I have been honing my communication and collaboration skills through my 22 (!) years of school and throughout my working life. As a writer, as a presenter, as a responsible team member, I strive to be consistent and considerate of those with whom I communicate, knowing that their perspective may be different from my own. I always consider my audience and my purpose when I am working on a text or writing an email, and I weigh the professionalism or familiarity of my language, the fullness of my explanations, and the simplicity or complexity of my ideas.
In my first year at Career Services, I wrote a blog series called, “Confessions of a Career Changer“, highlighting my own career path and relating it to Krumboltz’s (2009) Theory of Planned Happenstance by telling the story of the many twists and turns I made. I imagined my audience as students, many of whom have trouble making choices in college about their career because they see those choices as limiting what the rest of their lives will look like. Therefore, I used a friendly, casual, and supportive tone to appeal to students and encourage them in their lifelong search. This year, I periodically write for the blog and recently wrote a piece on why employers are looking for employees with emotional intelligence. Again, I thought of my audience as students who may not be familiar with the concept of emotional intelligence, so I began by explaining what it is and then relating it to why it would be useful on the job. This piece has received some recognition in the Oregon blogosphere, with other blogs citing it and connecting back to me. Maintaining high standards in all my writing, I work to connect with my audience through various techniques so that they are engaged and informed.
Besides formal written communication, I strive to be clear and professional in all my internal and external communication by email and phone, so that miscommunications and misunderstandings don’t happen. I am cognizant of cultural and linguistic diversity from department to department, institution to institution, and person to person, so my goal is to assume nothing in collaboration with others in terms of prior knowledge or perspectives. However, I do try to gauge when a colleague will share my level of understanding on a particular topic so that I do not insult them with information or background that is too basic.
As a collaborator, I listen first and add my thoughts only when I feel they will move the conversation forward, not in circles. I have worked with people throughout my life who talk simply to hear themselves sound intelligent or important, and I do not want to be one of those people. So, I wait and think and listen and analyze before I jump in with my ideas. One team project that I found to be particularly successful was a leadership development curriculum that Hilary Martin Himan and I developed for AHE 599, Student Leadership & Organizational Development. We communicated by text, email, and through Google Docs instant messaging so that we could speak about the project in real time while working on it without being in the same physical space. Using all the technology at our disposal, we found ways to work together well, sharing ideas and experimenting.
Communication and collaboration skills are essential to any vocation that involves working with others, and there are few professions where the majority of the activities are done alone. These are skills I will continue to practice and hone every single day of my working life, as well as in my personal life with friends and family. I think it is most important to treat others with respect and dignity in all my communications, even when I disagree with them, and keep all involved in a project or a program informed at every step of the way. When folks are left out of the loop, they can end up feeling uninvolved and disconnected from the work and may stop moving toward progress. I will mess up sometimes when it comes to communicating and collaborating effectively with others, and I doubt I will ever be a full-proof, expert communicator, but I can strive to make each interaction I have with another person positive and productive.