Archives For communication

image of window with title "want a better library job? develop your people skills"When I started business school last semester, I wanted to learn skills I didn’t find in library school. Think financial management, or strategic planning – the nitty gritty of business.

While I wanted those hard skills, I worried that I would be surrounded by business jerks who care only about numbers.

To my surprise, the first required class in the business program was all about people skills. I learned more about interpersonal communication in one b-school class than I did in two years in a library science program.

We went introspective with lots of personality typing for self-awareness, from the old standby Myers-Briggs to fancy color charts from Emergenetics. We spent hours talking about how different personality types interact and how we can learn from each other. We learned how to tell stories that spark people to support our vision.

The instructor, Susan Heinzeroth, explained why we were spending so much time on these soft skills. She drew a graph on the board to illustrate. Here’s a sketch from my class notes:

hand-drawn graph showing that as career level progresses, technical skills decrease and interpersonal skills increase

We all start out in libraries by developing niche technical skills, like cataloging or database searching. As our careers develop, those technical skills become less important, and the need for interpersonal skills skyrockets.

Libraries are all about people – connecting people with information and helping them transform their lives through learning.

Leadership is all about people, too. Leaders need to align a diverse group of people around common goals.

To do that, they need massive amounts of interpersonal skills.

Interpersonal skills go beyond the customer service skills you use to help patrons at the circulation desk. These deeper skills shape your long-term relationships with colleagues in your library.

If you want to advance your career, expand your professional development from just technical skills. Consider whether you have room for growth in any of these interpersonal skills:

  • Deep listening
  • Verbal communication
  • Non-verbal communication
  • Asking questions
  • Negotiation
  • Apologizing
  • Persuasion
  • Assertion
  • Networking
  • Storytelling
  • Emotional intelligence

To be a great leader, you need to consistently rock these skills with a wide variety of people. If you’re like me, you feel comfortable in a handful of these skills, and that you’ve achieved mastery in maybe one or two.

The good news is that interpersonal skills can be learned and developed, just like technical skills.

You don’t have to go to business school to work on your interpersonal skills. There are great low-cost resources to kickstart new ideas. Check out Crucial Conversations, or this great list from The Muse of 11 Cheap Online Classes You Can Take to Improve Your Interpersonal Skills.

Once you start thinking a little differently about how you interact with others, you can start putting new skills into practice with people around you.

Think about your library colleagues. Is there someone you avoid because you just don’t get along?

Real talk: as you move into leadership positions, you no longer have the option of avoiding people. You need enough interpersonal oomph to have a good relationship with everyone in your organization (and outside, too).

Maybe that strained relationship is an area for interpersonal growth. Could you ask your colleague more appreciative questions? Could you find more empathy for your colleague? Could you genuinely apologize for your part in creating a rift?

Technical skills are, of course, still important. If you go back to that graph, you’ll notice middle managers a mix of technical expertise and interpersonal skills. As a middle manager, I feel that pinch. I need to know how to re-write loan rules in Sierra . . . and explain to people why we need to do that, and persuade them to help make the changes.

If you want to advance in your library career, you’ll need these interpersonal skills to have stellar relationships with your colleagues. Developing your interpersonal skills makes you a better leader in your current position. It also makes you a better candidate for advancement within your library, or for taking on a leadership role at another library.

How would you rate your current interpersonal abilities? What’s helped you grow your skills?

Email Fails. Talk.

Kevin King —  September 20, 2016 — 2 Comments

stop-sign-e1337976595845-2Good organizations communicate. Healthy organizations communicate face to face more than email. When you want to dispense important information to your staff, making the time to deliver the news on a personal level is much more effective than electronically. The possibility of your team missing information is much greater when your only source of communication is email. Leaders who commit their time to make sure important information is discussed with the team show that they are devoted not only to the institution but also to the individual.

Finally, email is NEVER the medium to use when delivering information that could be bad, uncomfortable or disciplinary. You owe it to your team to set up the time when you can be available to not only discuss the issue, but be there to answer questions and be empathetic.

