Perception Management in the Campus Workplace

Higher education thrives on debate. Faculty and staff have diverse expertise, and the resulting conflicts force campus representatives to reevaluate their positions and develop broader frameworks for their actions. In the end, different understandings yield stronger operations and more effective services. Ultimately, interpretive differences strengthen an institution.

University employees who assert opposition, however, run the risk of not only making enemies, but also sabotaging their career opportunities. Far too often, I encounter faculty and staff who have irked enough colleagues that their careers hit walls. These employees routinely offer their services, but no one takes them up on their offers. They apply for administrative positions, but they go nowhere.

Faculty and staff have to manage how their colleagues perceive them. But perception management does not mean avoiding conflict. The university system depends too much on conflict for its employees to avoid it. Instead, perception management means offering a different perspective without others feeling attacked.

How do you do that?

1) Provide sufficient opportunities for others to speak. Many refuse to interrupt when they can’t find significant pauses or other conversational cues. They need opportunities to enter the conversation gracefully. Also, people process information differently. Whereas some process verbally — that is, by discussing — and jump quickly into conversations, others mull-over new information or translate it into a more familiar framework before responding. They need more time. A simple solution would be to ask periodically for others’ thoughts or questions and to sit back quietly until they finish responding.

2) Acknowledge what others say. Simply rephrasing others’ statements before developing or changing a topic can improve the social dynamic. So too can validating others by openly appreciating their ideas.

3) Help develop ideas before arguing against them. Arguing about minutiae kills ideas before they develop, and nobody likes a serial idea killer. Instead of starting with why not, first explore how to.

4) Smile and laugh. Smiles and laughter are contagious and feel good. If you want to promote positive feelings about you, then you have to promote positive feelings while people are around you, especially during disagreements.

5) Focus on people’s strengths. In higher education, we work with the same colleagues for decades. In an environment where so many people can’t get fired, finding fault with others gets old fast.  Search for positive characteristics in every single one of them, or risk a lifetime of a hostile work environment.

Many of us have advanced degrees in fierce autonomy and contentiousness. Professionally, we identify flaws and propose alternatives. Those are our strengths. Those are our institutions’ strengths. Ironically, the very characteristics that strengthen the institution can weaken its sense of community. Our professional strengths can cripple our careers.

These five simple tactics can help us manage our colleagues’ perceptions of us. They allow us to provide alternative perspectives without others feeling attacked. They synchronize both professional and institutional success.

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Higher Ed Faces Daunting Challenges, and Opportunities

 

Higher education faces daunting challenges. It struggles to meet the demands of an economic crisis in which people need jobs and employers want higher-quality job candidates. Our computer-infused work environment requires greater technological, visual-thinking, and critical-thinking skills for even entry-level jobs. Globalization necessitates not only enhanced critical thinking, but correspondingly, the capacity for sustained engagements with ideological and cultural differences. Also, both citizenry and a growing number of work environments require the skills to navigate an increasingly rhetoric- and statistics-based world. In the face of rising student debt, students and their parents, legislators, and potential employers, however, now question the value of higher education. They most overtly question degrees in the humanities — which foster many of those skills, only without a clear career path. This conflict has resulted in new entrants in the market who then compete with at least the public colleges and universities, which have had to raise tuition to replace diminishing state funds.

This conflict reinforces the ongoing transformation of faculty in the university system. Especially to circumvent administrative bloat and its costs, faculty have had to harbor more and more administrative responsibilities, part of a growing trend of reframing faculty as academic professionals with a growing number of non-teaching responsibilities. These responsibilities demand a new social architecture, and we can achieve it only through innovative professional development.

Social architecture has two goals: distribute responsibilities and “integrate diverse efforts in pursuit of common goals” (Bolman & Deal, 2013, p. 44). The social architecture of higher education effectively distributes responsibilities, but it also creates silos. In fact, the extreme specialization by which higher education distributes responsibilities also creates the silos. Compounding this problem, a myth of solitary genius betrays reality: knowledge and innovation are not individual pursuits, but rather the result of collective practices. Extreme specialization and its resulting isolation permeate the culture of higher education and impede integrative initiatives that can facilitate common goals. To meet the demands of today’s challenges, the social architecture of higher education needs reform.

