I recently heard ACRL vice-president/president-elect Julie Todaro speak on issues facing academic librarians. One point she made was that librarians often find themselves in the position of having to try to influence someone or advocate for something without having the authority or power that flows directly from a position or title. That is, you are trying to convince someone to give you something and they don’t necessarily have to listen to you. How do you do it? The art of persuasion.
The first step to persuading someone is to know and understand their wants and needs. How do you find out their wants and needs? Julie, perhaps due to her Texanosity, seems to prefer the direct approach. She spoke of having interviews (she called them grilling sessions) with each of her bosses to find out their likes and dislikes and their communication preferences. She would ask questions like: how do you want to communicate, email, chat, phone, or face-to-face? How often do you want me to communicate with you? Do you want long emails or short? Do you want pathos or numbers? How do you feel about acronyms? She even confessed to asking, what are your favorite buzzwords? And so on.
Each of her bosses wanted something slightly different: one would be convinced by a moving story of helping an individual student, another was convinced only by statistics. One hated acronyms, one didn’t mind them. Julie would then tailor her pitch to match her boss’s wants and communication preferences. Apparently she’s very good at it: one of Julie’s recent triumphs was persuading her instutiton to hire 13 librarians.
The interviewing technique Julie uses is a excellent one, however, you may not always be able to carry it out. You can also pick up information about your boss (or colleague or faculty liaison or student worker or student in the library) by simply paying attention and listening. You’ll find out soon enough what they want and how they prefer to communicate. Do also pay attention to buzzwords. They can almost sometimes be like secret passwords that allow you to quickly gain someone’s trust. Technological skills come and go, but people skills like persuasion will last your entire career.
For more in-depth treatment of the librarianly art of persuasion, see ACRL’s new advocacy toolkit, The Power of Personal Persuasion. Thanks Julie!
By Marc Meola