Monday, October 29, 2012

Your Career and You: "What We've Got Here Is A Failure To Communicate"

I’m dealing with an internship situation right now that, hopefully, I can get straightened out soon before everyone gets discouraged and gives up.

The bottom line/root cause is, as goes that great line spoken by “the Captain” in “Cool Hand Luke”: “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

The irony of this particular situation is that it’s a public relations internship…and public relations (to me, at least) is about accurate, understood, and agreed-upon communication.

There are problems on all sides of this particular kerfluffle…expectations of the internship supervisor, expectations of the site supervisor, and expectations of the student intern.

Right now, the conversations are running on parallel tracks, all heading in the same general direction, but each just slightly away from the others.

And, unfortunately, that is how most misunderstandings are created…from general agreement but slightly divergent expectations of that agreement.

Will the world as we know it come to a screeching halt as a result of this? Doubtful.

Will some feelings be hurt? Probably.

Will important lessons be learned? Definitely.

Lesson 1: Be crystal clear on expectations of all parties involved. (Assumptions were made on all sides here.)

Lesson 2: Act quickly to clear up misunderstandings or miscommunications. (There was a delay, again on all sides, in acting on perceived problems.)

Lesson 3: Change procedures to ensure that, in future, the problem won’t bubble up again. (Done, with fingers crossed.)

In looking back at this situation, it’s pretty easy to see where the train jumped off the tracks.

Everybody was right.

And everybody was wrong.

It’s not the end of civilized life as we know it. But it is a good learning experience.

In the course of our careers, we (professionals, professors, clients, students, employers, employees…) sit in a room and talk at each other...a lot. And we assume that the other parties understand and agree with us.

Most of the time, things go as expected.

Sometimes, “we’ve got a failure to communicate.”

“Much learning does not teach understanding.”
– Heraclitus, “From Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers.”

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Your Career and You: "Yearning for Learning"

I just spent a remarkable three days in San Francisco at the Public Relations Society of America’s annual International Conference.

As usual, I came back home with a headful of information gleaned from the breakout sessions I attended as well as the countless encounters I had with other PR professionals attending the conference.

My undergrad Communication students at Curry College have a little difficulty wrapping their sleepy heads around this thing that I do so regularly.

“You’re a teacher, Kirk. Why do you spend your money and your time traveling to these things and then ‘all’ you do is sit in rooms and listen to other teachers?”

Logical enough question with a (in my mind) logical enough answer.

I can’t not be learning. Nor, apparently, can thousands of other like-minded souls.

I wasn’t always consciously like this. Back in prehistoric times…right after graduating from the University of Georgia (planned) and joining the Air Force (unplanned)…I thought I had checked off the “learning box” on my life’s resume.

But I started traveling to other parts of the world (Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Virginia) and realized that I was pretty ignorant when it came to “worldly affairs.”

This epiphany actually occurred when I got married and brought my foreign-born wife, who had…and still has…a thirst for knowledge and curiosity about life in general, back to my country.

I gradually realized that, as I was introducing her to America and American ways, I, too, was learning new stuff…and I liked it!

And so it began and continues…my seemingly never-ending quest for knowledge. I collected a couple more degrees in the process and ultimately earned my “APR” (Accredited inPublic Relations) designation from PRSA.

What I realized in the process, though, was that I wasn’t alone.

The more I went to PRSA and other organizations’ programs, the more I saw and interacted with others just like me.

In some cases…PRSA, for example…I see hundreds of familiar faces year after year, as well as hundreds more new faces…new “students” in the learning game.

They’re seasoned professionals as well as soon-to-be new practitioners. They’re from all parts of the US and from all over the world.

But they…we…all share a common trait…a yearning for learning that keeps us motivated and energized…and coming back for more.

That’s the great think about our profession. We are expected by clients or employers to either have the answers or know where to find them.

Complacent mental inertia doesn’t play a part in this…curiosity (something I also write about frequently) and a thirst for knowledge do.

In my world, there’s always something new to be discovered just around the corner or a bright shiny new object to figure out how to use.

As I indulge my curiosity and thirst, I find that I am better able to address the challenges of the modern-day world of communication…especially public relations. And I do so with confidence born of learning.

"Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other."
- John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Remarks prepared for delivery at the Trade Mart in Dallas [November 22, 1963]

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Your Career and You: “Optimism and Opportunity”

I’m gearing up for the PRSA International Conference held this year in San Francisco. Although I’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to go to almost every conference since I joined in 1981, I’m still looking forward to attending.

You’d think this would be “old” by now…that I would be looking at this annual pilgrimage as a burden…“I have to do this as a public relations professional.” But that’s not the case.

Instead, I find myself getting increasingly excited about the possibilities that lie ahead.
Ø  New things to learn
Ø  New people to meet
Ø  New cities to explore

This is something I try to hammer home to my undergraduate students at Curry College, especially those in my Public Relations Concentration who will (I hope) follow my footsteps and will make the PR profession their career “home.”

They soon will be venturing out into the professional world and need to understand the value of taking advantage of opportunities to learn, to meet, and to expand their horizons.

The optimism aspect is, or should be, obvious…a firm belief that learning new things and meeting new people is beneficial…that good things will come from these actions.

The opportunity part comes from the interactions that take place throughout the conference…in the breakout sessions when public relations professionals share their experiences and lessons learned as well as in the many relationships that are sparked among the conference attendees.

It’s a proactive endeavor, though. You can’t stand in a corner and wait for them to come to you…something that took me a couple of years to learn.

At first I just went to the conference and chatted (hesitantly) with folks at the dinner table or sitting beside me in sessions.

Then I figured out that, if I wanted to really get my money’s worth from attending, I would have to reach out and engage in conversation with people.

Now this is a “duh” moment for a lot of you, but, as many of you know…I rarely miss a chance to remind you!...I’m an introvert…not good in crowds of strangers. So imagine if you can me walking into a ballroom jammed to the rafters with unfamiliar faces! Not a pretty sight.

But I kept at it.

Why? Because along the way, others reached out to me and made me feel welcome which, in turn, encouraged me to reach out to others.

I’m not saying all’s wine and roses now, but I’ve gotten reasonably comfortable cruising the crowd to pick out familiar faces and, at the same time, walking up to total strangers, sticking out my hand, and introducing myself.

The outcome?
Ø  I’ve made awesome new friends from across the country, as well as from other countries.
Ø  I’ve met fascinating PR professionals from all walks of life.
Ø  I’ve established contacts in the areas of the PR profession that I’m interested in who I can turn to for advice and counsel.

In short, I’ve more than gotten my money’s worth by attending both PRSA events and those put on by other organizations.

And I know that the same will hold true this year in San Francisco.

I’m optimistic that I will come away with a boatload of new acquaintances whose knowledge and expertise will broaden my own capabilities.

And I am determined to take advantage of every single opportunity that arises to do so.

"Art is long, life short; judgment difficult, opportunity transient."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, "Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship" [1786-1830], bk. VII, ch. 9