Monthly Archives: September 2016

Modeling Behavior: Apologizing

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As someone who is mostly and usually human, I make mistakes. Somedays, you could fill a pretty big bucket with them and other days maybe a rocks glass. Ok, most days you could fill a bucket. Sometimes, I make little mistakes, other days I make giant, non-refundable ones. So, I have to suck it up buttercup and apologize.

I made an apology worthy error this spring with a graduate student. I was unaware of this at the time and a colleague mentioned it to me. I apologized twice on this one. I first apologized to my colleague, saying there was no excuse for my behavior and noting I would address the student as soon as I could. I then did something else.

I thanked my colleague. 

Not for pointing out something I did wrong or putting me on blast, but for being kind enough to let me know that I had unintentionally made a mistake. I was clueless. My colleague and I had a good talk and we both walked away without any hard feelings. I don’t know always know how people respond to me and not everyone takes me the same way. I get that.

The student was equally pleasant to address. My apologies are simple. I make no excuses for my prior behavior and I assume 100% of the responsibility.

“I’m sorry  I made you feel ______. That was unacceptable behavior and I will do my best not to do that again. I try to model the behavior that I want from my students so I hope you will forgive me when you’re ready.”

The student was gracious. The interaction lasted a few minutes and it was done.

The art of apologizing is really very simple.

  1. DO: Address the issue in person. Over the phone if you physically cannot meet. Text apologies or email apologies are only good for small things–typo’s or a slip in reading a calendar. If you apologize over a text, you’re not really apologizing and you didn’t really mean it to begin with, especially if it’s important (it usually is), and something bigger than the “i’m running 10 min. late.”
  2. DO: Keep it simple. The best apologies are the most simply crafted. They’re not novels.
  3. DO: Refrain from “if” or “but” statements in your apology or defending your action. Those two words imply you’re not actually sorry or that you’re trying to place the blame back on the person. This never works. “I’m sorry but…..” but what? You’re acknowledging you made a mistake, so if you’re really apologizing, don’t relinquish responsibility or minimize it to devalue how the other person feels. Even if you don’t use “if” or “but” you can still half ass it by getting defensive-grammar isn’t the caveat, it’s your message.
  4. DO: Understand it’s a one sided communication. I acknowledged my mistake and guilt and left it at that. I asked NOTHING of the person in return and did not try to make a single excuse for my mistake.
  5. DO: Give it time. The person might not respond. Ever. And that’s going to have to be ok. I acknowledged people’s feelings, owned what I did, and moved forward.

Don’t believe me? Google “the art of an apology” and see what pops up. Even better, I got a TON of practice in my 20’s when I was teaching because I screwed up all of the time!  I found the best apology strategy was: acknowledgement, acceptance, stating it, and moving forward. Students can be moody and need time to process, just like adults. I have yet to have a student come back around after a proper apology.

The other thing: modeling the behavior I want to see. As a professor, I’ve got eyes watching me always. If I’m mentoring grad students, undergrad researchers, or anyone, I want to model the behavior I would like to see from them. Owning my mistakes, apologizing, and being sincere are three impactful and important things for students to see so they can model it in the future when they make a mistake. I don’t go mouthing off intentionally so everyone can see me apologize ;~)

What does a half-hearted apology sound like? “I’m sorry about _____ but I didn’t do ______ so just to let you know….” You can fill in the blanks and get the picture. Someone didn’t think they did anything wrong, they want to clear THEIR conscience-not your feelings- and honestly: THEY DON’T REALLY WANT TO APOLOGIZE.

I’ve received those too and so will you. As someone who works with students almost each and every day, it’s important to me to not just model behavior, but to hold myself to that standard as well. It’s an excellent reminder that we’re all human, we make mistakes, but how we rebound from them is equally important.

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In Defense of “Free Time”

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Running, busy, over committed. Three words most adults use on a regular basis. The notion that we have to be in that perpetual busy contest is killing us and selfishly, it’s driving me crazy.

I’ve had a few days in the recent past where I am busy. I’ll pack a day in order to get a day free. Not free of work, but my time is free to me to write, to catch up, to reflect, to shove off early, to accidentally take a nap without .

Facebook is showing me 1,390 back to school posts and I love them. But what I hate hearing is “we had such a busy summer” because then I wonder, “when did they have time to actually enjoy the summer?” I don’t hold anything against people for that statement, but I wonder how people would respond if the post said, “we had tons of free time this summer.” I imagine a lot of people would guffaw and reply smartly, “must be nice” but I wonder if anyone would say, “my family did too, so we went out to catch lightning bugs almost every night.”