Higher education needs more diverse partnerships and collaborations. Whether in teaching, problem-solving, or creating new ventures, partnerships and collaborations diversify knowledge and expertise; expand the available human, technological, spatial, or financial resources; and distribute and diminish risks (Eddy, 2010, p. 21). Partnerships and collaborations can conserve resources, mend overextended departments, and improve sustainability and effectiveness.

Far too often, however, university representatives confine collaborations to a single division, like Academic Affairs, rather than explore collaborative opportunities between university divisions or with community partners. Pedagogically, many faculty look only to each other, particularly within their own departments, for collaborators. For new initiatives, some turn solely to their chairs, deans, or the provost for funding. In the end, stretched human and financial resources limit success.

Campus stakeholders reside in all university divisions. Student Affairs houses an array of departments that focus on developing student capacities for time- and stress-management, personal health and wellbeing, diversity awareness and appreciation, civic engagement, global citizenry, teamwork, and leadership. Under the direction of Human Resources, student employment can expand the range of immediate stakeholders for student development and success to the entire university.

The call for collaborations between university divisions is not new. At least since George D. Kuh’s 1994 keynote, “The Student Learning Imperative: Implications for Student Affairs,” student-affairs professionals have called for student- and academic-affairs collaborations that can produce what Kuh (March/April, 1996) calls “seamless learning environments” (p. 135). The term refers to curricular and co-curricular learning objectives working in tandem to overcome an otherwise fragmented learning process in order to foster lifelong learning.

The more faculty and staff interact, the better they can get to know each other, overcome inter-departmental or -divisional communication barriers and misunderstandings, foster a greater sense of campus community, collaborate, share knowledge and resources, innovate …. With shared imagination and support, a university’s faculty and staff can accomplish anything.

But partnerships and collaborations have to extend beyond the campus. The surrounding community also has a stake. The educational attainment of local citizenry can attract national employers, raise the competitiveness of local businesses, increase local tax revenue, improve community problem-solving skills, and in general expand both the pool and circulation of available resources. Imaginative administrators, faculty, and staff can identify and raise the awareness of potential stakeholders, collaborate with them, harness their vision, and empower, motivate, and mobilize community champions for student success.

Each university digs deep channels into the community that ferry students, workers, funding, and other resources back and forth for mutual sustainability and growth. Service-learning has enabled universities to formally explore, beyond internships, how to expand educational oversight and credit to community practices, but that and other integrative concepts need greater exploration. The university system’s further integration with the community can only benefit both it and the community.

Even to develop the skills and venues for partnerships, collaborations, and intentional explorations, faculty and staff and even community partners need innovative professional development. Differences in reward systems, norms for communications, reporting and authorization structures, and organizational objectives can convolute the incentives, decision-making process, documentation and assessment process, and expectations. Research indicates, on the one hand, that obligatory partnerships do not last past their mandates; on the other hand, partnerships that spring organically from pre-existing relationships foster mutual understanding, shared expectations, and more sustainable practices (Eddy, 2010, p. 21). After those human relationships yield collaborations, offices or personnel who maintain relationships with partnering organizations can nurture them and develop organizational bridges. But the human element has to happen first.

Here at Austin Peay State University, the Faculty Leadership Program (FLP) fosters campus interactions that can lead to student, faculty, and institutional success, and we’re expanding its framework to integrate faculty and staff through a Women’s Leadership Program (WLP). Unlike other universities’ leadership-development opportunities, the FLP and WLP do not cater to administrators. They do not support “leadership” as an official position. Nor do they promote campus success as a managerial responsibility.

Instead, the FLP and WLP promote leadership from the ranks. Adrianna Kezar (2001) reminds us that anyone, regardless of position, can serve as a change agent (p. 7). Through wide and deep personal networks, any individual can draw from diverse resources and knowledge to solve problems and develop campus innovations (Eddy, 2010, p. 29). At very least, a person can serve as a “node to connect disparate networks” (p. 64) in problem-solving and innovation.

Wide and deep personal networks expand personal awareness and influence. Diverse relationships enhance a person’s “cognitive flexibility” in an academically and operationally complex environment (p. 30). Close relationships improve that person’s influence in leveraging changes. A campus of change agents has the power to transform and strengthen the university, but it demands heightened faculty and staff awareness and interconnectivity.

