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Dispatches from PLA 2014 — Building Instead of Blocking: Employing Soft Skills in Your Work Environment

by on March 18, 2014

The workplace often values hard skills, such as knowing how to do one’s tasks, but more and more we are seeing that soft skills are just as important as hard skills. Soft skills is the ability to interact with others and as information professionals it is imperative that we are able to effectively interact with our colleagues and our library users. During the lively presentation at  PLA titled “People with Soft Skills Get More Done and are More Fun to Work With,” Cheryl Gould of Fully Engaged Libraries and Sam McBane Mulford of Ideation Collaborative, presented several interactive exercises to demonstrate how soft skills are learnable and through practice everyone can learn these skills to create a more harmonious work environment. Gould began the presentation by talking about building instead of blocking. She described blocking as a “show-stopper” and how many organizations have individuals whose first instinct is to block progression citing policy or other barriers, whereas building is when an individual learns to find ways to support ideas rather than dismiss

Benefits of Opinion Diversity

To further the concept of building over blocking, Gould explained how people often think about the ownership of ideas and how this false concept of ownership prevents people from sharing ideas that may be similar or ideas that  build upon another idea — because they do not want to be perceived as “stealing” an idea. This mental block prevents a full collaboration within a group. Gould suggested using a game called “What is that?” to help promote creativity and the support of varying opinions. In this game, an object is chosen, a pen was used in the demonstration, and the team goes around in a circle and asks one another: What is that? Without naming what the object actually is, the person will describe the object and the others will exclaim: That’s exactly what it is! The game elicited some very humorous answers, such as: scribble maker, frindle, idea creator, and so on. Playing this game with a team or group prior to a brainstorming session will help the group to be more relaxed, creative, and supportive of new ideas.

What’s Good About that…

Another exercise suggested for developing soft skills within a team involved using the phrase: What’s good about that… In this exercise, we were given the idea of decreasing the print collection within our library. In a small group, each person completed the statement that began with: What’s good about that… There were many positive statements made, such as there would be more space for comfortable furniture, that would lead to a more welcoming environment, that would lead to increased patronage, that would lead to increased circulation, and so on. This was another great exercise that underscored the value of diversity of opinion.

Prioritize Connections

All work environments are different, but as information professionals, we should be open to sharing and supporting the ideas of our colleagues. In many work environments, the priority has shifted to getting things done over making connections, and the presenters suggested that we work as individuals to promote “building over blocking” in our work environments.