I’ve learned to guard my time but it does get away from me on occasion and then I have to have an internal chat with myself. Heck, I overcommitted this week, had to apologize, and then had a stern reflection while swimming laps. But, what would happen if you set aside free time? Would you even know what to do? Would you want to fill it with something? Or simply read a book? Would you feel the need to defend it to someone? Or would they celebrate it with you?

I understand that we’re busy, but busy doing what sometimes? This culture of busy isn’t working but what will it take to stop it? Idle time seems like a decadent dessert, a luxurious morning sleeping in, or simply freeing ourselves psychologically that we always have to be busy.

I noticed myself wanting to be un-busy on a recent trip to see my sister. She was a great hostess and we kayaked, went to the beach, and had some really yummy meals. One afternoon of my visit we ate lunch and she said, “what do you want to do?” I recommended we do nothing, watch a movie, take a little siesta, and simply enjoy some free time.

When my life gets too structured, it makes me nervous and I fight it. But too little and I’m frazzled. In defense of free time I’ll end with this–free time gives us the freedom to think, the play, to be curious. Carve out some free time for yourself so you can be free, be curious, and give your brain a little breathing room to do what it’s really good at, even if it’s simply to take a nap.

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What If We Quit Trying to Create Screensaver Moments?

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(that’s my desk, it’s not screen saver worthy)

The academy is fraught with misconceptions about old men with white hair who sit around all day smoking their pipe while wearing sweater vests and discussing philosophical questions in a cloud of smoke.

Sadly, about 90% of that is untrue. The sweater vests and the discussions are about the only two things in that statement that remain intact at all here in the academy. And maybe some old guys ;~)

Academia, like many professions, is built on notions and stereotypes that simply do not hold up anymore. As someone who sits in two worlds, I can say that these stereotypes are about as far from true as possible. I sit in the agriculture world too and trust me, it ain’t all stereotypes there either.

Instead of perpetuating these notions, it’s time to get real and quit trying to create screen saver moments for others.

  • We’re hustlers.
  • We’re entrepreneurs.
  • We’re teaching.
  • We’re advising.
  • We’re researching.
  • We’re publishing.
  • And we’re running.

Toward the next thing, toward the next grant, toward recruiting the next set of students, toward the next research project that’s unpaid but we hope will lead to something paid.

We are not sitting around chatting for long. The academy isn’t going to remain this stone thing in an ivory tower. It’s crumbling around us. Funding continues to be cut, pressure to increase enrollment is up, pressure to recruit, pressure to submit grants, pressure….Insert the song by Queen now.

Sometimes, it helps to have some real talk. I call it “come to jesus” talk and it means no disrespect to anyone but the tone is set. I had this talk with a grad student recently. He had failed. Failed miserably and instead of owning it, he tried to flee the scene of his ‘crime,’ doing no work. I let him think he was running for a week and then he had to face his own music.

And he got tears in his eyes.

I didn’t yell. I didn’t have to.

Continually creating a screen saver moment for him wasn’t going to work. He wasn’t going to learn. And if someone had taken a picture of our meeting, it would hardly be worthy of an instagram post.

But it was real.

Vivid, living, and in color. There were no rose colored glasses.

This semester, I encourage all of us to quit trying to create screen saver moments. For ourselves, for our students, for everyone. While there are accomplishments and victories to be celebrated, when we try and glamorize our hustle, we’re feeding into the stereotype I outlined in the first sentence of this post and academia is the polar opposite now.

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30 Minutes a Day

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Writing. Your best friend. The bane of your existence. The bread and butter of an academic. Seeing your name published is rewarding but mandatory if you want to play in the game, dance with the devil, whatever crappy figure of speech you’d like to insert.

After getting almost nothing from a grad student after a summer worth of payment, I had to tackle a manuscript and go it alone. (that issue is a ball of wax that i melted in a prior post) Filled with vitriol, caffeine, and fortitude, I opened the file and got reacquainted with my writing. I had set it aside to give the student ample time to write on it and had given myself the deadline of a trip to get the draft drafted and passed off. A month later and with sparse additions from said student, I ripped it open like a bandaid from my skin and took the nestea plunge.