Healthy organizations promote personal, trust-filled communication on all levels. Just remember – Email fails. Talk.

group of 4 people talking in a circle and talking with text "improve you library communication in 20 minutes with standup meetings"Internal communication has been a sticking point in for every library department I’ve worked in. Even within a team, employees felt like they didn’t know what their colleagues were doing.

Solutions to internal communication usually involve a lot of reading and writing. There are internal newsletters, emailed updates, or project reports. All of this written communication takes a ton of time and energy, with only mixed results.

If internal communication is a problem in your library, I want to share an almost magical solution that you can start doing right away. Even better: this communication fix takes 20 minutes at most.

A few years ago, I learned about a great solution to internal communication problems at a fantastic project management training from Megan Torrance of TorranceLearning. I realized in the training session that internal communication isn’t a problem unique to libraries, and that project management strategies offer a fix for this issue.

Many software development teams start each morning with a quick standup meeting to explain to what they’re working on that day.

Standup meetings are a classic project management technique. The idea is to keep each other informed about new projects, let colleagues know if their help is needed, and share a team sense of achievement. Participants don’t need to literally stand up; the name standup just indicates that you’re not going to be in the circle long enough to get settled in.

The time investment to payoff ratio is stunningly good. Each person is given 60 seconds maximum, so the standup meetings last only as many minutes as there are people.

I wanted to try standup meetings out with my circulation department, but I needed to tweak the format to fit our service-oriented work.

The timing was the first thing to change. Daily meetings seemed way too often. For one thing, we cover a wide variety of schedules to keep the library open, so it’s a rare day that we’re all here at the same time. Instead of daily standup, I settled on weekly standup meetings with my access services team.

The standup meetings have been amazing for our team communication. In just a few minutes, the entire team gets a sense of our biggest accomplishments and the challenges coming up.

I borrowed the format Megan Torrance shared at the training. We gather around our ILL processing table every Friday morning, and in 60 seconds, each team member is asked to share:

  • What you’re working on
  • What you need help with
  • (If you want to share) something that’s going on in your personal life

This basic outline results in a lot of information packed into 60 seconds. For instance, a circulation manager might say:

“I’m working on hiring new student employees to staff the circulation desk. I might need your help with some of new hire training, because I’ll be out on vacation next week if my kid makes the gymnastics semi-finals.”

These two sentences give the team a heads up that new student employees will be joining the department, that they might need to lend a hand for training and orientation, and that their coworker has something exciting going on at home.

As a manager, I really appreciate the communal format of standup meetings. Everyone’s voice is heard and my staff are giving status updates to each other, not just to me. Everyone at the standup hears that reserve requests are flooding in or that interlibrary loan urgently needs extra processing help, and we’re able to create a quick plan to deal with it as a team.

The better understanding of current workloads we get at standup meetings helps us empathize with each other. When you know your coworker is dealing with rewriting loan rules, you’re able to empathize with her, hold off on less pressing requests, and understand if she’s slow to get back to you.

The empathy also extends to personal life. If you know that your colleague’s sister is visiting from out of town, you understand why he’s really motivated to get out the door at 5 o’clock sharp.

Of course, all of these things could be shared in casual conversation. The beauty of the standup meeting is that it sets aside a small amount of time to ensure updates are shared, and that information is shared equally with everyone at the same time. Staff who felt out of the loop before are assured a place in the circle.

I also believe that standup meetings help us get more done. Saying out loud what you plan to accomplish instantly creates a feeling of accountability, so we get to work right away.

How does your library department keep up to date with each other?

Standup up meetings are the best strategy I’ve found for my group. They’re quick, effective, and help us feel connected. If your library department could use an internal communication boost, invest 20 minutes to try out a standup meeting.

Spark Up in Denver!

Kevin King —  February 26, 2016 — Leave a comment

Compressed-air-horn-4d4939ffccf31_hiresDo you have an idea that you have been dying to tell the library world? Looking for a forum to share your brilliance? Going to the PLA Conference in Denver, April 5-9? (Tired of blog posts that start with a bunch of questions?) Due to popular demand, PLA is bringing back one of its most popular events from the 2014 conference, Spark Talks! The first Spark Talks event attracted a standing room only crowd. Participants were treated to idea after idea in five minute increments. Anyone going over the allotted time was subject to the sweet sounds of an air horn. It was fun.