Leadership from the ranks also responds more effectively than administrative managerialism does to external calls for change. Faculty and staff agency enables the “flexibility and adaptability that are particularly important in meeting external demands” (Kezar et al., 2006, p. 111), like those imposed by disruptive technologies, changes to the state funding formula, rising tuition during an economic downturn, social calls for increased accountability, decreased availability of state and federal grants, and the increased role of private donors, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Educause, Complete College America, educational entrepreneurs …. The current climate demands heightened individual awareness and collective adaptability.

So long as state contributions fail to meet budgetary shortfalls, let alone continue to shrink, the public university system will need dynamic faculty and staff who can lead rapid changes in response to powerful external pressures, particularly those tied to monetary incentives. In an environment where only consistent, large-scale change initiatives can attract the funding for even essential university operations, strong faculty and staff leadership can shield students from harmful trends while developing and implementing bold practices that truly lead to student, institutional, and community success.

 

 

References

 

Bolman, L. G. & Deal, T. E. (2013). Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, & Leadership; Fifth Ed. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Eddy, P. L. (2010). Partnerships and Collaborations in Higher Education. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Kezar, A. J. (2001). Understanding and Facilitating Organizational Change in the 21st Century: Recent Research and Conceptualizations. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Kezar, A. J.; Carducci, Rozana; & Contreras-McGavin, Melissa. (2006). Rethinking the “L” Word in Higher Education. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Kuh, G. D. (February, 1996). The Student Learning Imperative: Implications for Student Affairs. Retrieved from
www.housing.berkeley.edu/student/ACPA_student_learning_imperative.pdf

Kuh, G. D. (March/April, 1996). Guiding Principles for Creating Seamless Learning Environments for Undergraduates. Retrieved from www.uwf.edu/studentaffairs/assessment/documents/StudentLearningReadings/GuidingPrinciples_Kuh1996.pdf

 

 

From Negotiation to Collaboration, Part I

For future leadership programs, I’ve been researching negotiation strategies. As I read through the literature, I realize that most of our negotiations have nothing to do with salaries, the purchases of cars, or the release of hostages. Our daily negotiations transpire between colleagues or loved ones. They occur in committees, teamwork, or familial decisions, and they demand that we protect the relationship.

They also are the sources of our future opportunities and voice.

Many negotiation tactics elevate the participants’ roles. They portray negotiators as opponents. Some legitimize theatrics, deceit. Even if everyone reaches satisfactory agreement, people still refer to outcomes as wins and losses.

Because negotiations enable essential university operations, group choices, and familial decisions, and because only a minority thrives in stressful negotiations,  perhaps we have a moral obligation to rethink at least daily negotiations as collaborations. If we and our partners at the table do not see eye-to-eye, even on being collaborators, we still can reframe the discussion—and without “losing” our voice or opportunities to someone else’s cleverness or aggression.

Strategically, all we have to do is downplay the role of the participants and raise the visibility of the various factors that impact the decision-making process.

How do we accomplish that? First and foremost, we have to clearly connect our position to the needs of others: our families, the students, our colleagues, the department, our divisions, the institution …. This connection will empower us—not only in the eyes of others, but equally importantly, in our own eyes. Ironically, it empowers by removing you. It removes you as the sole benefactor and therefore implied subject of discussion.

Since we’re removing the participants as focal points, we never have to feign an emotion. We never have to stage theatrics. And we need only one prop.

That prop is paper. Particularly if the discussion gets aggressive, paper enables us to redirect the focus from each other to the paper, which is where we will write the facts—not as leverage, but rather as necessary components for problem-solving. The paper keeps us honest. Also, focusing on facts for problem-solving can help everyone escape from interfering emotions. If possible, move your chair next to your partner across the table, so the proximity encourages intimacy and you two have to look occasionally at the paper instead of each other.

Those are the easy tactics. The rest involves reflection, research, active listening, and targeted questioning. Use those skills to investigate your side, their side, and external factors, because the more you know, share, listen, and question during the discussion, the better you can collaborate.