Since no one eats an elephant in one sitting, I knew I wasn’t going to bang the rest of this out in one sitting either. I then consulted my calendar, said several curse words, and decided that the weekly email I get from the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity was correct and that 30 minutes a day was a lot more manageable than the 83 hours it was going to take to get this one out into a journal’s hands. I’m no dummy at this point and I’m aware that I will not and cannot sit down and write on something for hours at a time.

Employing the 30 minutes a day has worked. REALLY WORKED. I’ve been able to do it the first few weeks of the semester almost every day with the exception of weekends and the weekend I dipped out early to go see my sister for my birthday. I can be taught and I do listen most of the time. Here’s what I’ve done, maybe it will work for you too:

  • picked the morning, morning works for me cognitively. if i can’t do it in the morning, i do it before i leave. it’s like my exit card.
  • closed the door or eliminated distractions. we’re a friendly group, but a closed door means “try not to disturb.”
  • left a printed copy of the manuscript on my desk, front and center to remind me
  • keep a log on my desk so i can track it, the reward is worth it of being able to write it down (screen shot below)
  • selected a piece to work on each day, a chunk, not the whole thing
  • weekly email check in’s with a virtual writing group

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I made my planner in a word doc, but it was after going to an Anthropologie store and seeing one that was put together neatly, coveting it, but not wanting to spend $18 on it. My colleague was with me as we were traveling for work, and she purchased one. I came home and made my own, printed and stapled together. It sits on my desk in a booklet, much like the one from Anthro, but not quite as pretty. It serves as an excellent reminder to write each day.

There are days when I do go over 30 minutes. But if my schedule is tight, I know I can spare 30 easily and will often leave a note in the printed out copy of the manuscript of where I want to pick up the next day.

Thirty minutes a day. I can do almost anything for that amount of time including writing. If your strategy isn’t working, maybe give it a try?

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Asking Questions to Manage Expectations

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Faculty life is all about managing expectations. That’s the mantra for today’s post.

I’ve learned to manage my own expectations for myself, but more importantly-for others as well. Keeping this in mind, I also ask a lot of questions when expectations go falling off the back of the wagon. My favorite thing to ask a naughty student when I taught grades 6-12 was, “why are you behaving this way?”

I need to employ this technique for bigger kids I teach and do research with too.

I work with a lot of grad students. They’re invaluable in the research process and I respect them the way I respect my colleagues. No matter what they do when they graduate, I try to give them a holistic education that will prepare them for faculty, industry, private sector, etc…so they’ll have a skill set that’s marketable and adaptable. I have students who say to me, “I want to write/publish with you” since they might want to work in higher education or think a publication or two will help their marketability. I will work with almost any student who wishes to get writing/publishing experience.

Learning how the student likes to work is one of the most important things I work on first. Do they need deadlines? Do they do the work and let me know they’re finished until I read it? Do they need to sit and process together or out loud? How much experience do they have under their belt? What’s their course and work load look like? What do their writing skills look like? What are my expectations from them? How much time do they have? How much time do I want? When is the deadline? What else is leaning on this project/work to go to the next step?

Questions. Always questioning from my end.

The trouble can begin when the expectations aren’t met on one end or the other. Even after all of the questions, the follow through is the key. Holding students and myself accountable is still the hardest part of managing those expectations. I wouldn’t expect a two-year old to write a sonnet, so when I expect a grad student to write a whole manuscript, I’m letting everyone down.

This has happened. I did not expect the grad student to write the whole thing. I gave it to them about 75-80% done and they still couldn’t get the pieces done I asked. They were paid to write and they mustered up two sentences during the duration of the project.

About halfway through I asked the questions again, “do you want to do this?” I gave them the out. “Do you need help? How can I help? Would you like to partner write it?” I gave them options. “Do you need a deadline instead? What’s a measurable one we both can commit too?” I tried the deadline since they weren’t working well autonomously.

In the end, my expectations were not met and I was left underwhelmed if I’m being nice. Grad students are here to learn, not only about the content and process but about themselves too. I’m here to learn. Sitting down with the student and discussing objectives, asking lots of questions, and holding everyone accountable is my game.

Managing expectations through questioning is a technique I’ve employed successfully and unsuccessfully for years. In the end, it’s the relationship with the student in the end. The relationship with me but their relationship to finishing or contributing to a project that matters just as much. Whether it’s a manuscript or something else, their proximity to buying into the work can make or break their process.

 

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