of the pandemic or for other reasons, consider how offering praise and encouragement this way will help you to expand and develop your relationship building skills and make a difference in your work.  And remember, this doesn’t only have to be with students. Teachers need this as well. The old expression “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” reminds us how important it is to connect with the people.  True connection, like clear praise, makes a difference. It can even change a life.

What Do You Expect?

We go through life expecting that things will go a certain way – and then they don’t. It’s frustrating, disappointing, and irritating. Sometimes it’s because conditions changed, but very often the problem is due to the expectations themselves. Being aware of and able to manage expectations makes our jobs easier and our relationships stronger.

Expectations are based on who we are, how we perceive the world, and how we act. In our communications and interchanges, we make the unconscious assumption that other people are like us. We know this is not true, and when we know someone well, we recognize the differences. When it’s a teacher, parent, or administrator with whom we don’t have that higher level of familiarity, we unwittingly assume things that aren’t true.

John R. Stoker asks Can Managing Your Expectations Improve Your Emotional Intelligence? and gives twelve ways to do so.

  1. The expectation that you have been understood – Communication has three parts: the sender, the message, and thereceiver. When something is amiss with any part, the receiver will not get the message that was sent. Did you tailor the message to the receiver? Did you give too much information?  Did you use library jargon which made things unclear to the receiver? Be certain the message was received.
  2. The expectation that people will know what you want – If you’re not clear about what you want, chances are you won’t communicate your needs well. Get clarity before you speak so you know what you want to say. Lead off with your main point and be careful of being either too specific or too vague which leads to a loss of clarity.
  3. The expectation that people will perform the way you would perform – We all manage projects differently. People perform based on their expectations, not yours. In addition, where a project is your priority, it may not be someone else’s. Be aware of differences.
  4. The expectation that people should know what to expect from you – Even if teachers and administrators have expectations about the library, they may not know what they can expect from you. Let them know what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. The more they know, the more they will be aware of your contributions.
  5. The expectation that those who are disengaged will take responsibility for their disengagement. For us, this means expecting a busy teacher or principal will eventually get back to you – and even apologize for the delay. Again, you likely have different priorities so cannot expect this. If necessary, create a reminder for yourself to re-send messages, follow up, and make your needs clear.
  6. The expectation that you won’t violate someone else’s expectations – If we don’t know the other person’s expectations, when we haven’t gotten clarity, mistakes are more likely. We don’t like to think we missed the mark, but it happens. As soon as you notice, apologize and then make a plan for going forward.
  7. The expectation that someone will tell you what’s going well and what isn’t – A leader’s job is to “inspire and inspect.”  People tend not to say anything if something isn’t going as planned. Plan to check in every so often to ask how things are going and if they need help. People are sometimes embarrassed to admit that they are struggling.
  8. The expectation that people will know how what they do contributes to the organization’s success. Sometimes it’s hard to see how small projects contribute to bigger successes. It’s important to be aware of this within your program. Then you can let teachers and students know when they’ve made a difference and pass this information along to administrators. This is a great opportunity to acknowledge a teacher or administrator who has made a difference. Specific compliments make a person’s day and will strengthen your relationship with the receiver.
  9. The expectation that priorities are understood by everyone – Even when they overlap, our goals differ from those of teachers and administrators. If your principal doesn’t understand how a program is contributing to the success of students, s/he may ask you to take on something new. When starting a new initiative, be clear with those participating what the priorities are.  Don’t assume. And take time to review as the project continues to be sure you are all on the same page.
  10. The expectation that people will give you personal feedback – You don’t always want to hear praise – you need to know where to improve. People don’t like giving negative feedback almost as much as they dislike receiving it. In discussions with teachers, make sure to ask, “What could I have done to make this project better?” rather than, “Did it go OK?”
  11. The expectation that you know what people need – This is why the “inspect” discussed in #7 is important. We are different. We work differently. And we are different in what we do well and what challenges us. What do people need when it comes to resources, time, support and assistance. When you check in, with feedback not criticism, it allows both of you to be more successful.
  12. The expectation that people who are driving slower in the fast lane will move over – This is about giving and receiving respect. No matter how a project is going, whether communication and priorities are clear, it is important to treat everyone involved with respect. Listen for what’s working and where things are challenging then move forward accordingly.

