Wednesday, October 27, 2010

More on Communications

I've been thinking about communication again. Or more specifically about what makes effective communication. I remember from all my training that communication comes in two parts, the message given and the message received. Both parts are important for the message to be effective. There have been a few events recently that reinforced the duality of communications for me.

First, I got back a couple papers from different classes. The first paper was a 7-page introduction on the importance of local food systems as a tool to help combat the many problems created by industrialized agriculture (not Coast Guard-related, I know, but something I'm really interested in). I was nervous about it. I thought I had turned in a piece of crap. I felt like it was rushed, that I really didn't have a clear goal and that I was just scatter-shotting, hoping I got something right. I could have done better with it.

I got an A-. Definitely not the disaster I was expecting. Breathe huge sigh of relief! Sure, it wasn't an A+, but it wasn't a C+ either. The professor's comments: "In the next installments I want to see more sense of [prioritization]. This is well-informed and well-written but the agenda is massive." (Well-written, really? Yay...but I think he was merely impressed that I had proof-read.)

So he totally caught me out that I wasn't sure what I was really writing about. I didn't mean to communicate that, but it apparently came through loud and clear.

The second paper, for the other class, was a 3-page paper on inherently governmental functions. I felt a little better about this one, but wasn't sure if I was really addressing the professor's question. She wanted an analysis of inherently governmental functions, including a comparison between the current and previous administrations' approach and how President Obama's renewed emphasis on inherently governmental functions might be affected by new austerity measures, particularly in DOD. I went off on a tangent of why it is necessary to consider particular governmental functions inherently governmental.

I got an A. But there were *no comments* whatsoever from this professor on the paper. Just the pencil-scribbled "A" at the top of the page...and nothing else! Not very helpful.

Second event: multiple occasions of confusion with a professor's syllabus. She apparently mentioned the first day of class that a group project also required a 3-page analytic paper, but it wasn't on the syllabus. So we turned it in late. And then, another reading assignment was so poorly explained in the syllabus that I didn't even know that I needed to do anything for it. Again, she said she mentioned it the first day of class (which I don't remember), but had not offered a reminder or further explanation.

Now, I know I will complain about anything I can...I'll complain about being treated like a kindergartner and in the next breath complain about being treated like I'm geriatric. I know there's a certain amount of autonomy and self-responsibility incumbent upon graduate students. But I'm NOT a freaking mind-reader!

Note to self: ensure your message is received, even if it requires multiple reminders.

A further irony...the class is a leadership and management class. Maybe she's using reverse psychology on us to teach us about effective communication.

And last, I sent what I thought was a sweet note to a friend expressing appreciation for a particular quality of our recent communications. I contrasted our on-going dialogue with the hectic and disruptive nature of ship-board communications (middle of the night phone calls, sometimes nothing, sometimes critical). What I didn't realize was the potential for him to receive the message that I was calling him boring. *NOT* what I meant!

And the message that he sent back...nothing. Silence on the line. Whoops, I guess he's pissed that I suggested he was dull. Which I didn't! But, in this case, it's all about the message that was received, not the message that was sent.

So I don't really have a summary conclusion about communications. Just further cogitation on the subject.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Transfer Season

Transfer season is finally over for me. Well, or close enough to call it anyway. Technically, I've still got 70 days left to file a claim on anything that was broken during the move. But I've *got* my stuff, and that's why I'm calling transfer season over. Jeez, it started back in May or something ridiculous like that. And that's only because I knew where I was going next.

I have a deeply rooted love-hate relationship with transfer season. I love the fact that I get to do different jobs, usually switching before I get bored and/or totally burned out. That part of the Coast Guard's transfer policy really enables my short attention span and itinerant nature. I hate the fact that transfer season starts the fall before, when the shopping list comes out, and doesn't end until, well, the following fall, when all the household goods get delivered. I submit an e-resume in October, but don't know where I'm going until February, March or April! That's six months of continual worry and cogitation over where I'm gonna live, how I'm gonna get there, what job I'll be doing, who I'll be working for. I like to plan, and I'll plan even when I don't have any details about what I'm planning for, though it does tend to make me a little crazy.