 

negotiation_as_collaboration

 

  • If you know your own principles, needs, concerns, and goals, and if you’re willing to acknowledge and overcome your preconceptions during the collaboration process, then specificities do not matter. In collaborative negotiation, you’re not aiming for a specific package. You’re using bundled options as illustrative starting points for collaboratively exploring how to satisfy principles, meet needs, circumvent concerns, and accomplish goals. If possible, bring multiple packaged options to the table as conversation starters.
  • Both prior and during negotiation, if you can determine your partner’s principles, needs, concerns, goals, and preconceptions, then you can significantly impact if not dictate the terms of agreement—especially if you openly and transparently subordinate all options to them. This isn’t about control. It’s about motivating and building trust.
  • Both prior and during negotiation, if you can determine the external factors that might positively or negatively impact the deal, then you can focus the meeting on seizing opportunities or problem-solving. What is the status of traditional funding sources? What are the collaborative or alternative funding opportunities? Whose presence or contributions in the planning phase might expedite the process or expand the available knowledge, technology, workers, funds, or other resources? Which policies might affect the agreement’s language or action steps? Whose buy-in do you need, and how can you give them a voice in the process?

The remaining quadrant represents the collaborative exploration, reevaluation, brainstorming, and problem-solving of the other three. It represents the meeting space that can shed new light on your reflection and research, new light that can yield new opportunities.

This space demands four skills: sharing skills, active-listening skills, questioning skills, and the ability to build on what others say. How well can you connect the discussion to your stakeholders, principles, needs, concerns, and goals? Can you consistently repeat—or better, rephrase—your partner’s position and points, including inferences you make from body language, in order to verify you understood and demonstrate your attentiveness? Can you ask follow-up or other questions to learn more about your partner’s principles, needs, concerns, goals, or preconceptions? Rather than emphasize points of objection, can you build on possible points of interest?

Collaboration appears to be a subset of negotiation, but it’s the main platform for effective university operations, productive human interactions, and campus innovations. When we work against each other, campus community gives way to disgruntled individualism. When we work together, we create new opportunities for everyone.

A Man Conducting a Workshop for Women on How to Work within a Male System

Yesterday, the H.R. Training Specialist requested that I conduct a workshop next month on “Negotiation Strategies for Women.” From my work in developing the Women’s Leadership Program and our discussions on the unique challenges and strategies for women in negotiations, she believes I’m the right man for the job. But that’s the problem.

I don’t want to mansplain how women should behave in order to get what they want. If men and women dismiss women for deploying the same negotiation strategies that men use, then we need better Title IX training, not to correct women’s negotiation strategies.

Unfortunately, a Title IX training session wouldn’t work. We’d need a Title IX immersion program. Developing equitable interpretive frames would require constant reevaluation of blind-spot preconceptions. This questioning process has to occur within sustained, in-depth collaborative learning engagements with people of different perspectives — and in high-trust environments. Since interpretive frames shape one’s own identity, the process reforms the self. It’s emotionally exhausting. It’s painful. Not many people want to go through that process, especially not for what, on a first glance, appears to benefit only others. Far more commonly, people reach for low-hanging skills, or at least skills that clearly benefit themselves.

And that brings us back to where we are: a man conducting a workshop for women on how to work within a male system.

Don’t get me wrong. Instead of presenting bullet-point slides on research, I will shift both the attention and source of knowledge to the participants. I will use research not to lecture, but rather to ask targeted questions. In other words, I can downplay or even somewhat undermine the structural parallel with the social problem.

But I’ll still be a man conducting a workshop for women on how to work within a male system.

Women’s Leadership Program and Campus Integration

Since Spring 2013, multiple faculty and staff members have approached me and asked for a women’s leadership program. In Summer 2013, I started researching the unique concerns and strategies for circumnavigating them, particularly in academia. I learned more about the unparalleled familial support network that males have for entering into leadership and the constraints on the negotiation tactics women can use — not just for salaries or raises, but equally importantly, for the daily negotiations in teamwork, committee work, and even interactions with friends and family. After developing a strong enough knowledge base to ask questions, I conducted cross-campus interviews with faculty and staff to develop a better understanding of their specific needs and interests.

