Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Bad Strategy? Having No Strategy

Yesterday was a tiring day.

Sometimes a day feels that way because you wake up still exhausted, but I didn't. I wasn't exactly a ray of sunshine, but I was rested. What set the tone for me was something that happened at 7:35 a.m., right before I began teaching class.

"Uh, Ms. Olson?"

I looked up from my computer and all the cords I was trying to attach to it to make it work. "Yes, Anonymous Student?"

He slid a paper across the podium toward me, and said, "Here's my assignment that was due Friday. I didn't bring it in because I couldn't get out of bed."

My jaw must've dropped open as I stared, because the blank eyes began to shift nervously. "You... couldn't get out of bed? You mean you didn't want to wake up in time for class and you're telling me that's why this assignment is late?"

"Well, I couldn't get out of bed."

"You were sick, then?"

"No, I just couldn't make myself get out of bed."

"So you want me to take your assignment... even though I don't accept late assignments... because you didn't feel like getting up on Friday?"


"This is advice. It's a freebie. If you want to persuade a professor to accept a late assignment, telling her that the reason it's late is because you were too lazy or didn't think it was important enough to get out of bed to turn it in is not a good idea."

My goal was not to teach this student to be deceptive or lie, but to communicate thoughtfully. He's an extreme example, but lots of people talk without any clear goal or strategy. Then they wonder why they don't get what they want.

Other classroom examples include students who try to argue their way to the grade they want (or my favorite: getting a parent to do that), or students who want grace with absences though they've been less than gracious in the classroom all semester. What's sad is that many of these students may never grasp that they're hurting themselves, and will take these behaviors into their future careers and relationships.

Where is the disconnect? It's that they don't have a communication strategy.

So while my students may never read this post... and people who need to read may never identify themselves as needing it... this is my very basic step-by-step for communicating with strategy.

First, one needs to employ a dual perspective. This means that a person can see that someone else has different ideas, ways of understanding information, and values systems by which to evaluate. It's important in communication to see how other people differ from ourselves in their perspectives.

Second, identify goals. What are you attempting to accomplish through the conversation? A student might want a late assignment accepted, or at work you might be lobbying for more flexibility so you can work from home. So that's your goal, but what might the goals be of the person you must persuade? Is there a way to acknowledge those goals, and show that your goals could coincide?

Third, approach the communication situation in a way that's comfortable for the other person. My student could've tried coming to me after class, when I make time to talk and answer questions. If he'd done so, he would've had time to explain extenuating circumstances (if there were any). Because he asked me before class when there wasn't a lot of time, I made a decision quickly -- and that rarely favors the asker.

Fourth, go ahead and communicate! But asking for something right off the bat often triggers a defensive response that equals "no," so make it clear before you begin asking that you understand the concerns and goals of the other person. It will help him or her to be more open-minded about the request.

Do you have anything to add to these steps? I think it's a good start, but I know I have smart readers. Tell me what you think in the comments!


CanAmGirl said...

Seriously...SERIOUSLY...I do not have anything to add to those steps; however, I can sum it all up in one word: THINK.

Ash said...

I can add one... take some responsibility and deal with the consequences! Even though your mother told you that you were special, she was wrong; you aren't. You don't get any special treatment... live with the choices you make!