When you start a project, think about your inherent expectations. Are they true?  If not, make the necessary adjustments. You will minimize disappointments and lower your frustration levels. As Stoker says in his conclusion, Part of becoming more emotionally intelligent and a more effective leader is about identifying our expectations and clearly sharing them with others. Doing so will not only eliminate unneeded and potentially damaging emotional reactions but will also greatly improve your results.”

Email With Impact

In our work world, email is a major communication tool, and we use it frequently. Even before the pandemic, we didn’t see our colleagues and administrators every day. We find other ways to connect. Because we are usually in a rush, we write and send emails without thinking too much about their composition. What we aren’t thinking about is what will happen at the other end of our message.

Communication consists of a sender, a message, and a receiver. The job of the sender is to craft a message appropriate to the receiver and choose the method or communication platform that makes it easy for the receiver to understand it. If you don’t get this right, your message is less likely to be grasped.

Communications is a core skill of leadership. You can’t do much if you are unable to communicate clearly and successfully. Most of you do a good job, but all of us have room for improvement.

Steve Strauss wrote an article on email for small businesses for USA Today. His six rules work well for our communications as well. Here are his recommendations – with my comments on how they translate into the education world.

  1. Think of the subject line as the headline of your story – Like us, our receivers get far too many emails. They quickly scan their inbox to see who sent messages and what they are about. If they can’t figure out from the subject line what you want to tell them, they are less likely to focus on it when they do open it. Sending a teacher an email about a resource with the subject “great link for you,” doesn’t say much. “Resource for upcoming unit” lets them know what they will gain by opening your email. “Outstanding Student Products” will get your email opened quicker than “Library News.”
  2. Short is sweet – Long emails are often not fully read. I have missed important information because they buried it four or five paragraphs down. Keep things short and to the point. If possible, your paragraphs need to be short as well, no more than four sentences is preferable. Remember, your email may be read on a phone or tablet. Large blocks of texts don’t get the focus.
  3. Emojis are Ok – This one surprised me. It turns out they are helpful because we lose so much information when we don’t hear someone and their tone of voice. But use them sparingly. As Strauss cautions, you need to be careful with them. One emoji in an email is probably the maximum to use. And choose that one with some thought. Is it needed? Does it clarify what you wrote or help with the tone? You don’t want your email to sound like a text from a teen. Also keep in mind the relationship you already have with the recipient. Are you friendly? Then the emoji might help. Your principal or superintendent? Not so much.
  4. Use the correct tone – Emojis notwithstanding, the downside of email is the challenge of conveying your tone which would be clear in a face-to-face interaction. You can be casual, but, as Strauss notes, sarcasm and facetious jokes aren’t always received as sent. Many have gotten into trouble for saying something in an email that was taken out of context. Consider the audience for the tone you are using.  This is also true for using formal or more casual language.
  5. Writing is rewriting – We do this for many things we write, but often skip it for emails, especially if we’re in a rush. If the email is important, take the time to review it. To be absolutely sure, copy and paste it into a Word document and note the grammatical corrections. Also, reread the email for flow. You may have gotten subject line correct, but did you begin with the most important part of your communication? Make sure it says what you want, the way you want.
  6. Nothing is private – Unless you are praising, avoid putting someone’s name within an email. You don’t know to whom it may be forwarded. Strauss also warns about the potential for problems with the ever dangerous “reply all.”  This isn’t new information, but it’s important to remember because when we move too fast, we make mistakes. Emails are forever. Even the biggest names in tech have been caught by surprise when old emails have surfaced. Pay attention before hitting send.

Emails that are written well and get read get acted on. In our rush to get the message sent, we may be losing the opportunity to communicate clearly. Think before you write. Ensure that the emails you send connect with their recipients.

Taking Charge of Your Life

“You’re not the boss of me,” is what kids say when they don’t like being told what to do. While it may not be something we’d say as an adult, it is important to be aware of when we are allowing too many people to tell us what to do and direct our lives.

To make others happy, we often say yes to things we don’t have time for, or which don’t support our priorities. Then when we’re asked to do something for an administrator or which we want to do, we’re stressed because there’s already too much on our plates. How often do we say yes because we’re worried about what others will think if we say no – and what’s the cost to us when we do it?

Why do we worry so much about what other people think of us?  If we are living our lives based on our values and principles, our actions and choices speak for themselves. Those who judge us should not matter. But somehow, they do. It can make us compare ourselves to others and find ourselves lacking. Or keeps us from setting boundaries because the opinion people have of us matter more than our wants and needs.

