Posts Tagged 'Relationship Management'

What Do You Choose?

The always thought-provoking @ValaAfshar posted this on Twitter the other day:

If you look for the good in people, you’ll find it. If you look for the bad in people, you’ll find it. Remember, reciprocity.

For a variety of reasons, I’ve been reflecting on relationships recently — both personal and professional ones. No matter the type, relationships can be hard work.

We don’t always have choices in our relationships, especially at work. We can’t choose our co-workers or colleagues, the perspective and experiences they bring to their role, or how they may react in any given situation. But we can choose how we perceive those reactions, and how we respond.

The language we use to describe our interactions defines them. And the broad, sweeping generalizations we make about each other defines how we perceive those interactions, and respond. We’ve all heard the sentiments about the “inherent” conflict between administrators and faculty — administrators are out to impose their will on faculty, and faculty are resistant to change. We each have to “fight the good fight” to advance our perspective.

These thoughts frame our relationships with each other, predisposing us to look for “the bad” instead of “the good.” Consider the conversation to be adversarial instead of collegial. We can’t see that an action, reaction, or response might be unintentional, or driven by fear, or because someone is dealing with something unrelated in their personal life. We can only see what we’ve already decided to see — actions within the context of the frame we’ve created.

What happens if we choose, instead, to give the benefit of the doubt? Assume no malevolent intent? What opportunities might we create to better understand each other? Form deeper and more collaborative relationships? Find “the good” in the people around us?

Only you can make the choice…

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?

The “Trouble-Free Semester” Challenge

Recently I sat down with our Faculty Senate steering committee to discuss ways to engage faculty in short and long-term IT strategic planning. While we had a protracted conversation on the subject, one comment stood out—both for the insight it provided me and for the subsequent conversation and thought that it has sparked. Roughly paraphrased, it was this: “I can’t even begin to think about what technology I may want in the classroom in the future when I can’t trust that the technology that’s there now will work [and she gave an example of a classroom that wasn’t functioning properly]. Give me a semester without any technical problems, and then we can talk.” My gut reaction and immediate answer was, “it’s not possible.”

I can hear you faculty-types now…typical IT answer, always “no.” Guilty as charged, on this one anyway. But in fairness, my thoughts raced to all of the different types of reported “IT issues” we encounter in any given week. A fair number of them aren’t really technical problems—they range from power issues (something was turned off) to user “tinkering” (in a classroom another professor or student may change a setting), to just plain old user error. There are a decent amount of truly technical problems mixed in, of course—and we can, and should, minimize those. But when all issues are lumped together as “IT” problems, well, I feared we would never be able to meet the “trouble-free semester” (TFS) challenge.

I’ve thought about this comment a lot since that meeting, and have revisited it several times in conversation with our Senate chair. Underlying it, I believe, isn’t just a frustration and lack of confidence in the technology, but with the IT department itself (based on tenuous faculty-IT relations with several previous IT directors). So I know, and accept, that my first job must be to cultivate relationships with our faculty and build trust based on open communication, collaboration, and accountability.

With stronger faculty-IT relations, a “trouble-free semester” is not at all out of the question. Together, we can discuss our respective roles and responsibilities in resolving both real and perceived technical problems, and use real data—via Help Desk tickets—to quantify our current level of IT issues, and set targets for reducing/eliminating them. Already, as a result of these initial conversations, we (in IT) are discussing maintenance measures, from regular classroom “check-ups” to automated nightly restarts of classroom computers to reset key settings, to prevent problems *before* they occur.

And so, dear faculty…I believe we *can* create that trouble-free semester, after all. Will you join me in accepting the TFS challenge?

@rclemmons on Twitter

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