The skill of being able to share an idea in a short time is one that all leaders need to learn. You never know when you are stuck in an elevator with someone who has the power to move your idea forward. The ability to succintly summarize has helped me get many ideas off of the ground. The opportunity to witness others trying to do it in a high pressure setting should help you learn what and what not to do.

I am calling upon all LL&F readers going to Denver to consider giving a Spark Talk. You can apply on the PLA Spark Talk page. Oh yeah, I forgot to add that I will be your host for the event. Let’s Spark it up!

photo of laptop and vase of tulips with text "3 steps to empty your inbox & do work that matters"Decluttering is a popular topic. I’ll be honest: I love it when I do it, but it is not my natural setting. My natural setting is collecting. However, there is one area in my life where I have the cold, dispassionate, ruthless decluttering approach of any home organization maven: emails.

I have hesitated to write this post in case I curse myself, but I bragged to a few friends about my email prowess and so far my email related hubris hasn’t caught up with me, so I’m ready to shout it from the mountain tops: there are only ever about 10 emails in my inbox. At a maximum.

As library professionals we get a lot of emails. As leaders we need to be able to see what’s new information when it’s new and get to old information quickly when we need it. How do you do that when your email inbox is at 100 emails, 200 emails, dare I say, 300 emails?

Sure, new emails rise to the top and sure, you can search, and sure, you can flag things. But all of that is so much easier when there are about ten emails in your inbox. It saves you time and it sets you up nicely for when you are going to be out of the office for an extended period of time.

Here is how I do it:

When I get to work, I do a quick run through of my emails. I go through everything in the inbox and do one of three things:

1) Deal with it right now

If it will take me five minutes or less (a quick “Ok, thanks!” to let someone know I’ve received the email, for example) or if I’m just going to delete it, I do it right now.

2) File it in a folder

I have a few folders for ongoing projects or email I’m going to need to reference sometime in the future. In addition to folders pertaining to certain projects, I have one folder for general future reference, as well as a folder for time off requests, and a folder for job feedback. I try not to keep too many emails, even in these other folders. Really test yourself: can you come up with three examples of times you will really need this information? Is this information stored anywhere else?

3) Flag it

These are the very rare items that stay in my inbox. These are actionable items or information I will need for a specific date in the near future. If I get a confirmation email for a professional development event in two weeks, I flag that email so I have the information at the ready. The flag helps me remember to delete it when the event is over. Or, if I received a message about a sink that needs to be fixed in the building, I’ll flag the email until I have time to put in a work order. Once I’ve dealt with the task (put in the work order), I delete the email.

For the rest of the day, I just deal with new emails in one of those three ways. The flagged emails get incorporated in my byzantine to-do list system (which is very good, but a post for another day. It involves Outlook, sticky notes, dry erase markers, and dance breaks).

I also clean out folders periodically. I have recurring tasks that remind me to clean out my deleted emails (once a week: delete everything older than a week), my sent emails (once a month: delete everything older than six months), and my future reference folders (once a month: delete things that are no longer relevant).

This may sound like it takes a lot of time and the initial set up will take a bit of time, but ultimately you save so much time not having to hunt for things and you save yourself so much embarrassment by not missing out on things! If you have a lot of emails in your inbox right now, don’t feel overwhelmed. If you can carve out some time each day to deal with what’s in your inbox and make folders and delete stuff, great! If you are swamped for time, just deal with the new stuff that comes into your email in the way I’ve described and maybe sort through one or two older emails every day. You’ll catch up before you know it!

I have used this system for something like 8 years and in 4 different positions and it has always been effective. I know some people are more nervous about deleting emails than I am and make a folder for all of their emails and keep them for a month, and then clean out that folder. There are lots of ways to make this system your own but I would really encourage you to keep your inbox between 0 and 10 emails and to regularly clean out your future reference folders in whatever shape they take. Join me in the joyous world of email decluttering!