There’s a reason you have two ears and one mouth

This was a gift from my 2013 Orientation Leaders. It is displayed prominently on the wall in my new office.

This was a gift from my 2013 Orientation Leaders. It is displayed prominently on the wall in my new office. The saying comes from Disney’s customer service training.

As many of you know, I am in my third week of a new position. I am often asked how the transition is going, how I am approaching it, and what I am learning. While I hope to write about many of these lessons, here is an initial taste.

The most valuable thing I have learned in my first two weeks, has been the importance of truly listening, observing and processing.  In my new job, I am afforded the time and attention of others to ask as many questions as I want, large or small, specific or conceptual. Everyone wants to meet the new guy; tell him what they do, what they think of his office or the institution in general, and other general guidance. While this can be both entertaining and overwhelming at times, it has been tremendously informative. As quick as they are to give their opinions, I am able to ask questions about why things are done that come across as purely inquisitive and not challenging. This is something that gets harder the more you know, or the more you are perceived to know.

In the busyness of the year we are barely able to slow down to think, let alone, to ask what others think, listen, and process. There is so much one can learn by listening and observing that is often missed or overlooked. I challenge each of you, no matter how long you have been on your campus and in your current position, to spend some time acting as if you are new. Here are some ways to do this:

Meet some new people
There are always students, faculty and staff on your campus you don’t know. Find ways to meet them and discover what they are interested in, why they are at your institution, and what they think of your area, and just listen. Eat in the dining hall. Break out of your usual, comfortable group at campus receptions and meetings to get to know other colleagues.

Visit new places on campus
Ever wonder what happens in that research lab or who works out in that small fitness center? Go there and find out. Chances are if you do not go there often, you don’t know much about what happens there or the people who work there.

Ask lots of questions
Ever wonder why something is the way it is? Just ask! Context is helpful to all of us. So often we just assume things are the way they are because, well, that’s just the way they are. Ask these questions in a way that is inquisitive and not judgmental.

Explore campus through the eyes of others
When is the last time you have been on a campus tour? What do tour guides say about your office when they walk by? I have walked through campus with a colleague, a friend, and a student and all had different perspectives. I learned new things from each of them. This is something I vow to do often in my new role, is to have walking meetings with folks, have them take me to their favorite spots, and see campus through their eyes.

We talk often in student affairs about the importance of professional development and staying in tune to everything new happening in the field. Sometimes, this causes us to overlook what is new and developing on our own campuses. Taking the approach you would to learn a new place, continue to learn and re-learn about your institution.

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