Many have asked me why I as a man have pushed so hard for this program. Particularly after reading the literature, I strongly support the cause. But based on my experiences with other leadership programs, I also recognized the importance and opportunity of a cohort program that can connect diverse areas of the university. I’m constantly thinking of ways to improve the university’s capacity for cross-campus knowledge transfers, resource sharing, and other collaborations. The more ways we can integrate faculty, professional staff, and non-professional staff, the better prepared the university will be for responding to external threats or opportunities.

Although we have done an excellent job of integrating different departments and academic colleges, we have not yet expanded our integration to include staff. For nearly two years, I have explored ways to include staff in our existing programs. Differences in approval hierarchies, pay structures, and especially cultures thwarted every attempt. I may be wrong, but I suspect the Women’s Leadership Program (WLP) overcame those differences because people stopped thinking of themselves as faculty or staff and started thinking of themselves as women — and then the men either supported it or got the heck out of the way. Whatever the reason, instead of thinking why not, people started figuring out how to.

Meanwhile, the WLP can build channels between faculty, professional staff, and administrative staff that will enable other integrative programs to navigate the system. It sets a precedent.

Unfortunately, the program’s timing thwarted my ability to see it to fruition. My office assumed a large amount of responsibility for the New Faculty Program and the highly ambitious Quality Enhancement Plan. I was asked not to roll out new programs.

With prior approval, I sought champions and initiated conversations with the faculty and staff senates to co-house the program. Before the senates could vote, the program’s champions proliferated, to the point of potentially tearing apart the program. Across campus, people made appointments to discuss the program’s design and funding without including each other or other essential stakeholders in the conversation. Rather than wait until the program had a proper home that could institutionalize it, I chose to appoint program co-directors, one faculty and one staff member, who could manage the champions and see the program to implementation. I gave them the names of program champions, the names of other stakeholders, the list of interviewee requests, and the program design I created.

One of the co-directors is a graduate of this spring’s Faculty Leadership Program, so I see this handing-off process at least in part as a continuation of that professional development.

As I saw today in the information session with the Staff Senate, the co-directors are working as a team, and the program design already is starting to change. Although I take pride in my design, their changing it means the co-directors have taken ownership over it. The change is good. It is a sign of life.

So now I will lose decision-making abilities, fall-out of the information loop, and watch with anticipation, and even a sense of loss, to see in what unpredictable ways the program will develop and grow.

Arming Faculty without Telling Them What to Do

By Day 1, new faculty need to know our students and how to reach them. They would need that kind of knowledge if we were Harvard, if we were a community college. No two campuses have the same demographics, so learning the different student bodies, characteristics, and learning preferences orients faculty to their new environment.

But I don’t tell faculty how to teach. They know better than I do how to teach their content. Any implication otherwise would be wrong and insulting.

I do provide faculty with teaching strategies. A simple cohort-building activity helps faculty acquire and assimilate the specific teaching strategies for those diverse student bodies — and this activity circumvents my “teaching” anyone anything.

Most strategies overlap for different demographics — like fostering a sense of classroom community in order to improve student-to-student knowledge transfer, socially incentivize attendance, and diversify classroom accountability structures. Participants encounter a short list of specific classroom activities, with their slightly different pedagogical intentions. And then we use think-pair-share: participants individually choose which activity they most likely would use and explain their reasoning to their neighbors.

The process of choosing only one forces the participants to evaluate and cognitively organize the options. Also, by selecting first and then discussing their reasoning, they activate multiple parts of their brains to access the same content, which increases the likelihood of their retaining that content. Participants also develop a vested interest in other people’s answers, and the in-depth discussion becomes a reflection activity that fosters metacognitive understanding. It also improves mutual understanding and peer relationships. The subsequent greater group discussion disseminates more information for improved reflection and understanding, but it also fosters a sense of cohort community. After an hour of tackling five strategies this way, the faculty see those five strategies in a list and take that list home with them. They’re also motivated, talkative, and reluctant to leave the conversation behind.

This activity is an example of how to help faculty develop new understandings, without boring them with a lecture or their perceiving the faculty developer as trying to rob them of their academic freedom. Regardless of the topic, look for opportunities to deliver information as tools — for socializing, problem-solving, designing a project … — not as endpoints. When information becomes the endpoint, it should become a handout; the interaction, only an email. Otherwise, we’re wasting both good will and everyone’s time.