And yes, I do understand the whole OPM process for officer assignments, having to wait for promotion board results and slating from senior to junior. I know why it is this way, but it doesn't mean I have to like it. One bright spot is that it should get better from a timing perspective as I get more senior. But then there's a balance of limited position availabilities and strenuous competition for the best jobs on ships. Because that's where the best jobs are, of course :)

But the fun only really just starts when the assignment is made. I'm shifting from a personal outlook to a managerial perspective now. On a WPB 110, roughly half the crew transfers every summer, give or take a few non-rated personnel who are waiting on school lists. And it's usually the ones that are qualified at *everything* that go because they've been there two years and have seen and done lots. They know where all the charts are, where all the property is, how to drive the boat, do boardings, fight fires (literally and figuratively), set up P6 pumps, launch the boat, survive a channel crossing, what was done in infinite detail to fix the autopilot that quit working right before the dockside, and a million, zillion other bits of corporate knowledge that makes things run smoothly. And of course, their next unit wants them to report YESTERDAY, because they've been gapping the billet because their guy geobatched to Alaska and took 30 days of leave to spend with his family before going out to the wilderness, and a Second Class Petty Officer has been doing the job of a First Class Petty Officer, and how fast can he get here?

We all try to do the best for our people, but nobody wants to take the hit operationally.

Transfer season is rough on every unit, with qualified people going and unqualified people coming in. It is a balancing act of making sure you've got enough people to get the job done while giving them the time they need to get their lives in order. I mean, it *is* their lives. I still don't think I quite appreciate what it's like to deal with a full-scale transfer, with a family, kids, pets and all the assorted accompaniments. In some ways I've got it pretty easy. Ship the car, pack up and ship the household goods, and go. Well, okay, it was a little more complicated than that, but only because I chose to make it more interesting with the whole cross-country motorcycle trip thing, and buying a house, and doing some renovation work before receiving my furniture. But I was only ever dealing with just me...no negotiations and compromises with a spouse or kids, or gyrations for pets. What a huge mess of stress for a family! And every two or three or four years!

Back to the personal experience. So my household goods were packed up in Hilo on 28 Jul. They were ready to be delivered on 22 September, but I pushed it back by two weeks so I could get the floors refinished in my new house. Totally, completely, 100% worth it...the floors look glorious, and it was so much easier getting them done without all my stuff in the way, never mind the heavy coating of sawdust I avoided getting all over everything. My only real complaint towards the end was that it got chilly for a couple of days right before I got my stuff, and all I had with me for warm clothes was two pairs of jeans and a sweatshirt. I'm too cheap to go buy more stuff, knowing that I've got perfectly good stuff on its way. Ok, so most of my discomfort was due entirely to my own little idiosyncrasies.

My stuff was delivered last Wednesday. Finally! The moving guys showed up just after noon, and were gone by 3:30 (well, they were back by 4:00 to pick up the hand truck which they had forgotten to take with them). Unloading everything went smoothly for the most part. Only a few snafus...like the fact that the box springs for my queen bed didn't fit up the stairwell. Cuss, whine, bitch, moan, still didn't get the springs up the stairs. I'm still working out what I'm gonna do about that.

It's been like Christmas in every box. My toaster oven was packed in its original box, so it was easy to spot. But the packers had taken out the tray and put it in a separate box. Toaster was useless until I found the tray (which I did yesterday...sweet potato fries for lunch today!). I looked in all the boxes labeled "Kitchen - Pots & Pans" for my crock pot, so I could make some vegetable chili to see me through this week. Nope, not in the Kitchen - Pots & Pans boxes; it was in the "Kitchen - Bowls" box. Huh. And I went through the boxes looking for my three-hole punch so I could get my school work organized. I looked in the "Desk Drawers" boxes, and the knick-knack boxes, but found it in the last of twelve boxes of books!

And I know I've been a little manic about it, but I think what takes me the most time is smoothing out all the packing paper so that I can save it. I mean, it's perfectly good paper, with all kinds of useful uses. I saw this bit of gardening advice, to make a lasagna garden, layering paper, compost and leaves or grass clippings in the fall where you want a garden bed. By the spring the bed is ready, all the weeds smothered, and you can plant straight into the lasagna. Brilliant...and a perfect use for packing paper. It'll also make great fire starters for the fire place. And it's good for cleaning glass and mirrors. And I'll never need to worry about packing material for anything I ship to someone, ever again! You get the idea; I can't bear to throw out all that lovely, clean paper, so I spend a lot of time unkrinkle-ing it. Besides, it takes up way too much room all balled up to throw out.

Nothing is broken, only some minor scratches. And my house is starting to come together. Completely off topic, but I *really* like my house. It's just the perfect size, old enough to have character, and my stuff fits and looks good. It feels like home, like some place I will be happy. Sure, it's not perfectly perfect, but then again, neither am I, so we fit.

And lastly, I am So Very Grateful that I don't have to go through another transfer season for another few years.