Say It With A Smile

banana smile

“smile” by red5standingby under CC licence via flickr

The goal of Hack Library School is to provide the information and resources to get the most of your MLIS and LIS education (though a great deal of our content is accessible and useable to those in any discipline). I find that sometimes we all need the reminder of the most simple of life, work and school hacks — those things that you know but then someone says to you and you think “Oh right!” Or, to put it another way: all we needed to know about earning our MLIS, we might very well have learned in Kindergarten.

My easily-heard-but-sometimes-hard-to-remember-and-practice LIS School Hack is: Be Nice.

Even Flower from “Bambi” had to be reminded and reluctantly but very sweetly repeated back the old adage: “If you can’t say nothing nice, don’t say nothing at all.” As professionals, we are both required not to judge or censor patron’s requests for information while at the same time sometimes asked to evaluate and classify information as good or not as good. It is important for all of us to learn when to hold our tongue and also how to offer our opinion matter-of-factly yet nicely.

I have a slightly different perspective as an online-only student where electronic communications can appear slightly more harsh than intended. Yet this is the environment of our increasingly tech-heavy world and we should adapt accordingly. It is more important than ever to infuse our communications with a smile. I’m sorry, no, an emoticon doesn’t cut it (we are not teenagers after all). Our writings and words should speak clearly on their own. As information professionals we should understand (and practice) that if we want to convey information — even potentially hard, counter, or negative information — the best method for doing so is wrapped in a positive, courteous, respectful and pleasant package.

Last semester I had a classmate completely blast a website that our professor sent us to as a resource. He ended his scathing critique with “…it is completely invaluable and I think it should be destroyed.” Wow. Really?! A website should be destroyed because a few of the 100s of links are broken? I was shocked at his disrespect for both the professor and the website creator. I can’t but chuckle then and now. Yet the result was that I tended to tune out his future class offerings and also tried to ensure that we weren’t in groups together as I didn’t want to listen to nor work with someone so negative. I would venture that is not the type of reputation that he, or we all, wish to have.

We have had a great run of practical and helpful posts lately on professional development and job hunting. Some of the most important hacks, in getting and doing well in a job, are cultivating “soft skills” — our social IQ and graces. As Annie discussed, soft skills are prominent part of job postings and if you look at SLA’s Competencies for Special Librarians from 1997, the subtext of “be professionally nice, respectful, and generally one people like to work with” can certainly be found:

  • 2.5 – creates an environment of mutual respect and trust. (“…creates a problem-solving environment in which everyone’s contribution is valued and acknowledged…”)
  • 2.6 – has effective communications skills. (“Listens first and then coaches staff… Presents ideas clearly and enthusiastically… Requests feedback…”)
  • 2.7 – works well with others in a team. (“Learns about the wisdom of teams and seeks out opportunities for team participation…”) – More about this skill here.
  • 2.8 – is flexible and positive in a time of continuing change. (“…Maintains a positive attitude and helps others to do the same. Never says it cannot be done. Looks for solutions. Helps others to develop their ideas…”)

We should certainly be practicing these and all of our “professional” competencies while still in school. Of paramount importance I go back to simply conducting ourselves courteously and respectfully — or, you know: being nice. This is easier of course when you are able to be positive about all you see and do. It is more of a sticky wicket when we feel the need to voice critique or something more negative. I offer some questions to think about when we want to share our opinions:

  • Is what we are saying necessary or important to share? (“If you can’t say anything nice…”)
  • Are we acting professionally in offering the criticism at all, being mindful of our relative place to do so?
  • Are we mindful of our audience? (Personal pet peeve: not using a Doctor or Professor’s honorarium in addressing them — they have earned the title, please use it)
  • If we cannot suggest better then we are simply complaining — so are we offering suggestion for improvement?
  • Are we being respectful of the creator while still offering our honest opinion on the content?
  • Can we find a better way to more positively or gently frame a critique?
  • Are we being specific as to what causes concern or what we disagree with?
  • Are we being mindful of our tone and word choice?
  • Can we offer a compliment in addition to a criticisim?

Our friends over at In the Library with a Lead Pipe also have this great piece on offering constructive criticism.  You don’t have to be outrageously outgoing nor a pushover, yet being friendly to your peers, respectful to your supervisors and professors, and generally a pleasure to interact with is the best school– and life — hack I know.

Share my sentiment or think being nice isn’t necessary? Other tips for remaining positive? Please share what you think in the comments!

6 replies

  1. Hey Joanna, thanks for the pingback! This is a great companion piece to the Lead Pipe article. I am so pleased to see that graceful communication is on the radar for LIS students. Keep up the great work!


  2. Agreed. The internet makes it very easy to lash out, in harsh criticism, in wild allegations, in over-the-top praise. Very good advice here to try and think about what you’re trying to say. After all, there are very good records of everything we do online… as evidenced by your quote from a fellow student. Sometimes it’s hard to judge how much of our online activities / writing gets noticed, but we should definitely err on the side of caution! And yes, simply be nice.


  3. This is a great reminder to all of us, even those that will go into areas such as cataloging and IT that may not be dealing with patrons on a daily basis. I’ve also experienced fellow students that “lash out” in the discussion forums and get confused by the “heat” behind their words. It does cause an automatic judgement and discredits anything that person may have to say in the future.

    Smiling and positive reinforcement while being genuine and respectful are keys to success in any interpersonal situation. And yes, we all learned this in Kindergarten but as you pointed out, sometimes we just need that gentle nudge in the right direction.


  4. Wonderful reminder for us all! I’ve had meetings recently where there were people who were full of crankiness, and everyone else tried to be extra friendly to counterbalance the negative vibes. I credit that friendliness with getting us all through those meetings in a timely fashion and productively, keeping us from devolving into resentful arguments.


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