The Self-Improvement Chronicles: Becoming the Great Communicators

Perhaps no one needs this week’s message (Improve your communication skills) more than I do. Let me give you an example. Last week, I asked Pam a question and it went something like this:

Jolly Librarian:  All I want is a yes or no.

Pam: No, but. . . .

Jolly Librarian (interrupting): You’re trying to give me more than yes or no. All I want is the answer.

Pam: But what I’m thinking . . .

Jolly Librarian (interrupting): Okay, you think about it. And I’ll go back to my office. When you’ve thought it down to yes or no, let me know.

Pam (to my departing back): But, but, but. . .

In my defense, the discussion was about taking leave, always an issue; at this moment, as I look at September’s calendar, there are only four days where I have everyone scheduled to be here (and that doesn’t take into account that Andrew is working part-time over at Disabilities until the new director starts). And anyone who has witnessed Pam try to decide on whether she’ll take a day off or what day that will actually be will feel a little more sympathetic towards me. Still, I certainly could improve on my listening skills.

Over and over again, experts tell us that most of us need to improve our communications skills in both our professional and personal lives. Most of us would agree (or at least agree that other people need to improve those skills). Yet most of us have issues in one aspect or another.

If you want a quick analysis of your own communications skills, here’s a short quiz.

According to Brett Blumenthal,the author of the book we’re using, here are some important skills to master if you’re trying to become a better communicator:

  • Actively listen.
  • Repeat back what you’ve heard.
  • Keep your attitude in check.
  • Use appropriate body language.
  • Be clear; be brief.
  • Take responsibility for making sure communication takes place.
  • Practice anger management.

This week, Colette joins our self-improvement efforts. So here are our reports:

Colette: “Working at the circulation desk requires effective communication, both on the part of Library staff and of students. Truly effective communication is rarely a one-way street. This week the emphasis for me has been on active listening, and on asking pertinent questions.  The right question is usually more helpful than the right answer.”

Pam: “I think I fail by going TOO far in communicating…a little TMI, if you know what I mean. Now, let’s take my discussion with the Jolly Librarian at lunch…I was informed “That is an AWWful story”…need I say more? Communication, on a serious note, has never been a problem with me. Truly, too much detail is my problem. When Daddy would say, “Just get to the point, Pam”, I would be just devastated! As far as listening, I find it more and more easy to be a good listener. I am truly interested in what people have to say. Perhaps it is from listening to books on tape that has trained my ears to listen in better detail and form a picture. I do care about people, and I’ve learned, by people not being very attentive, interested listeners TO ME, how important it is to feel you are being heard. It’s the highest compliment to one. I need to do better, but I am truly trying. ”

Emily: (Possibly eaten by a bear at this point.)

Jolly Librarian: There are issues that try my soul, such as trying to get folks in the library to be more definitive about their leave plans, and any issue at a meeting that is now being discussed for the 10,000th time.  But I do try to listen to both sides of stories. And I try to work at solving communications problems instead of blaming anyone for them.

Our grades:

Colette:    A

Pam:         A (although that was an awful story she told at lunch)

Emily:      Incomplete

Jolly Librarian:  B

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