In The Trap of Caring Too Much about What Other People ThinkGregg Vanourek says, “Life is too precious and short to let others determine our path.”  People pleasing is a trap many of us fall into. He offers eight tips to prevent what he refers to as “the downward spiral.”

  1. Acquire more self-awarenessWhat is your heart and mind telling you to do? Your inner voice when you are not letting it criticize you, knows the truth. When you hear your thoughts say “no, I can’t” don’t say “sure, no problem.”
  2. Develop clear and compelling personal purposes, values, and vision – You have them for your library. You need them for your life. Who are you? What do you want to accomplish in your life and be remembered for? Write these down if it helps and refer to them before taking on anything new – in or out of work.
  3. Cultivate self-acceptance – Talk to yourself the way you would speak to a good friend who is dealing with whatever is happening in your life. You certainly wouldn’t criticize or only point out what they’re doing wrong. Self-compassion goes a long way when setting healthy boundaries.
  4. Take time before saying yes – New tasks always take more time than predicted. Before saying yes, go through tips one and two. Be aware of what you can do and if the new requet first with your purpose, values, and vision. If it doesn’t, say no. (For help with this – you can read my blog post on this topic.)
  5. Gain perspective – How important is their opinion in the overall scheme of things? In the long run, will it matter? In the moment, it can feel very important, but when you stop and think (see point #4), you’ll likely realize you’re reacting out habit and not out of an active choice to do something that works for you.
  6. Experiment with experiencing disapproval – Vanourek suggests mentally picturing what would happen if others disapproved of your choice or action. Does it feel less right because of them?  Or do you see how the choice represented who you are? It’s important to separate feelings about others from the feelings we want to have about our decisions.
  7. Notice how people may respect us for setting boundaries – A favorite phrase of mine is, “If you act like a doormat, people step on you.” It goes well with, “We teach people how to treat us.”  When you are clear about what you will and won’t do, your communication carries that message and is invariably respected. And people are less likely to comeback and step on your again in the future.
  8. Imagine and pursue the freedom on the other side of this mental block – In the moment, it’s hard to keep a boundary, but think about how you will feel after. It will likely feel as though a weight has been lifted. There is a huge difference between what we do for others because it’s who we are and what we believe in, and what we do because we fear the criticism or judgement of others.

It’s important that we take responsibility for our choices and not let the responses of others be our primary motivation for making those choices. Setting and keeping boundaries allows you to have more of the life and career you want. You’ll be known for saying yes with clarity and you’ll be doing more of what you want. There will be mistakes and successes, but they will be truly yours.

Weigh Your Words

image by Oko Swan O’Murphy via Canva

Words have heft and weight, and in our hectic world we sometimes toss them around without considering their power – including their power to wound.  An inconsiderate response can do lasting damage. An off-hand remark can crush a student. The wrong response to a teacher can close the possibilities of collaboration you have been working towards. You didn’t mean to do it, but the harm was done. On the flip-side, the right response can strengthen existing relationships and start new ones.

We typically (and unintentionally) do damage when we are busy and respond without thinking. Being aware of phrases that might harm relationships and what to say instead can help avoid these situations. Gwen Moran suggests These 7 Phrases Can Help You Sound More Powerful at Work. They will also keep relationships moving forward.

