Kindness – so great to read this, Kate – I often think about your statement from CIL this year – that “the chief export of librarianship is kindness” & I’ve quoted it to my colleagues. I’ve really been thinking about kindness a lot lately. Why? Well, just it’s a high-pressure time of year for libraries – everything ramping up post-summer, but it’s been a tough year for libraries, so there’s been more stress than usual. I’ve worked on help desks where my role was supporting librarians and I’ve been under fire, much as the public services librarians often find themselves under fire on the reference desk.
Along the way, I realized I needed to develop more of a thick skin in order to protect myself & my enthusiasm for the job and my mission and my colleagues, even when I feel under fire from said colleagues.
A few key thoughts that I like to remind myself to keep going when the world seems unkind – i.e., how to perpetuate kindness and preserve our own sanity along the way…
(1) Remember it’s not all about you. So they read you the riot act on whatever. So the email was ugly (or could be read that way – see (1a)) and sounded curt, mean, or whatever. So the discussion was heated. So they seemed hostile to your ideas. You can’t assume thta it’s pointed toward you or even that they intended it to come out so strongly (or that you would take it that way). Maybe they had a really bad day – just had a bad diagnosis, their marriage is on the rocks, their child hurt, their beloved pet just died, they are physically feeling lousy – whatever it is – you don’t know what that is. I don’t know & you don’t either. But don’t take it to heart.
(1a) which brings us to a point about email… don’t do the conflict in email – don’t hit send. Studies prove that conflict escalates in email communications. Remember, people express themselves differently in email. Some people have a 1-word style. It’s not necessarily intended to be brusque. It just might be how they prefer tro write emails. Or maybe they are on their way out the door, but at least wanted to give you some response. If they write a long tome, that may also be their style. It may not be intended to be as harsh/energy-intense as you’re reading it to be. They may not be good at wording things diplomatically. If there’s an issue that’s becoming more intense, just go see the other party (or parties) in person, or –at the very least– talk to them on the phone. Have the discussion (if you you’re up to it) for real. Why? People automatically know how to negotiate their tone, soften, respond slightly differently, reword, make things gentler when they are speaking with them as they are constantly (subconsciously) monitoring their real-time reactions to modulate for a better outcome.
(1b) be self-aware (& when you’re not fit for human company, try & lay low to the degree it may be possible – if you can, just work on the code, project planning, the newsletter, catch up on the latest technology/blogs)
(1c) build relationships (not to mention political capital) whenever you can so you are more likely to have others’ support. On a personal level, we are all human beings & thus social creatures – it’s part of the deal. That means that rejection hurts, no matter how thick a skin we’ve managed to develop – so if you’ve got some people you can trust and turn to in hard times, it will help you immensely. To gain this support system, be someone others can turn to in their hard times.
(1ca) but don’t expect them to always back you… know that they too are governed by their own needs and external concerns – so ultimately, you need to have enough resilience to make it through on your own
(1d) don’t be attached to outcomes or any specific people – appreciate – but don’t be attached to expectations (this is a Buddhist tenet, I believe, and it’s so true – attachment causes pain)
(2) Forgive them (see #1)
(3) Think about their pain for a moment, then work toward a productive answer if possible. Being heard / listened to is first. Finding a solution is best. If they just wanted to complain, at least they’ve felt heard. If they’re so deeply unhappy themselves that being heard & seeking solutions are not doing anyway, well then – go back to #1, and feel badly for them for having to be so lousy
(4) Reassure yourself. If no one else is giving you the pat on the back, give it to yourself. It goes something like this – “did I do the best I could do in the given circumstances, with what resources I had available to me?” If yes, then that’s good enough. If no, it’s ok, tell yourself you’ll do it better next time.
(4a) Don’t be a perfectionist
(4b) Compromise – think about the lesson of Ted Kennedy’s legislative career – he got so incredibly much done (whether or not others in the legislature agreed with his politics, they all admitted he got a record amount of legislation passed). He didn’t do so by insisting on the perfect bill the first go ’round.
(4c) Know when NOT to compromise – there are times when it’s worth fighting for. But choose your battles.
(5) Live to fight another day… If it all goes the hell, no matter what you do, don’t worry. It’s just work. Go home, revel in other parts of your life.
(5a) as one of my riding instructors used to say, “Some days you get the bear, some days the bear gets you” or as my husband and I repeat to each other like a mantra when there’s really nothing more to be done except accept the situation “It is what it is”
(6) Keep hope / keep your eyes on the prize
Kindness, like fear & negativity, is contagious… spread it whenever you can. See it wherever you can. Assume the best (even when you suspect the worst… the kindness tax is not too high…)
[...] enough for sharing her beliefs with us. On August 31st she published a post on her blog entitled Auditing Kindness. It is filled with some great ideas. I suggest you head over there and participate in the [...]
So wonderful to come to a posting on kindness and see a photograph of pit bulls! As a pitbull-rescuing, librarian-in-training I couldn’t have been happier!