3 tips for learning to speak-up and share ideas in your first professional role

3 tips for learning to speak-up and share ideas in your first professional role

by Lauren Bourdages, Senior Assistant, INALJ Ontario

I’m in my first professional library support staff role, I split my time between two departments/teams; I am also someone who gets really anxious about sharing ideas or speaking up in group settings, for fear of being wrong and looking like a fool, unless I am relatively certain what I want to say will be met with positive reactions. Being new to my workplace, and a relatively new professional means that I spend a lot of meetings with a giant ball of butterflies in my stomach. I’m so eager to get involved and I want to help generate ideas and participate in discussions, but I want to do it in a meaningful way, in a way that makes my co-workers see me as the competent, knowledgeable LIS professional that I am. So I’ve managed to figure out a few tricks I can do/things I can remember to help me get through my anxiety and share my thoughts and ideas.

1. Offer up past experiences when appropriate

  • Speak directly to your past experience – tell them what you’ve seen in action, what you’ve participated in, and how it worked
  • Offer to use your past experiences in your new situation to make other peoples’ jobs easier
  • Make use of your network to share resources/tools from past positions with your new employer where possible

A few months ago in a user services team meeting we were talking about our library’s chat reference service and things we could do to improve its efficiency/make it easier on the operators. Having done an internship for a chat reference service previously, I was familiar with the things they did; this experience made me feel confident that I could contribute to this meeting in a meaningful way. The topic turned to generating a series of canned responses that could be clicked on and inserted into chats for common questions and interactions. I offered to get in touch with the supervisor of the chat reference service I interned for and ask her if she would be willing and able to share the service’s canned responses with us to use as a template. My manager was ecstatic; he was 100% in favour of that offer; my contact at the chat reference service was equally enthusiastic about sharing their canned responses with us for our project.

2. Remember that you’re a fresh set of eyes and a new perspective

  • Experience counts for a lot in the workplace, it always will – but one of the things a new person can offer to a workplace that a veteran can’t is a brand new point of view.
  • Newbies don’t usually say things like, “But why do we need to change process X?” or “That’s the way it’s always been done and it’s always worked,” because they have no idea why a process is the way it is or that that might be the way something has always been done.
  • Don’t be afraid to question the status quo – change can’t happen without questions!

I think that this might be the best tip I can offer you all for getting over any newbie stage fright you might be having, it’s certainly helped me more than anything else. I am a curious person, I like to ask questions, I like to know why things are the way they are or done the way they’re done, and I like to know the process that led to that. So I ask a lot of questions at work, not just questions like “I’ve never done that before, how do I do it?” but questions like, “Oh, I’ve never seen it done that way, can you tell me why we do it that way?” or, “How did the process for X end up the way it is?”, or even just simply, “Why do we do that?/Why do we do it that way?” these types of questions can lead into a lot of great discussions and often ends up with me pondering out loud about how we could do something differently and what that would be like (because that is something I am very prone to doing). I’ve actually given my supervisor on the public service desk a couple of ideas he’s really loved from those types of conversations. Like when I asked why there was no public access, non-network log-in required computer at our satellite library in the faculty of social work building. We discussed the history of how that came to happen, I pointed out the reasons why it would be great to look into getting one back there, and my manager agreed completely, so now we’ll have one there again at some point in the near future.

3. Take advantage of the times you’re specifically asked to share

  • When managers open the floor and ask you to share your opinion take advantage of it – if they’re asking they genuinely want to know what you think, they wouldn’t offer if they didn’t
  • Don’t be scared if they’re asking you to speak to something you’re not familiar with – they want to know that too, and asking questions can help them think of issues they might not have thought of
  • They might be thinking of tips 1 and 2 even if you’re not at the moment they ask – so keep tips 1 and 2 in mind!
  • This can come up in a one on one circumstance with a co-worker or with a manager or it could happen in a team meeting where your supervisor is trying to elicit feedback from the whole team about an idea or a process, or it could be about brainstorming projects – just be prepared for it, because it WILL come up
  • When there’s a call for agenda items for a meeting, use it as a low-risk way of getting a topic you want to discuss out there
  • Every idea/suggestion/opinion (even if it’s shot down) can be turned into a teachable moment for you

Often in this circumstance I’ve discovered that it doesn’t matter if my idea or thought is far-fetched or half-baked because it’s about starting a conversation in these circumstances. The most recent example I have of this happening is in a team meeting where we were discussing the strategic plans for our department. We were talking about figuring out a way to develop and conduct a survey of our patrons on their thoughts about their interactions with us at the service desk. My manager admitted he didn’t really know how we could go about collecting data except for pulling staff during the slow times in the other portion of their jobs (we’re an academic library, so certain times each semester certain services naturally decrease in demand) and having them conduct the survey. Being in one such of those roles, I have come to learn that even during the “slow” times there are still an abundance of other projects to be done that we don’t have time to do during the rushes, so I wanted to preserve my time for that half of my job, and for that reason above all others I felt brave enough to put out the suggestion that had literally just popped into my head out there for the entire group.

I suggested that to save on the manpower we turn one of the 3 very rarely used catalogue computers that are mounted on the wall near our service desk into a dedicated survey station with appropriate signage above, and figure out some sort of little incentive to encourage people to actually take the survey. This idea went over like gangbusters with the entire group, so I was very pleased that I’d let myself throw it out there even though I hadn’t spent any time at all really thinking it through! And hey, even if you do throw something out there and it isn’t received well, you can always use it as a conversation starter to ask why it wouldn’t work or why it can’t be done; use the time to learn!