  1. Here’s What I Can Do – “No” cuts conversation off. There are always alternates you can propose. You can’t and shouldn’t always say, “Yes”, but there are alternatives.  Moran reminds us we need to set boundaries. It’s good for others to know you have a lot of work and many priorities. At the same time, you don’t want to cause a teacher to think it doesn’t pay to ask for your help because you are so busy.
  2. I’ll Find Out – This one is part of our work so it may come more naturally. As a profession, we are great at finding out and rarely just say, “I don’t know.” A quick response because we were too busy or distracted to listen carefully to the request will do more harm than letting someone know you will follow up. Try to give a date or time by when you plan to get back to them – and do so.
  3. Can You … – Asking for help is a good thing. Moran cautions you not to preface the request with, “I know how busy you are …”   You don’t want to suggest you see your request as a burden. Also, you can request that they do something before you add your support. “Can you narrow down your search before I….” “Can you give me a list of topics you want covered….” And when someone does you a favor, they feel positive about themselves – which can improve your relationship. After, don’t forget to thank them. Handwritten notes are great for this.
  4. Let’s Solve This – I love this phrase. It creates a collaborative situation which more naturally strengthens relationships. Working together you get to understand the other person’s needs better. The knowledge will help you in targeting your future communication to their wants and needs.
  5. I’m Glad You Like It – It’s hard for many of us to accept praise but minimizing it by saying it was no big deal or deflecting to how someone else contributed takes away from what the other person said. Accept compliments gracefully and graciously. Assess if it’s a good time to get feedback by asking, “What do you think worked?” as well as “How could I have done it better?” or “What do you think I should do next time?”  In the convivial atmosphere of a conversation, you can get a helpful response and build for the future.
  6. I Want to Help – Whether it’s a teacher or a student who is distraught, “Calm down” never works. It typically aggravates the situation which, in turn, weakens a relationship. Saying you want to help or asking what you can do allows the person to focus on what you are saying and that help is available. Helping them articulate what they need further strengths your relationship by showing them you are someone who can be trusting in stressful situations.
  7. I’m Happy I Was Able to Help – Moran says this goes beyond saying “You’re welcome.”  That phrase is an automatic response to a thanks. By bringing in your happiness, you pave the way for further opportunities to work together and reinforce the collaboration and connection that occurred.

Words spoken aloud or in text are fundamental to our communication. Communication is a tool for building relationship. Relationships are part of our leadership skills, and leadership is necessary for advocacy. Because words have power to harm or help, they can erode all we are trying to build when we speak carelessly. Bullies use them consciously to hurt. Implicit bias has been unconscious but no less wounding. Despite our knowledge, sometimes we speak without considering what the receiver of our message hears. Before you speak, take stock of where you are, especially if you’re feeling rushed or stressed, and pause before you respond. It can make a big difference.

Being Effective

As you pivoted your way through the pandemic, goals and needs kept changing. Being effective was and is a challenge. Being efficient was even harder. With the heavy time constraints we have, we need to improve our techniques for being more effective – and by doing so – become more efficient.

Merriam-Webster defines Effective as “producing a decided, decisive, or desired effect.” It implies knowing what needs to get done and then getting right down to the task. It’s a good goal for students and for you. But it is elusive.

We know that working harder is not the solution. It is draining, making you less productive and therefore less efficient. John Rampton says the way to do it is to Work Smarter, Not Harder: 10 Ways to Be More Effective at Work.

  1. Trim the Fat – This sounds like a good diet idea, but it refers to making your to-do list work for you. Putting too much in sets us up for feeling frazzled, not accomplishing everything, and encourages multi-tasking which doesn’t work (we’ll get to that). Besides identifying your three highest priority (and goal-related) tasks, get at least one finished early, giving you a feeling of success.
  2. Measure Your Results, Not Your Time –Whether it’s weeding or collecting books, measure your success by what you accomplished in one day. You know how to eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Rampton quotes Leo Widrich, who recommends keeping a “done” list. It allows “you to review your day, gives you a chance to celebrate your accomplishments, and helps you plan more effectively.”  I do the same with my Success Journal which I keep next to my computer.
  3. Have an Attitude Adjustment – Your mindset has a powerful influence on your effectiveness. When you feel you are getting things done, when you recognize your help to others has made a difference, you don’t have the weariness that keeps you from being effective.
  4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate –Communication is key to our success. It’s not just our words or our texts. It’s the choices we make in using them and the silent communications happening simultaneously. Active listening is your responsibility in communication. Suiting the message to the communication channel enhances the chances of it being received as intended. Long emails often don’t get read completely. Don’t bury the lead. Say what needs to be said—and stop.
  5. Create and Stick to a Routine – The more things you don’t have to think about, the more effective you become. To help make this happen – use the next tip.
  6. Automate More Tasks – There are apps and programs for planning, calendars, reminders, and more. Ask your PLN what’s helping and see if it makes sense for you. The best automation can help you get through your day with fewer decision points leaving more energy for bigger issues.
  7. Stop Multitasking – Once the touted way of getting more done, studies have proved it doesn’t work. Unfortunately, we do this more often than we realize. The worst offense is when we are mentally planning what we will do or say next while we are talking to someone. Stay focused and you are more likely to stay effective.
  8. Take Advantage of Your Procrastination – Historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson, author of Parkinson’s Law said, “If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.” Not that this should be a general practice, but it suggests we cloak our tasks in more time than they need. Give yourself shorter, clearer, deadlines and you’ll find yourself getting more done.
  9. Relieve Stress – Stress impacts work performance. You’ve heard this before and likely know the techniques that work for you. Get up and move for a while. Take a break in another part of the building. Look out the window or find a way to sit in the dark for fifteen minutes. Lowering stress increases effectiveness.
  10. Do More of the Work You Enjoy – You have many roles, but you like some better than others. Put your emphasis on those. It will give you the positive attitude you need to do the other ones. It’s also a good reminder when it seems like most of what’s on your to-do list are the tasks you like less. Use the things you love to jump start your day or as a reward for getting other things done.

