Sunday, 26 July 2015

Rambling thoughts about communication

What do you do, when you don't know where to go or what to do next?

Arriving in a country where English is not the primary language, fills me with a mild level of panic. I'm not entirely incapable, but I'm not one to relish the puzzle of figuring out what is being said to me in another language. I like to feel that I can identify a few key signposts that will smooth the transition from 'delayed flight ankst, tired and crabby mentality', to 'right, I know what to do next'. In an airport, you expect certain things to happen, and in a certain order. So when it doesn't, as was the case recently in Rome,.......I find myself left dithering and indecisive, casting around for clues to help; alternatively on one famous occasion in Denmark with Andy Priestner, we found ourselves collapsing with mild hysterics incapable of coherent thought, until gallantly rescued by a very kind person.

So what does happen when people are thrown into a new environment and how do they react; this could be new, as in new to university; or new, as in new job; or simply new, as in something new is on the horizon in the work place. What do we do to orientate ourselves when confronting 'new' (I blame Rome airport for these musings). Not only that, but do we make the best choices when we communicate?

Confronting a new situation - what to do next?:

  •  Scan the environment for clues - what/where/who are the signposts?
  • Actively look for an information point/contact-us point
  • Join a queue (a peculiarly British thing to do, but it works in an airport....except when you find yourself in the non-EU queue)
  • Find a person (virtual or real) with a badge - they must belong to whatever it is I need to get to know and have useful information
  • Find someone ( a peer, someone in the same situation as you) and join forces and appear stupid together/or moan together
  • Look for a map - where am I?
  • Bury my head in a pillow in the hopes that it will go away
  • Think long and hard about what the right questions are, to maximise useful information and save time

Other variables that mess with our heads:

  • How much do you love being in a new situation?
  • Do I prefer virtual contact to real life contact?
  • How likely are you to have prepped before you arrive in the new environment? Is it easy to prep?
  • Are you going to be a 'visitor' (no, I don't need to learn Italian for a one week holiday, though the odd word might come in handy), or a 'resident' (ok I really do need A LOT more Italian than I have). See Ned Potter's post about the Visitor/Resident discussion relating to social media.
  • What web tools do I have at my disposal?
  • How do I engage with others? Or is Google my best friend - always.
  • How much new information can I absorb at any one time? - how quickly does the unknown become familiar?
  • Am I a spatial person, and/or a people person? How easily can I fix things to a place, a face, a thing? How good am I at remembering names......
  • How much time do I have at my disposal? How time-poor are we?

Talking to the right person - making life easy for yourself:

I am convinced that we spend significant amounts of time talking to the wrong people and asking the wrong questions of those wrong people. Take the current 'student experience' current issue in UK HE. We have allowed students en masse to jump up and down and clamour for the things they say they deserve, with institutions poleaxed in terror at the prospect of saying 'no you can't have that, we know what's best for you'. We bow at the altar of the NSS which is driving our changes in policy. This is an interesting phenomena. It's a bit like a parent of a 4 year old giving way to the tantrum and allowing the child to throw themselves off a wall just because THEY thing it's the right thing to do. And we feed this by constantly searching for how to improve the student/user experience by talking to the students themselves (the 4 year olds in my analogy), forgetting all the time that the academics who teach the students should be the first ones we talk to. I suppose this is just one example of how easy it is to communicate badly, forgetting who we should be communicating with and why. No wonder it all seems so elusive.

I used to think that we did well in our Library with helping students get to know how to use the space and the resources. And I thought we were pretty good at the relationship building stuff. But I'm not so sure. There are still huge holes some students fall into, and whilst I'm not going to argue that we can fill every one of those ( I mean, personalised as in truly really personalised, one-to-one help is not feasible - right?), I think we could do better. I'm going to start talking more to the academics and find out what they want us to do; not jump at fulfilling every whim of the students. I'm also going to try and put myself in their shoes when they first arrive at university and recall my airport/foreign country woes.

Back to Rome: I did get the train, I did get a taxi and I did get to the hotel.