Posts Tagged 'communication'

High Tech or High Touch?

I came across the phrase “high tech or high touch” in something I was reading recently, can’t remember what. The expression presumes that there’s a dichotomy between the two — that they are in essence, mutually exclusive. Why can’t we have both?

We tend to think about technology as isolating. We don’t really talk to each other any more. We text, or IM. And it’s not uncommon to see a whole group of people out to eat at a restaurant, and everyone is heads down in their cell phones. So perhaps it is — or can be.

But technology can also bring us closer to each other, and create a sense of community and connectedness.

I have family living in multiple parts of the country, as well as internationally — California, Florida, England — and I’m here in Wisconsin. My three siblings and I have nine children between us. With that many schedules to coordinate, along with the cost of travel, we are only really able get together in person once every 12 to 18 months or so. For most of our adult lives we would call or email each other from time-to-time, but it never felt satisfying.

And then Google Hangouts came along. We scheduled a weekly “family call” — it’s every week, at the same time (depending on time zone), and everyone who is around at that time logs onto the call. For a couple of years now we’ve been able to literally see how everyone is doing, and watch our nieces and nephews grow up. And because they see us weekly, we’re no longer strangers when we all do get together in person. Technology connects us.

It’s worked the same for me in my professional life, too. I travelled to the EDUCAUSE national conference last month, something I do every year. There are literally thousands of IT professionals who attend the conference, which, honestly, can be incredibly overwhelming for an introvert like me. It’s hard to make friends and meet people. It’s easy to feel alone in a crowd of 7,000. Except I’m active on Twitter at these types of conferences, and that has changed my conference experience. Suddenly, I’m part of a community, sharing thoughts and ideas about the experience with other like-minded people. Being “social”. And the social nature doesn’t end online — the community that is formed there helps to connect us to people offline, too. I recognized people who I had interacted with on Twitter, and they recognized me — starting conversations.

The connections don’t end with conversations or community-building, either. Throughout my career I’ve been blessed to have been introduced into a number of different communities, but also have moved around enough to not stay connected to them — and the people in them — regularly, at least not face-to-face. One of these groups are the folks behind EduSoCal. I now count these three musketeers as dear friends because of the relationships we’ve formed primarily through social media — Facebook and Twitter — supplemented with in-person get togethers at EDUCAUSE and other conferences.

Granted, there’s no substitution for a good old-fashioned face-to-face conversation, and “real life” interactions. But that’s not always possible. The power of technology to connect us — supplementing, supporting, and sometimes enabling those face-to-face connections — proves that we *can* have both “high tech” and “high touch,” at the same time.

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My Elevator Pitch

When I was in sales and marketing, oh so many years ago, we spent hours and days, months even, perfecting the perfect 30-second “elevator” pitch. You know, the one that you use when someone asks you “so what do you do?” and you have a 30-second elevator ride to tell them? It usually goes something like…”I’m a [job title] for [company], the global leader in [some industry jargon]”.

In education it may be called something different, but we still have elevator pitches, generally speaking — some key points and messaging that’s important to get across when talking to a prospective student, faculty member, or donor.

What’s important about the elevator pitch is the description of who you work for, not really what you do for them. Usually. This past weekend, however, I realized that an elevator pitch might be in order for what I actually do, too.

You see, I went to a family event and saw distant relatives — the kind you only run into once every 5 to 10 years or so. The conversation that ensued went something like this:

Them: “It’s great to see you, how have you been? And what are you doing these days?”

Me: “I’m the CIO at Menlo College; been there about  a year and a half.”

Them: “Menlo is a great school, congratulations! So….what’s a CIO?”

Me: “Chief information officer.”

Them: [looking a little glassy-eyed] “Information officer? So you handle information requests for the college? Or PR? Or…?”

Me: “Um, no…actually I manage the college’s technology. Like servers, and network, and computers…things like that.”

Them: [even more glass-eyed, but feeling compelled to ask the obligatory follow-up question] “Wow, sounds exciting! So what are you working on these days?”

And here’s where I need that elevator pitch. The truth is we’re working on bringing up a learning management system, moving some of our servers to the cloud, and rolling out virtual desktops (VDI). Really exciting stuff! But nearly *everyone* I know gets more than a little glassy-eyed when we start talking cloud computing or VDI. It’s conceptual stuff, with no clear definitions — even within the profession.

So explaining it to a non-techie…fugetaboutit. Except, of course, I can’t. I won’t. I think this stuff is waaaay too cool to *not* explain. 🙂

Maybe It Really *Is* You

Most of us have that person (or persons) that we just can’t seem to work with — a fellow student, employee, colleague, faculty member, administrator…you get the picture. “Oh that so-and-so, s/he’s just a complete [insert favorite adjective here]. S/he’s impossible to work with; everyone says so.” Sound familiar?

So here’s the thing — if you want to change that dynamic, perhaps the person that needs to change is *you*.

I met someone recently who does mediation for a living. When I asked what was new in her profession, she started talking about “narrative mediation.” The basic premise is this: conflict is derived from how we perceive the situation or person we’re dealing with. In the case of personal conflict, we create a narrative for the person based on some limited set of interactions and/or events, and then filter all subsequent communications and interactions through that narrative. We may even completely filter out some things the person says or does because it doesn’t fit our narrative.

So, if you want to change the interactions, you need to change your narrative. Or, alternately, change *their* narrative of *you*.  Or both.

Of course this is easier said than done. It’s hard to see past an initial impression, or an early slight, to conceive that someone’s actions may not be driven by the things you perceive them to be. And then there are subtle external influences that help to shape our narrative about people, groups, or situations.

Take, for example, the IT-faculty relationship. Ask an IT person about faculty and you may get a roll of the eyes and a comment like “oh, you know those faculty…they’re a different breed.” Go to an IT conference and you’re likely to hear a crowd giggle and clap for statements like “faculty, a thousand points of no.” (Yes, this really, truly was said by a very prominent speaker at a conference I attended).

With this type of priming, it’s no wonder that even the slightest negative interaction with a faculty member — who may be completely and rightfully upset about malfunctioning technology in his/her office and/or classroom — feeds a narrative that serves to perpetuate the bad IT-faculty relationship many have come to accept as “normal.” And it works the other way, too, with narratives that faculty have created for IT folks.

A colleague wrote an article recently that referred to faculty as “a thousand points of know,” which I thought was a rather clever reshaping of the original quote, and, perhaps, the narrative that goes along with it. Would your narratives (and the relationships that go along with them) benefit from some reshaping, too?


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