Archive for April, 2015

In the improv elevator of your life, I’ve been shafted

The man in black was talking about getting dumped but that’s sort of what class felt like, observationally of course.  Early in the semester we talked about relying on positive responses and how that related to being a good audience.  If there are reluctant audiences or negative responding improv “participants” then the back and forth of communication breaks down.  Our exercise was to get into a simulated elevator and through our interactions figure out how to work in our own research.  Many groups had some awkward and humorous interactions in the process.  The best were the ones where people just ran with it.  One thing led to another and they all played well with others.  The objective was tough and almost selfish.  You could see those who were typically more outgoing succeeding because they led, while more introverted people played along.  That was all well and good until my elevator door opened…

I stepped from my floor into a cat fight.  You thought a negative response was bad?  Try that repeated with accompanying body language.  I wanted to disarm it a little bit.  Selfishly I charged in and provoked a round of high fives, a good excuse to individually get a positive response from everyone there.  Then we opened things up a little.  The conflict remained though.  It sort of cut everything short and was difficult to manage.  Instead of engaging the conflict directly I worked with the other, more receptive folks.  Much like I would if I were dealing with a less receptive audience member.  It’s not that everyone in the elevator was negative, just a few.  So the participating audience was not lost.  It got interesting.  There was no big risk for me so I think I was able to react reasonably well.  I don’t how I would do in a more high risk situation like a conference symposium.  Maybe I’ll have a flash back and pull it off.  Once we got the elevator fixed we all breathed a sigh of relief and parted ways, some more positively than others.

Re: Impersonal Inter-personal Communication

Fwd:Fwd:Who Reads These Anyway?

So I’m a scientist, right?  Less test tubes and discovery and more reading and communication than you might think.  My biggest job is to communicate, with people, almost constantly.  Its not enough to make a pretty poster for a conference once a year, and maybe put together a 10 minute talk.  I have to sell myself really.  I know this because that was a past job.  I learned there that people will tell you what they want and the rest is a negotiation.  But how does that translate to science?  Well I have to advertise.  I need ways to get my science out there.  One way is getting grants.  It turns out that if you have and spend someone’s money, you frequently have their attention.  Its one thing to write a grant proposal, dot all of the “i”s and cross all of the “t”s, and there are a ton of those when you ask the Feds for money!  But what really gets the job done is email.  Unfortunately…

When we learn to talk and and ask for things as children, a form of selling, we find out that volume, tone and word choice can all impact how that works.  When we learn how to compose we learn similar aspects.  But when we email we are muted, silenced, and limited to a few characters.  How then is it the most common form of communication?  As much as 50% of my job hinges on email communication.  Not phone calls, written letters, or one-on-one communication.  With this large chunk of my efforts tied up in emails I find myself editing and reviewing them as much as my thesis chapters.  My largest challenge is communicating my tone and purpose in each email.  My second largest is figuring out the tone and purpose of every reply that I get.  The shorter is often the more difficult to understand.  It’s not like I get emails all the time in all caps like my Mom mistakenly did once.  Instead it is the reading between the lines that makes things difficult.  Replying to a question with more questions can really throw the whole thing off if there is no context of human interaction.  No wonder our university spends so much money on video conferencing equipment.  Can you imagine trying to coordinate a multinational research project through email alone?

I have strategies to combat this.  I reach for the niceties that you would commonly have in person to person contact.  “Hope the rain there helps.”  “Have a great weekend!”  and the like.  Maybe it’s cheesy or old fashioned but I do realize that my audience averages 15-20 years older than me.  I don’t know if anybody notices these throwbacks of mine but I’m still going to try and make the impersonal inter-personal communication that steals so much of my time more personal.  Maybe this will change as my position on the totem pole hopefully does.  Maybe I’ll be the old cranky guy who replies as ambiguously as possible to keep people guessing!  Either way I have a long way to go before people will put up with that mess.  I guess I’ll keep the niceties for now.  Thanks and have a great week!



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