Friday, August 23, 2013

Comp M: Communication

Demonstrate oral and written communication skills necessary for professional collaboration and presentations.


Communication touches nearly every aspect of a library job. Whether it is a one-sentence e-mail to a co-worker or an elaborate presentation of a research paper at a conference, we must have the knowledge to communicate professionally and effectively. And this is not only a one-way process; a good communicator needs to be able to understand messages sent by others. Good communication is not accomplished if the person on the receiving end does not comprehend the intent of the message. Evans and Ward (2007) point out that “True communication only takes place when a person receives the identical meaning and emotion meant and felt by the person sending the message” (p. 256).

The ability to communicate in different ways to various audiences is a critical skill to success. Helping a child at the library reference desk requires a different communication style than writing a scholarly journal article. An LIS professional has to know how to adjust the style to fit the situation, changing the complexity, the formality, and channel as the situation demands. During my time at SJSU, I have practiced a wide array of communication styles. Many discussion board posts were informal, using language, links, and examples suitable for a conversation with co-workers. Research papers were very detailed, formal, and quite complex at times. Oral presentations tended to be formal, but not as detailed as a paper, and also more visually oriented with graphics and photographs. Because of the online nature of this program, I did not have any face-to-face interaction for my classes, but working in a retail environment for 15 years, much of it in management, I have perfected the art of adjusting my communication style to fit different customers, co-workers, and employees.

Good communication is essential to creating an enjoyable workplace, as it makes employees, patrons, students, and clients feel their needs are heard. According to Evans and Ward, “Good communication increases our comfort levels in relating to those around us” (p. 255). Verbal and non-verbal communication are both a part of this process. Verbal indicates any type of communication using words, written or orally presented. Non-verbal are cues communicated without using words, through gesture, facial expression, posture, and tone. (In written communication, non-verbal cues can be gleaned from things like the medium used or the chosen font.) This non-verbal communication may sometimes even be more important than verbal; Arthur estimates 60 percent of the “real message” is in the non-verbal part of the message (as cited in Evans & Ward, p. 283).

Working with a virtual team is becoming more common in the workplace today, as it brings many benefits, including “operational budget savings, increased job productivity, and greater job flexibility” (Knecht, 2004, p. 24). Communicating well in a team or group environment can be especially difficult, so many of my classes included group work to help us build these particular skills. Some of the difficulties can include technology problems, inconsistent work from group members, and lack of feedback. I was initially nervous about working in a virtual group, as it had been many years since my undergraduate degree and I did any group projects. In my first class, LIBR 204, we watched a colloquium given by Dr. Ken Haycock about working in teams. His description of the stages, roles, and guidelines for teamwork were reassuring and helpful. In most of my group projects from there on out, roles were established (explicitly or implicitly) and technology and communication frequency guidelines were set, as well as each person’s goal for the final product.


Evidence 1 is a discussion board post about communicating effectively by electronic means from LIBR 204 (204 Discussion – Working in groups). The class read many articles about virtual teamwork in preparation for our group project strategic plan. This discussion post draws from our textbook as well as an article by Mike Knecht called “Virtual Teams in Libraries.” From these, I discuss the advantages and pitfalls of using electronic written communication and how our team will use it successfully. For the group project, we did as suggested in the article and set guidelines and procedures for communication. We would let each other know if we were going to be away for a day or two, and we kept our messages professional and on-topic. I was the group leader and made sure the communication guidelines were adhered to. This evidence shows I understand the importance of written communication to successfully completing a team project.

Evidence 2 is two Google Docs that were used by my group in LIBR 242 for collaboration. The project was a semester-long development of an Oracle database and website for a baseball card collection. The first document, LIBR242 Group Project Notes, is what we used to look at each other’s preliminary work, raise questions, and make notes throughout the semester. There were six parts to turn in to the professor, so this document includes pieces from all of those. In this group of six people spread out from east to west coast, we also communicated through frequent e-mails and weekly group meetings on Blackboard Collaborate. This document, though it may be confusing to an outsider, shows our process of online collaboration; we each used different-colored text when we added to the document. The second document, LIBR242 DataDictionary, was also a collaboration that we turned in for part two of the project. I’ve included this to show what our work looked like after editing and clean-up. We all participated in putting entries into the data dictionary, adding and correcting each other’s work as we went along.

This group project was the most contentious and difficult of all my group projects, but ultimately the most rewarding because I learned the most about effective virtual communication. In other groups we mostly agreed on everything, and except for a minor disagreement here and there, they were conflict-free. In this group, there were many ways of approaching the database and we had wildly different ideas about how to do that. (I must insert that my group members were all fantastic to work with. We all wanted an excellent grade, and we all completely participated throughout the project. It was the subject matter that was frustrating.)

One communication problem I had is that I tend to be stubborn in my ideas if I believe I am right (but always polite!), so I learned how to compromise for the greater good of the group. It was extremely difficult to articulate some of my questions and concerns because the concepts we were studying were so foreign and involved a lot of new jargon. I believe I was able to raise my concerns well enough to be understood most of the time, and the final product turned out very nicely, earning us an ‘A’. You can see in the Group Project Notes document, about halfway down in purple and red, where I attempt to convey my concerns about some of our database tables and I struggle to make myself understood; my teammates try to suggest some other options.

Another communication difficulty was that all six of us were equal participants. We should have chosen a group leader from the outset to deal with any problems, but we did not – we jumped right into the project without setting up roles and guidelines as I have in other groups. This was probably a hindrance and required us to meet more often than may have been strictly necessary, as there was not one person to keep everything on track. That oversight taught me that assigning roles and making guidelines in virtual teams is a necessity if I want a project to go smoothly and in a timely manner. This evidence shows I can collaborate in a virtual group environment on a difficult group project, learn from the experience, and still turn out a good product. Even though it was not the most perfect group project experience, I really felt I gained so much knowledge about effective communication in group work.

Evidence 3 is from another group project I did in LIBR 282. This group was just two of us; we had to write a paper (SmartDrive Systems) as well as give an Elluminate presentation about a company that uses innovative technology. I’ve included this project for evidence because it shows I can communicate in oral presentations. My partner and I did not communicate with each other as much for this project as I have for others, since there were only two of us and the subject was fairly straightforward. We had a Google doc to which we each would write long sections, me contributing most of the company background and technological information while she tied it to course materials. I condensed our paper into a PowerPoint presentation, and we both narrated it together in Elluminate, switching back and forth between slides. This evidence proves I can give an oral presentation as well as co-author a professional research paper. Our communication style is adjusted for each part of the project: formal and detailed for the paper, slightly less formal, shorter, and more visual for the oral presentation.  


No matter the job I have, good communication skills will be a necessity. The practice I have gotten in many of my classes with working in groups is especially useful, since that seems to be a more common practice in LIS environments than it is in my current retail environment. I have also gained confidence in my formal writing and oral presentation skills, ensuring that I will be able to present my work to groups of people – even if I am nervous about it!


Evans, G. E., & Ward, P. L. (2007). Management basics for information professionals (2nded.). New York, NY: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.

No comments:

Post a Comment