The Way Forward: Part 2

Whilst many colleagues packed their bags for the SLA 2010 Annual Conference in New Orleans last June, I traded my spot in the Big Easy for login credentials to the virtual conference offerings. To be sure, live attendance was first choice but this year’s travel budget made online participation a great compromise.

For my first test of the virtual conference, I joined Mary Ellen Bates’ presentation, Negotiating Up. Although the word ‘negotiation’ evokes thoughts of the back-and-forth between two parties seeking their own preferred outcome, it can also refer to navigating around or through an obstacle or difficult passage. Blame it on a restlessness born of this summer’s remarkable heat and humidity but I had an idea on which careful negotiation would be critical.

In preparing for my employer’s 2011 goal-setting process, I asked my boss for a 30-minute “daydream” meeting to consider how the information and knowledge function would operate if none were already in place. Before I could establish key goals, I had to calibrate my perspective on the library with that of senior management so I identified three key points to discuss: What current information needs would you address by hiring a knowledge professional? 2) Which skills/experience would you recruit for? 3) How would the function inhabit virtual and/or physical space?

To prepare myself for the meeting, I recalled Bates’ first point on negotiating: One must accept responsibility for one’s own actions and the subsequent outcomes. I controlled only the questions I asked, my openness to hearing the answers, and my reaction to my manager’s comments.

Bates gave additional counsel about the negotiation conversation: focus on joint interests; don’t make assumptions; and listen to what the other person says. I held those points in mind as the meeting began. I opened by thanking my manager for taking the time to meet and consider my questions. I then encouraged her to turn her gaze away from me and out the window so she could shift her imagination from “what is” to “what could be”.

After a brief, thoughtful silence the insights began to flow. The organization would always need someone to provide timely, relevant, and actionable information; keep the organization’s history; and help other knowledge workers find quality content for their own work. A physical collection may be a necessary by-product but not a priority in itself. Forty minutes later, I was relieved by how well our thoughts converged around a core mission that reinforced current direction and laid-to-rest outdated expectations. Also, my boss expressed appreciation for the invitation to set aside time and think deeply about the library.

Looking back at my effort to negotiate a challenge of my own making, I think Bates’ best advice was to take a Zen approach: Focus on the moment; tackle the problem, not the person; operate from a sense of abundance; and take responsibility only for yourself rather than the other party.

Editor’s note: This series originally published in the DC/SLA chapter newsletter Chapter Notes.

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