Chances are you already do some of these to make your days go smoothly. If you’re looking for ways to be more effective, choose some of the ideas on this list and put them into practice. Hopefully, you’ll see an increase in your own effectiveness.

Leaders Must Be Strong Communicators

Communication is as natural as breathing and just as constant in our lives. Unlike breathing, however, there is so much room for error, it needs our focus and attention. Leaders need to be clear in their communication. When people receive a clear message, they are more likely to support, trust, and follow you. Taking time to improve your communication skills makes you a more successful leader.

In a post on SmartBrief, Want Real Leadership Growth? Focus on Strengthening as a Communicator,  Al Petty writes “too often, we ignore the centrality of communication effectiveness to effective leadership”. He goes on to say, “everything important in our careers and working lives takes place in one or more challenging conversations, and every communication encounter is critical if you lead.” There is a direct correlation between your success as a leader and your effectiveness as a communicator.

Petty notes that every failed professional situation in his career was proceeded by problems in communication. Poor communication inevitably has a negative effect on desired outcomes. For example, when a plan isn’t working, before changing the plan, check to see if everyone is clear on what to do, who’s to do it and why it’s being done. On the flip side, good communication produces even greater positive results than expected.

According to Petty you need to put these three tactics into operation to improve your communication skills and avoid the fumbles that detract from your leadership:

Listen Harder – There is almost nothing more powerful you can do to benefit your communication than to be a great listener. Unfortunately, in our eagerness to respond to what someone is saying or to get our point across, we stop listening. Our brain is busy constructing what to say as soon as the other person stops talking. We may think we are paying attention, but in this situation, we are, at best, hearing only the surface information which means we are more likely to miss the core of the message. Petty states, by “focusing intently on the person in front of you, you are projecting empathy, showing respect and gaining critical verbal and nonverbal insights necessary to truly communicate”. All of these increase your ability to be an effective leader.

Slow Down and Respect the Persuasion Cycle – Being eager to get to the end goal, it is easy to keep pushing for a response. When we do, we are apt to be faced with the other personal stonewalling and resisting what we’re suggesting. A good maxim to remember is, “No one wants to be sold. Everyone wants to buy.” The challenge is to make someone want to buy.

Petty explains the “Persuasion Cycle” as moving a person from

  • Resisting to Listening,
  • Listening to Considering,
  • Considering to Doing,
  • Doing to Being Glad They Did.

Knowing what the other person wants and needs helps you frame your message, so they move from resisting to listening. When you actively listen to their response you can elicit their willingness to consider your message. They now are interested in doing.

The final step in the cycle is the important piece. When the person is “Glad They Did” you have a supporter and advocate. The next time you approach them, your conversation is more likely to start at Considering or Doing portion of the cycle.

Design Your Critical Communication Messages – When the message is important, it is worth time and effort to get it exactly right. You don’t want to have any words that detract from it. Each word counts and has weight. Writing, rewriting, and testing it with a mentor or trusted colleagues will help you get it clear.

According to Petty, you need to have “three or four core drivers behind your core message.” The drivers are the foundation for why the message is so important. In the library world, one core driver is the students. They are the emotional tie that brings the most response. Test results are another driver. School and district goals are powerful drivers if you connect to them. Budget can be another.

Illustrate your core drivers so your audience understands them as clearly as possible. Pictures, graphics, and videos are more quickly internalized than text. Use the language your receivers understand. If you are talking with administrators in schools, they know the educational terms but not library terminology. If necessary, change from the terms you use to the ones they do.

If you review your past success and challenges, chances are you will see a correlation with the strength or weakness in communication. Taking the time to work on your communication skills – listening, persuading, designing your message – will exponentially increase your success. The better your ability to communicate, the better your ability to lead.

