Collegiality is Reciprocal

When I worked in an academic law library, I supported faculty projects.  My role was technology and so I participated in development of Folio Views ebooks, courseware and web sites, and the like.  My role was also to support the technology faculty used, and to sometimes say, “No.”  In one case, a faculty member who I worked closely with told me I wasn’t being collegial, because I wouldn’t agree to a request.

That’s always stuck with me because it was an early, and uncomfortable due to the power dynamic, reminder that some people view collegiality as important only when they are reaping the benefits of it.  Collegiality isn’t an individual trait; it takes two people.  You can display appropriate behavor all you want, but if it’s not reciprocal, or as Merriam-Webster defines it:

the cooperative relationship of colleagues

then it doesn’t exist.

I was reminded of that this week when I fielded a complaint about my own information sharing behavior.  This one was from a group that didn’t like that I wasn’t sharing with them.

I self-censor for a lot of reasons.  One is that I don’t assume everyone wants to know my every thought.  In other cases, it’s because those people had made it pretty clear that they find what I think about law libraries to be offensive.  But if I post it to this blog or to Twitter, it’s primarily for my own benefit.  As I tell the frequent content marketers asking to post their 3d party content, I’m not trying to build an audience.  These tools are for me to record my own ideas for future re-use, or to save, as tweets that I import into a spreadsheet, things that I see on the web.  It’s great when other people find them useful.

It was such an echo of that experience with the faculty member that I immediately recalled how that experience felt.

Relationships are an investment, and some are more work than others.  But it’s pointless to build only one end of a bridge.  Some neighbors you just nod your head at as you pass by, while others you stop and and chat with, catching up on their life as they catch up on yours.  As with personal reputation, relationships are built over time and on trust.  You can’t make people be collegial, but usually people will appreciate the give and take that happens when you are.

I’ve met that professor since we both moved on with our careers.  We get along fine when our worlds collide.  Colleagues (not necessarily co-workers) usually have reasons to try to rub along together.  Perhaps that’s why the exposure of the failure, or disinterest, in collegiality is more surprising than when other, weaker, professional relationships falter.

David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.