As is fairly standard I think, our library does an annual performance evaluation in the spring. Last year, one of the things I wanted to work on was “communication” – a broad topic indeed! In general, I wanted to be a better listener, improve my active listening skills, and have an ability to control my enthusiasm (I am… easily enthused and that can overshadow others and their ideas in a conversation). This, clearly, is a life-long commitment – one I’ve been working on and will continue to work on. And sure, I wrote a bunch of SMART goals and whatnot (those were supremely helpful), but I wanted to reflect briefly on one thing I did to get to this better state of communication.
Over the past year, our library has done some great work in the area of raising awareness around and improving our cultural competencies. One tactic we’ve taken is to bring in a facilitator – Nehrwr Abdul-Wahid of One Ummah Consulting – and he’s just great. I highly recommend bringing him to your library if you have the budget and the inclination. I digress. One of the things I learned from Nehrwr (pronounced Nay-wah) is that to be really culturally competent and to be able to communicate across differences – however defined – is to first be able to understand your own perspective, habits, ways of communicating and thinking, then to be able to understand those of others, and then develop strategies for communicating across different perspectives, habits, ways of communicating and thinking.
So, I have taken that mentality to heart and decided to try to recognize and identify more ways in which I myself communicate. As one component of becoming more self-aware in conversations, I listened to a series of audio lectures by the fabulous Anne Curzan. As I walked to and from work, I’d listen to ten to fifteen minutes of Dr. Curzan explaining how effective and ineffective conversations work and when to use certain conversational techniques. Oh what a wonderful course! It was never earth-shattering, but I found digesting it in little chunks gave me something to think about all day. I began to regularly notice little back-channeling elements in conversations, how different people were approaching face-threatening acts in person and over email, indirect and direct speech acts people used and when, and when people were or were not doing their fair share of maintaining a conversation (by picking up on questions or cues and returning with similar conversation-enabling tools).
Just listening to these lectures did not make me an expert at conversation, of course, nor did it get me all the way to my desired state of total conversational awareness and skill. But, it got me to a point where I have definitely begun to recognize conversation tools and habits of myself and others. This is good! I’m pleased! I have another set of audio lectures to listen to on my walk to and from work on communication that I will likely start up soon, but just these have given me plenty of food for thought – both in my professional life and my personal one!
As an added bonus, Anne Curzan is faculty at the University of Michigan, and when I suggested to our Staff Development team that we bring her in for a talk or two, they were all about it. So here’s hoping we can get her to come talk to us more and in person! Yay!
What are you, dear readers, working on in terms of your self (personal or professional) development? If communications, how are you tackling that? I’d like to get more tactics and approaches to working on my communications goals (besides listening to lectures and going to staff workshops). Thoughts?