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Communication Culture: Resolving Conflict & Leveraging Feedback—Barrie Byron & Ann Grove

June 20, 2012

It seems they put all of the great pairs first thing each morning. I suppose the conference organizers decided it would take two presenters to have enough energy to wake up a crowd of conference-goers at 8:30 am.

Tuesday morning brought Barrie Byron & Ann Grove, which promised to be a fantastic performance. You know the presenters will be getting into the nitty gritty when they start their presentation with this quote:

“The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trial.” – Confucius

These two made the point that resolving conflict is a process. If we expect to make the necessary connections, we must put aside our assumptions.

There are times when you can choose to be right and make it known that you are right. Or you can choose to be loving.

Make an effort to truly consider the potential root causes for conflict. Are personalities clashing? Is there a misunderstandings about a topic? Are there various leadership styles at work? Sometimes what seems to be the obvious cause is actually a symptom.

Barrie and Ann identified five personality types that can cause conflict: know-it-all, argumentative, people pleaser, narcissist ego-maniac, and self-loather. Are you one of them?

Likewise, there are four leadership styles: authoritarian, democratic, charismatic, & passive. Depending on the leadership styles involved, determine how you will approach each person. Be proactive with updates.

Identify & assess your audience, then choose one a method for resolving the conflict.

6 methods for resolving conflict
  • Ignoring it (should be a choice, not a default)
  • Smooth it over
  • Force the resolution
  • Compromise
  • Collaborate
  • Involve a third party

Have a plan and backup plans to confront conflict. If necessary, hit the pause button to assess situation and plan your approach.

As you resolve the issues that arise, remember this: Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate. You need to have two positive interactions to balance each negative interaction.

I couldn’t pick just one favorite quote from this session, so I will leave you with two:
  1. “I can’t say you’re right, but you are confident.” Best used in a never-ending argument.
  2. “Quit taking it personally.” Or Q-TIP. Not everything is about you. The conflict might not be your fault and you might not be able to bring about resolution.
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Bulletproofing Your Career Online—Ben Woelk & Hannah Morgan

June 19, 2012

I started Monday morning with the dynamic duo that is Hannah Morgan and Ben Woelk. They gave tips for how to use social media to promote yourself.

Here are a few snippets of Hannah’s wisdom about personal branding:

  • You can start building your brand and network at any point. Don’t wait. It is a survival skill to manage your career.
  • 78% of employers in the US are Googling you (based on results from a 2010 Microsoft study in 2010). Create a strategy to put out tthere and emphasize the good stuff. Use Brand Yourself to select which links show up on the first page of a Google search.
  • Use social networks to engage with friends, family, potential employers, and potential clients. We must stay connected. Don’t get comfortable in your little box. This world is about connections. Use groups to create value.
  • People hire people, not profiles. People make decisions based on relationships. You might get next job due to shared passion. Show your personality on your pages and profiles. Don’t just include dry professional description.
  • Tell stories about who you are and what you have done. What is your personal message? Show people what you have done through pictures. In a strategic, thoughtful, non boastful way.
  • Hannah stopped a popular excuse to avoid Twitter in its tracks. She suggests, “Twitter is only stupid if you follow stupid people.” (And this is my favorite quote from the session.)
As they bounced off of one another’s ideas, Ben shared great tips for protecting yourself online:
  • If you are concerned that something might be a scam, use Snopes.com to check it out.
  • Maintain privacy in your networks. Be careful about what you share with whom. Don’t tell everyone when you are going on vacation because your house will be empty.
  • Twitter is like a radio. You can tune in when you like and turn it off when you want. But be careful about which links you click, especially from those you don’t have a connection to.
  • Create a Google Alert so you know how your name might show up in searches. You can do the same with your e-mail address or Twitter ID.
  •  social mention shows how people refer to you on various social networks so you can adjust your strategy as necessary.
  •  Use LastPass to store and remember all of your passwords to prevent using only one for all of your accounts.
  • Lastly, Ben emphasized that you shouldn’t be so concerned with security that you miss out on all of the great benefits of social media. “Don’t let fear and misunderstanding about social networks prevent you from interacting.”

Ben Woelk and Hannah Morgan share online security and branding tips

Scott Berkun on Innovation

June 19, 2012

During the Summit keynote, I had the pleasure of hearing Scott Berkun speak. If you haven’t seen Scott speak, pick up one of his books.

