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Getting Past Misunderstanding

different perspectives

On Friday I was at the LJ/Temple Library Future Symposium. I was on a panel with some great folks about bridging the culture gaps in our libraries. Courtney Young, our moderator framed the panel in terms of misunderstandings, and I found this to be really enlightening. Many of the problems we face when groups interact with one another, whether it’s the library vs. IT, change agents vs. resistors, or librarians vs. students, stem from these groups having different perspectives and a lack of mutual understanding of those perspectives.

Let’s take change agents vs. resistors as an example. For this example we’ll use changing the food policy as the conflict (though any change could be substituted here). On one side, you think that the food policy is outdated and that food and drink should be allowed in the library. On the other side there is a group resistant to this change who believe that it shouldn’t change. In order to get past this, there needs to be clear understanding on both sides.

You should first try to understand the other person’s perspective. And don’t just pretend to listen while dismissing what they say in your head. Pay attention and genuinely understand their concerns. Are they concerned about damage to the books or computers? Are they concerned with messes? Are they concerned with the smell? These are all genuine concerns and should be (and can be) addressed. Get to the bottom of why they are resisting the change. When you understand concerns you can then address them.

Then you need to communicate clearly to them why you think the policy should change and make sure that they understand your concerns. Do you think it will create a more welcoming environment? Do you see it happening other places (bookstores, etc.)? Are your users asking for it? Make a clear case for why you think the change is necessary. In discussing the change and coming up with solutions together make sure that their concerns are addressed. You can say something like, “I understand you are concerned with damage to our collection. I don’t want anything to get ruined either. Do we think that will happen a lot though? It seems like Barnes and Noble is not concerned with food or coffee ruining their merchandise. And at home I drink coffee and read books all the time. Does the benefit of making the library more comfortable and welcoming outweighs the risk of a few damaged books? Is there a way that we can limit damage while still allowing food and drink?”

Too often we assume that something is obvious or that someone is just obtuse when in reality we just have differing perspectives. The above approach might work and it might not, but it will be a lot more effective when we try to understand others and address them in terms of their concerns instead of only ours.

 

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Bridging the Gaps – Library Journal/Temple U. Symposium

covered bridge

Image CC on Flickr by Gregg Obst

Next month Library Journal and Temple University are going to be hosting an event called The Future of the Academic Library Symposium: Bridging the Gaps, and I am a panelist during one of the morning sessions. This is the second year that LJ has held this symposium and it seems like a great event. Not only are there a lot of great folks on the panels who I really respect and love hearing speak (like Erin DorneyAmanda Etches-JohnsonJenica RogersAaron Schmidt, and Courtney Young), but it’s also FREE. If you are in and around the Northeast area you should definitely try to make it. Did I mention it’s FREE?

As for the segment that I am in, it is focused on people and is about strengthening the culture in the library. Here’s the brief description:

“Why can’t my colleagues tolerate change?” Don’t these new librarians realize how we do things here?” “How come the deadwood always rejects my great ideas?” “Technology? That’s the new librarian’s job.” Our academic libraries can become fraught with misunderstanding and stereotypes about our colleagues, and when the gaps grow wide they lead to organizational dysfunction. To build better libraries we must confront these gaps. Doing so requires that we engage in authentic conversation focused on creating a better understanding of each other. Once we learn to appreciate our differences, and how our organizations thrive from the mix of skills we bring to it, we an begin to bridge the culture gap.

I am really excited about my co-panelists and the topic that we’re discussing. This summer I volunteered to participate in a 25 hour intensive program about intercultural understanding at Champlain College. We had amazing discussions, watched videos, read articles, debated one another, and gave presentations. Ultimately I think many of us came to a better understanding of our own lenses through which we see the world as well as the lenses of others. After the experience I feel a lot more empowered to have conversations about different cultures and how we can go about bridging the gaps.

I’m looking forward to 11/11/11 in Philadelphia. Hopefully I see you there!