How Personal Experiences Can Drive Teamwork Foundation

Growing up I was accustomed to a quiet world.  Being the youngest of four children, I often think my parents sheltered my existence to some extent based on the potentially not-so-great decisions of my older siblings.  Nonetheless, my stature growing up provided me the opportunity to fall in love with books.  There was nothing I loved (and still love) to do more than a read a good book.  I’d stay up until the wee hours of the morning immersing myself into another world of fiction.  And then I grew up.  Technology was an ever-growing force in my own generation.  The need and want of that technology was overbearing and overwhelming at times, but I also had my books.

It wasn’t until I was an adult and my now ex-husband asked me if I would rather have a grill or a Nook for a Christmas.  Well I chose the grill.  I could not understand why someone would want a Nook.  You lose out on the feel of the book as you clutch it through some of the most climatic points of a story.  And the smell of pages from old library books that were well beyond used, and in many cases offering so many readers a chance at a break from reality.  So again, why would someone want to miss out on the experience by succumbing to a piece of technology?  What if something spilled on it or it died right in the middle of a good part in the story?  A Nook just sounded silly.  Years later, I finally succeeded to allowing someone to present me with a Nook.  Now, I will say from the perspective of travel it has lightened my load significantly.  Travelling with books, no doubt can be a true nuisance.

So why do I share in this personal story?  In reading through Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, I kept memorizing back to this moment in my life.  In what seemed to be such a pivotal switch.  What was it that finally prompted me to move towards something I thought I would forever loathe?  Was it pressure? Was it an internal switch that told me I want something new and shiny?  Was it just my time?  While a large portion might have leaned towards a convenience factor, I think it was this very experience that really aligned with what Rachel Spilka, author of Digital Literacy, was driving that we [as technical communicators] begin thinking more critical about.

I’m sure many, if not all of you have heard of the following quote:

gandhi - change

http://www.peaceproject.com

This quote in correlation with my personal experience was what was driving through my mind as I read the beginnings of Digital Literacy.  There were two questions that Spilka called out that really got me to think about my role as a technical communicator:

  1. How can we make a difference, not by isolating ourselves or distinguishing ourselves from others, but rather through collaborative efforts?
  2. How can we contribute to the social good with our unique perspectives, knowledge, and strategies?

As technical communicators we do bring unique perspectives and experiences to our own work and it is through those experiences that I believe we have the opportunity to use that to make a difference.  Just like advocating for “being the change we want to see in the world”, sharing our experiences / knowledge can advocate for this in our world of technical communication.

What I do somewhat disagree with in regards to the first question I called out from Spilka’s book, is that there are times and opportunities that we can take to build differences in order to show them through a more collaborative effort.

Two men in a canoe rowing against each other.

Two men in a canoe rowing against each other.

I am a “sole technical writer” of sorts in my organization right now (at least in my own department).  Through the course of my work, I have developed policies, procedures, guidelines, and am in the process of implementing an internal blog for our department.  Through this work (that I have done alone), I am able to showcase to others in the organization how we can be successful with communication by showing and referencing this work that I would not have others have had if I tried to complete it “collaboratively”.  Let’s face it – in many organizations we often struggle with “who owns that particular [thing]”.  By always working collaboratively, I think we often run the risk of over words-smithing or over-critiquing something.  I also think that in some ways, it is not bad to distinguish yourself from others – especially if you can elicit good technical communication in order to help others become better at it themselves.  Overall, I do believe that there does have to be some middle ground, however, it is at that point where we can actually begin contributing to that overall social goodness.

What are your thoughts around these two particular questions and how did you ultimately interpret them?  Have you ever had experiences where it was beneficial isolate yourself versus working through it collaboratively (or vice versa)?

Posted on September 27, 2015, in Digital, Literacy. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Chelsea,

    Regarding collaboration, I work with scientists and engineers, who notoriously write poorly. I don’t let them say that if they are around me. But, what I have tried to do is provide opportunities for them to improve their writing skill no matter how good they were to begin with to paraphrase Alan Alda (http://www.centerforcommunicatingscience.org/jargon-is-jibberish-alan-aldas-10-commandments-of-science-communication-leah-cannon-post/). That’s how I feel I can best collaborate by doing what I do best to help others do what they do best.

    In fact, I am passionate about helping those in science and engineering communicate the important issues of our time. It’s my belief that to be an effective scientist or engineering, you have to be an effective communicator. This turn promotes the change the your inspirational quote refers to.

    That said, I wanted to mention I sometimes find it useful, if not essential, to lock myself away to produce a body of writing. However, I never consider the process complete until I have someone else review it as a peer or editor. It’s sort of the best of both worlds: isolation interrupted by collaboration.

  2. I fully agree with you that or technical professionals do need to be effective communicators. I do struggle, because at times I feel like we need to educate them so they can effectively communicate, however, at other times I struggle because should that really be their job to consume themselves – isn’t that why we are the technical SME’s? Some days I often feel like i’m in a lose lose situation when it comes to this, but what I have discovered is that I personally cannot be in every meeting and oversee every e-mail (and I wouldn’t want to) and so, to your point, it is important that our technical subject matter experts do have a baseline education on effective communication.

  3. You talk about having to educate engineers and others who write poorly; are they open to your advice? Regarding implementation of policies and procedures, who checks to see if documentation conforms? If engineers and others without your knowledge are writing official documents, does the peer editor step in and correct their work, have them rewrite it? We have a similar issue at my college where everyone considers themselves a writer, and most of it isn’t to a standard expected of a higher education institution. I’m wondering how you handle the bad stuff.

    • Chelsea Dowling

      Absolutely not! I have been told – on a few occasions – that others should just know what the technical people are talking about. It’s normal to them – industry knowledge – so of course they think everyone should follow along so closely because they don’t have their jobs to do – right? Wrong. You are asking so many interesting questions in this response Dana. I think this is often where many of my daily frustrations come in. For example, our security team within the IT department as begun to write it’s own corporate policies. 1) I haven’t had any insight into them and they are pretty ambiguous and contain a bunch of jaron. 2) No one actually knows about them. 3) Even though they are meant for the whole organization, it hasn’t actually followed any of the “processes” to establish this as an employee policy. Part of me thinks this is a concern because of the lack of people we have to work on it (i’m a team of 1).

      So – unfortunately, when the bad stuff comes along I kind of want to cry. But one of the things I am starting to find is that with the policies and procedures I have put into place, it aligns with the things that have worked. The work that I put out, I like to think supercedes other work that has been done in this area. I think that makes a big difference. So when the bad stuff comes through and it results in – well nothing – we can begin to see how doing it well can really make an impact versus doing it poorly. It’s definitely something that I struggle with – no doubt though.

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