Scott Berkun at the STC Summit Opening Session

Scott’s talk was extremely engaging, focusing on breaking the status quo. The primary idea Scott focused on was the creativity takes work. “A flash of insight must be followed by action before others can benefit from your idea. Creativity feels like work because it is work. But stories focus on flash of insight making it seem as though insight becomes result.”

Did you know it took Newton 10 years to mathematically prove gravity? But often the story is told as though the apple falling was the end of the story.

You must sketch, practice, and try out ideas. His inspiration has led me to do more personal writing and spend my free time on a side project I have been postponing for far too long.

According to Scott, “Willingness to try is the basis of innovation.” If you aren’t willing to try new things, it says more about your arrogance than your curiosity.

We often link innovation with popular and successful companies, like Facebook. But often, these companies have many predecessors, such as MySpace and Friendster.

Idea + Context + Execution = Breakthrough

Ideas are made from other ideas. Scott challenged each of us to try to think of idea that isn’t comprised of other, smaller ideas. If you succeed, please let me know.

The most creative person in the room might not be any smarter than you, but they are courageous enough to share their ideas. They are willing to make others uncomfortable. They are willing to be embarrassed. This is something that I personally struggle with. I often listen to someone speak who shares methods about a tool I use. There are many times that I just think something is obvious and would already be considered and ruled out.

Scott continued his talk by giving suggestions to determine when and how you are most creative. Is it in a coffeeshop with group or alone with sketchpad? Is it walking and talking with a friend? Try keeping a journal to track and write your ideas in it. According to Scott,

“If you are afraid to write down your ideas in a book that only you will see, then you don’t need creativity. You need therapy.”

If there are issues in the creative process, don’t add more people! Get fewer people involved. You need a small group of people that can work together effectively. There’s a reason rock bands only have three or four people. It is a sweet spot for honest collaboration. Larger groups results in fight for power.

Berkun’s Idea Killers

Determine where in your organization ideas are dying? Do they die before they even get pitched? How many ideas survive long enough to have a chance to influence what goes out the door?

If you are trying to suggest an idea that was considered in the past, don’t assume everything in the universe is constant. Determine what has changed and if the differences are enough to implement the idea. What else must change to test idea.

This great keynote challenged our ideas and encouraged each of us to push our comfort zones. This was perhaps the most memorable and best keynote I have attended. I hope next year’s speaker is equally engaging.

If you are struggling with creative thinking, Scott suggested using his Creative Thinking Hacks available at www.scottberkun.com.

The Decade Ahead: Opportunities and Challenges for Technical Communication Professionals