What Communication Is – And Isn’t

My blog last week, Let’s Talk Meaningfully, focused on how to make your conversations produce more positive outcomes. It addressed becoming a Social and Emotional Leader through communication. There is no question that successful communication draws on your Emotional Intelligence. You need to be aware of your emotions and that of others as you guide and respond. The better you become at bringing your understanding of what is going on under the surface, the more skillful you are. Realizing the obvious as well as the subtle nuances of communication is a core skill we need to develop as leaders.  

But what is “communications?” Although we may never pin down an exact definition, Merriam-Webster says Communication is “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior,” and it is also “personal rapport.”  Looking at what communication is and isn’t, is one way to describe communication more fully. In What Communicators Know, and What They Must Teach, David Murray shares what he learned from his former boss, Dr. Larry Regan. CEO and Founder of Ragan Education, and reinforced by his experiences. There is an important mind shift to become a true “communicator.” 

A communicator knows that words are not communication – We’ve heard the expression ‘actions speak louder than words”. This is what Murray wants us to remember. Factors such as body language, voice, and our appearance are part of “speaking,” often before we open our mouth. Also, if we’re not careful, these things can influence our analysis and sometimes the judgements we make of the other person which have nothing to do with what is being said. Be aware of what is being communicated without words.

A communicator knows that communication doesn’t simply mean persuading other people to our point of view When that is your aim, you are not listening and the other person will be aware of that. We need to be willing to listen before we try to make our point. This is essential to good communication. Only when you truly hear with the other person says can you even begin to respond.

A communicator often helps in humble, unseen ways – When carrying a message, unless you were charged with repeating it exactly, you can rephrase it if there are trigger words while keeping the meaning. If you see there’s a possibility for communication to be unclear, do what you can to correct that. It is also what you do when you bring a teacher’s success to the attention of the principal or a student’s success to a teacher.

A communicator knows that there has never been a universally shared truth – While there are facts, truth can feel “elusive.” We see the world, and our truth, from individual lenses, and a communicator/leader must be attuned to how others perceive it. Eyewitness accounts of the same event vary. The difficulties this causes have been increasing obvious. To be a communicator, you need to draw people out so they can recognize how they came to their conclusions and to see where shared truths can be used.

And a communicator knows the limitations of communicationSome things can’t be talked through – some things need to be “worked out.” Sometimes you need to stop talking and get to work. Focus on the product. For a library, this can mean instead of sending well written advocacy-based messages, look for ways to be necessary to others. Let your actions speak for you – and then create a well worded follow up.

Communications has its limits and its strengths. When you think of yourself as a communicator you will find more ways to make connections with those around you, and, in the process, you will be a stronger, more reliable leader.

Let’s Talk Meaningfully

I’ve said it here before and I’ll say it again, we need to talk with one another – and do it well. Conversations are integral to how we connect. We are social organisms, and talking with one another is necessary for our survival. No matter that there is text, email, Zoom and phones. For relationship connections to be made, we need to see each other and communicate face to face.

We cannot overlook the importance of meaningful conversation. A great conversation helps build relationships and can make an audience of one or more recognize your value and become an advocate. By contrast, a mismanaged conversation can alienate the person or persons you are speaking with and result in a negative impact on you and your program. When we are tired and stressed, we are obviously not at our best. Those are the times when mishaps – and “misheards” – are most likely to occur. How can we manage conversations that support us and those we are talking to when we are not feeling our best?

From his book Making Conversation: Seven Essential Elements of Meaningful Conversation Fred Dust offers five ways to engage in talks that produce positive outcomes, large and small. They are valuable to incorporate into your daily interactions.

The history of humanity is one long conversation – It’s important to remember how basic conversation is. Conversation is natural to us, and we can conduct aspects of it without words. Hand gestures are part of them. We even have them with those who don’t have words (I’m looking at you, pet owners). It’s how we reach out to others. Think of the first phrases you learned when studying a new language: “Hello.”  “How are you?”   In conversing with others, you may not speak those words, but be sure you are communicating them. They open up possibility.

Silence is an essential component to conversation – Consider those Zoom meetings when people start speaking over each other. Those not competing for airtime, tune out. When you are talking, you are not listening. The pause, the moment of silence, gives you time to digest what has been said and respond to whole idea, not just the piece that captured your initial attention. It also shows you were listening to the speaker which creates additional connection.