June 18, 2012
Adobe sponsored a pre-conference session to bring together thought leaders in the technical communication industry. With experts like Ann Rockley, Joe Welinske, Bernard Aschwanden, Matt Sullivan, Lynn Price, Neil Perlin, and others, you couldn’t beat the value of this free session.
In all honesty, I expected to hear about the greatness of Adobe’s Technical Communication Suite. But there was no sales pitch. There were no tutorials. There was no endorsement of products. It was enjoyable.
I hope Adobe offers a similar session next year, but it would be great if it didn’t conflict with the Leadership Program. Community leaders are some of the most passionate members in our industry. They are interested in the future of not only STC, but of technology and best practices as well.
Developing an Adaptive Content StrategyAnn Rockley
Ann Rockley began by sharing methods to develop an adaptive content strategy. As mobile devices are rapidly change in shape and size, communicators must create content that delivers the best possible customer experience, filtering and layering the content for greater or lesser detail. Now, we can change content based on location. Many companies are doing twice the necessary work by designing a web site, followed by a separate app. And mobile apps can be time-consuming and expensive to develop.
According to Ann, “Handcrafting [content] is unsustainable.”
We must determine what actions are users will be able to complete based on output. To support adaptive content, we must have structure content, business rules, and output limits.
Ann suggested we work backwards. We must know your customer, your device restraints, and your content strategy. Develop personas to represent your audience. From there, layer your content with options. Content is becoming more minimalist. Structure your content for unexpected situations and undeveloped devices.
We must change our processes. We must stop tweaking and tuning content for perfect fit. We must know what content is required based on situation. We need to be explicit about content limits.
And we must take opportunities to share this strategy with marketing, web design, and other communicators. The future is structure authoring.
Multi-Screen Help Authoring, How to Deal with the Explosion in Device SizesJoe Welinske
As apps move from smart phones and tablets to cars and televisions, we must find ways to get our content where are users are without recreating the content for each device. Joe Welinske gave a hands-on demonstration of a single master source distributed to multiple devices. Within the style sheets, it is possible to define which content is sent to each device based on screen resolution.
To make a graceful, efficient adjustment by matching content with specific devices without crafting solutions for each device through responsive design (adaptive content). Using HTML5/CSS (DIV tags), technical communications can create adaptive content.
To begin, tag all objects with styles, use style sheets for device “types” and media queries match SS with type. Create one source file with styles sheets for each device definitions (based on screen size and function). When a dramatically different device is released, you need only to create a new style sheet. By using a media query to determine the device information, including dimensions, your content will respond based on the parent style sheet, which states if this size, then use this style sheet.
Joe made a point that we cannot leave presentation to be an afterthought. We should have a graceful adaption.
Panel: The Decade AheadAnn Rockley, Bernard Aschwanden, Joe Gollner, Ben Sloan, Matt Sullivan, Lynn Price, Neil Perlin, Joe Gongi
After a short break and another presentation, we had the opportunity to hear from the pros about their individual thoughts on the future of technical communication.
I will include my notes from this portion of the session in a Q&A format, but will not include every answer. The answers are not verbatim.
“How do we position ourselves as technical communicators to take advantage of the opportunities over the next decade to benefit our company & ourselves?”
Ann: We have a lot of experience to share with others. We need to position ourselves to participate in decision making process for communications. We must move away from the support role.
Bernard: Become user advocates. Speak for your customers, including purchasing, IT, and end users. “Learn everything.” Take advantage of all you can do. Track conference metrics to justify attendance.
Joe Gollner: At Confab, Erin Kissane said content strategists “have a lot to learn from tech comm.”
(My thoughts: Erin Kissane is fabulous. The fact that she recognizes technical communicators as having something more to offer, shows that our field is receiving the recognition it should on a wider basis.)
Joe Gollner (continued): As technical communicators, we have more technical view on how to do communication. There is desperate need to show others what technology is out there and how it can be used.
Lynn: We should remember things in the distant past when looking at next decade. Our users are changing. Don’t expect users to look for information. Time must be spent indexing and providing links to make it easy for users to find content.
Neil: Call it strategic consulting, make sure you know what people mean when they say mobile help, web help, etc. We are now presenting content more than we are writing technically. Work towards standard practices. Do things correctly by being aware of what opportunities are out there.
Joe Gongi: Show users/managers opportunities. Don’t just tell them. Take the extra time to create a prototype or example. Don’t just theorize.
Many treat tool as religion, but tools come and go, being replaced by better tools. Learn everything, but become an expert in one or two things, but know enough to be dangerous in everything else.
With reuse, we might not need so many content creators. How can we respond to this change to keep our jobs?
Ann: We must market as being able to do more with the same number of people, not the same with less people. We are making ourselves much more valuable. Be more productive to help org in new ways.
Ben: As we automate, we must understand that we can put out more by being more efficient.
Lynn: Yes, we can justify ourselves, if we are given the opportunity. Creating materials takes a skill set. We must make content easy for our readers. We have skills that can be lost if we don’t publicize. Some writers don’t understand opportunities.
Neil: Think of what we do not as writing, but as content creation that supports content strategy. We must reduce costs or improve company branding.
Joe Gongi: It’s all about quality. Don’t explain things that aren’t really necessary. (For example, don’t explain that “to get to help, click help.”) We must know how to deliver to audience. Don’t make users waste time, but create opportunities to help the novice to learn. Make intelligent applications to help users. Create learning that truly increases productivity. Make people more productive.
What is key skill set needed in next 10 years?
Neil: Sheer curiosity. Learn everything. Have some knowledge about a little of everything.
Ann: Curiosity is critical. We can’t stay still. If we don’t communicate ourselves or promote what we do within our organization, then we will be bypassed.
Bernard: Remember your roots, then help others with a similar background get to where you are in your career now.
Joe Gollner: Presentation, quality, and effectiveness cannot be an afterthought. Don’t forget about these qualities or special skillsets.
Lynn: Some say, “Technical writing doesn’t have to be a job. Everyone knows how to write, format, etc. Why do we need someone special to do that?: We must convince others that what you do is of higher quality than they can do.
What are some traps you can avoid in choosing technology and methodology?
Joe Gongi: I am always surprised by how often people use the most cumbersome way because they don’t know technology or tools. You must know what tools can do. Don’t assume. Know.
Lynn: We must balance people who will do the same thing for 40 years with those who will use new tools. Old tasks must be done, but slightly different.
Matt: How do we separate formatting from content? Many spend too much time working on formatting.
Joe Gollner: Don’t make content management tools the primary focus. Work now to focus on the author, because if the author is forgotten, often the user is forgotten.
Bernard: Avoid thinking the audience will be the same in a few months, years, etc.
Ann: Treat everyone in content life cycle as user or customer. Learn their pain points. Make the tools support users within the organization as well. Don’t impose technology. If it doesn’t work for them, it won’t work for anyone.
The information from Sunday morning was extremely valuable and gave everyone a great idea about where technical communication is going. The ideas from the panelists and speakers helped attendees as we move into a rapidly evolving state of technology.

And Here is My First 2012 Summit Post

June 18, 2012

I recently had the opportunity to go to Chicago for the annual Society for Technical Communication Summit. This was my third year attending the conference, which is always a great opportunity to change my environment, learn more about my field, and network with amazing people.

I know most of the people I will spend time with. I consider my peers as my friends. Several of us arrived to Chicago a couple of days early to see the city. I can now mark the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Buckingham Fountain off my list of places to see.

Obviously, there are education sessions where you can learn from the best in the industry. I was honored to be among this year’s speakers, and I am already preparing ideas for my proposal for next year’s conference. I have learned which great speakers I want to see time and time again. When you first attend a conference, you pick your sessions based on topics. As you get to know who the best speakers are, you beginning balance the session titles with who is presenting the session.

One of the best things about the Summit is that I receive affirmation that the methods I use are innovative or, at the very least, acceptable. I also enjoy learning about how my peers are being recognized within their organizations as more than someone who makes content pretty or sound good. Management is befinning to understand our value.

We also benefit from the Expo, which allows attendees to speak with potential vendors, discuss issues with experienced consultants, and look for work with the contracting agencies.

I also enjoy attending the Honors Banquet. Aside from a great excuse to wear my formal wear, it is an opportunity to celebrate with fellow professionals as they are awarded for the volunteer and professional efforts.

Over the next few days, I will be sharing my experiences with you about the STC Summit. I will highlight select sessions and recognize award winners. In the meantime, here are a few pictures of the city:

Buckingham Fountain (Photo by Michael Opsteegh)

The Chicago Theatre

Chicago at Sunset

Imaginative Memories

June 17, 2012

As a child, and even now, I had a wild imagination. My dreams were very vivid, making fantasies a reality. For better or worse.

There are a few dreams that I have never forgotten. One was a recurring dream. I wouldn’t define it as a nightmare, but the entire dream had an odd feeling to it.

Another nightmare was quite memorable: In the depths of a well, there stood a tall, dark, and handsome man. By his side was a small girl with flowers around her neck. The man held a torch. And at the edges of the darkness stood fierce beasts, pale with glowing eyes. They came closer and closer, with no good will for the man and girl. And then I woke up.

The dream was caused by H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. My father had been reading it to us as children. Unfortunately, my imagination brought the Murlocks to life in my sleep. Because of my nightmare, we never finished the story.

Last week, I decided to read the book for myself. Over the course of the few days I spent reading, I half-expected the Murlocks to visit me in my sleep. They didn’t. (My nightmares now consist of being late for work meetings.)

In between chapters,  I couldn’t help but think about all of the stories I remember as a child. Most importantly, the stories my father told me.

Not only did my dad read to us, but he wrote his own stories. One of his favorite characters was Wee Tom Oglesby, a man the size of your thumb.

And then there was an imaginative story that took place in Canada. The family was visiting a research facility in winter. We were exploring the facilities as our guide told us about the most exciting project. We boarded a small, family-sized submarine and went into the deep cold water. We saw an octopus, and then we saw a city.

This wasn’t an old city that had been flooded in its prime. It was a hidden and alien world. It was a city where humans lived, worked, and played. But we didn’t get to explore the city before the story came to an end. Not that the story was over, but it was bedtime.