Get good at naming – As someone who has always struggled with remembering names, I recognize how important it is to remember as many names as possible of the people you connect with. It tells people that you see them – and are ready to hear them. In a large school, even learning all the teachers’ names can be a challenge since you may not see many of them outside of faculty meeting. It helps if you can “name” something about them. For example, “Janet Quilter” or “Fred Gardner.”  (Interestingly, that’s how many last names were created – and why there are so many Smiths).

Notice change – There’s an ebb and flow to conversations. Be aware of the shifts. Is it moving to the heart of the matter or beginning to fade out?  Is the other person becoming angry or calming down?  If you are using “silence,” you will be more able to tell when this is occurring. It will keep you from saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. It may alert you to the best moment to say something important or that it’s time to wrap up.

When in doubt, make – Instead of “having” a conversation, “make” one. As in your makerspaces this implies you are building something that matters. And you are. You are building a relationship and when you have the conversation in connection to something that is being done, more is created. Ultimately you are adding substance to a relationship and that’s valuable. When we have meaningful conversations we are the creator and maintainer of that relationship.

We are stressed and tired, but we need to ensure that we use conversations to both strengthen us and bolster the ones with whom we are conversing. Sometimes a meaningful conversation with a student or teacher is exactly what we need to feel energized and more productive. As a leader you never want to lose sight of what conversation can do for you and those you support.

Communication – Positives and Pitfalls

Online, in person, via text or via social media, we are always communicating. It is the basic tool we use to form relationships, and relationships are the core of our success. As adults, one would think we would have mastered it by now, but it’s not that simple.

Because our interactions with others consist of multiple levels of communication, there are many opportunities for confusion. Most of the time we successfully send our message in a positive way and that is how it’s received. Other times we are not as successful, and we don’t always know why. What can we do to have conversations that produce the desired results?

What can we do to have conversations that produce the desired results?

Lolly Daskal has advice for business leaders, which applies to all. She minces no words in 9 Dumb Things Smart Leaders Need to Stop Doing Right Now. Here is her list:

  1. Stop talking over people – We strive for active listening, but when we’re excited or concerned we have a tendency to interrupt to get our comments and ideas in. When we don’t listen to others, they stop listening to us. (This is one I need to work on – especially when I’m harried.)
  2. Stop thinking you know best – There are knowledgeable, trustworthy people around you. Just because we know better than anyone how the library works doesn’t mean that others can’t offer something important. Their viewpoint can alert us to something that needs changing. Give them the respect of listening to what they say and the tenor of the conversation changes. You also gain a potential ally. Remember, it’s feedback, not criticism.
  3. Stop creating unattainable goalsWhether working with students or teachers, having a large goal is great, but if the receiver of the message feels it can’t be achieved, they will tune out, you will get annoyed, and your body will communicate that message. Instead, break goals down into smaller ones that do seem attainable. You don’t want your goals to add to anyone’s stress – including yours.
  4. Stop trying to control everythingWhen there is too much to do and not enough time, ironically, we tend not to trust anyone to help. We fall back on “you know best,” and it will take too much time to explain everything. Pause. Breathe. Then figure out how to loosen the reins otherwise you will probably come across as bossy and feel overwhelmed, unappreciated, and tired. When others can help, we inspire new leaders.
  5. Stop taking people for granted Unless we consciously remember to acknowledge people, teachers, administrators and students. When we recognize their worth, they are more apt to recognize ours. Thank people for their time, support, encouragement, and help.
  6. Stop the hypocrisy – Keep your actions aligned with your words. When it comes to the big things, we rarely struggle, but the small things can slip our minds in a stress-filled day. Be aware of the possibility to keep it from happening.
  7. Stop imposing unnecessary rules – Some rules are necessary, but if they are arbitrary and/or make people’s lives more difficult, then they revision – or they need to go. Don’t set rules that make the library less welcoming. Look to create positively stated guidelines that support your Mission and Vision.
  8. Stop criticizing people in public This applies not only to teacher (and administrators) but students as well. Public humiliation is harmful and can have long-term negative effects. Responding too quickly with a negative comment is damaging. Apologize immediately. No matter how well the person appeared to take the comment, the barb stung, and they won’t forget it.
  9. Stop trying to act alone This is most likely to happen when we are guilty of #2 and #4. Daskal quotes the adage, “if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.”

We all have fallen into some of these communication pitfalls. Being mindful of them will minimize their occurrences. We need to ensure we send –and receive—messages positively. It builds our relationships and our leadership.