With my dad’s vivid imagery, anything could spring to life. It’s small memories like those that build the character of a person. These memories, along with catching fireflies on hot summer nights, watching my dad work on a computer screen that blinked green on black, and listening to him tell the a joke to a new friend that I’d heard four times before, are the memories that make my father who he is today.

While we don’t listen to stories as often, my imagination will always dream of the ones I’ve heard before, and yearn for more creative tales.

From Inspiration to Action

May 12, 2012
The View from Arthur's Seat

The View from Arthur’s Seat

In October 2011, I had the amazing opportunity to visit Edinburgh, Scotland and the Scottish Highlands for a short weekend before a business trip. The most memorable part of the trip was all the lush, green hills, in particular Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. Following a short hike to the top, I was able to see all of Edinburgh, including two castles, the ocean, and gardens. The views were breathtaking. Although, it could have just been that I was out of breath from the steep hike.

While I was atop this high hill, I remember wishing that there were more beautiful sites where I lived. I wanted to be outdoors more and see what nature had to offer. I was inspired to do more.

But we all know it is easy to become inspired in a short moment and let that motivation fade without action. After I returned from my trip, the holidays came and went. Then work has seemed incredibly busy since January, which is normally the slow time of year for me.

Fortunately, throughout this time, my husband was inspired as well. His interests in backpacking, survival skills, and hiking had slowly been growing. And he arranged for a backpacking trip with a group of friends.

As a result, in mid-April, four couples of varying fitness and interest levels filled their backpacks with the essentials: food, water, shelter. At noon, we began our hike into the Linville Gorge.

The weather was beautiful. The temperature was comfortable. The trails were challenging.

This is what I had been looking for.

I immediately fell in love. What wasn’t there to love? The unique trees and shrubs, a rushing river, and good friends.

But then we learned that none of us were that great at reading a trail map. So we each took turns leading the group in what one of us would believe to be the right direction. First, we followed the edge of the river, which is logical and very ideal in a survival situation. It wasn’t ideal in our backpacking situation. With eight people climbing rocks to follow the “trail” or lack thereof, our group quickly became frustrated.

After hiking in the wrong direction, we took a short hike in the opposite direction before deciding to follow a trail that took us up the mountains, but further along our original path. At this point, each and every one of us was frustrated. Some of complained. Some of us bickered. Some of us sulked. A couple of us were physically hurting.

Our Camp Site

Our Camp Site

So we stopped for a break on the trail. It seemed we couldn’t go on any longer. And that’s when we found our campsite. It was flat for those of us using tents. It had trees close together for those who would be using a hammock or lean-t0. It was clear enough to accommodate our large group and a warm fire. And it was at the meeting of three trails, which gave us options for the hike back to the car in the morning.

Three scouts went down one of the trails to collect water for the group and to ensure there were no better campsites closer to the river. I was happy to be one of the three. We ran down half of the steep trail, then jumped across the large rocks along the river. I was in heaven.

No other available campsites were found, but we returned with enough fresh, filtered water for cooking and the next morning’s hike. After dinner, we chatted until each couple called it a night.

The night was long and cold. I got the most sleep out of the group. Once I get somewhere, lay still long enough, and close my eyes, I can sleep almost anywhere.

The next morning, we cooked our breakfasts, packed up our shelters, and hit the trail again. We took a hike down to the river and relaxed for a couple of hours.

Along the River

Along the River

There is nothing better than a sunny day, some large rocks along the river, and a good book. Unfortunately, I hadn’t packed a book because I didn’t expect any long breaks, but I believe it will be a necessity for our next trip.

After we each took turns cooking our lunches and then we began the long, steep hike back towards our car. It took teamwork to make it back up the mountain safely. Our group split into two smaller groups to allow some to move forward more quickly and others to take their time as necessary.

Overall, it was a very successful trip. We each hold a lot of great memories from it. And it reignited my inspiration. Since our overnight trip, we have spent time in Sumter National Forest, where I had the opportunity to do some trail running. We also have plans for our next day hike in Jones Gap, near Travelers Rest, SC. And we would like to plan an overnight trip within the next few months.

It is also a wonderful to have a hobby that my husband and I can share. While we are both supportive of one another’s interests, we rarely find something we both really enjoy.