Imagine it’s December 20th. You’re looking forward to your family plans for the holiday season.
Yet, your million-dollar grant’s deadline is December 31st. Two research faculty still have not submitted their grant narratives or compliance data—due two weeks earlier—to you.
So, it’s time to light a little fire under those faculty. Or else, you’ll end up working through some of your planned holiday time.
Your previous reminder calls have been met with frustration and anger. This year, your goal is to employ a different approach.
How do you start?
Rather than being viewed as an intimidating administrator that “is out to get you,” here are a few pointers on how to connect with researchers and help PIs view you as a supportive, cooperative team member.
Walk in their shoes
Before contacting them, take a moment to look at your PIs’ world through their lenses, or walk in their shoes.
Here are three perspectives they’re likely to hold:
- They feel under pressure to raise their own salary and that of their research lab staff—while you have the “luxury” of a regular salary. Perhaps they raise part of your salary, too, as part of the administrative costs included in their grant budgets.
- They work all hours of every day and weekends—while you work more regular hours.
- They have to juggle finding grants to apply for, application writing, actual research, course prep and teaching, and journal publishing—while you do paperwork. (Their view, remember.)
So once you’ve considered these perspectives, ask yourself how you might feel if a staff person made a demand that you hurry your narrative submission.
Pick up the phone
With this perspective, there’s a new focus on changing your approach. The next step is deciding how to be heard as encouraging rather than criticizing.
We’ve all discovered that digital platforms such as email or texts, although convenient, can trip us up by being misheard or having an unwelcome tone, especially in these types of contexts fraught with a natural tension.
The optimal way to avoid misunderstandings is to pick up the phone and use a calm, firm yet pleasant voice—even if you’re met with voicemail as your only option.
- If your PI has a reputation for avoiding listening to phone messages, go find them to deliver a more personal, yet calm and firm reminder.
So you decide to pick up the phone.
What do you say?
Recognize and acknowledge their reality
Remember that your objective is to submit the completed grant application correctly and on time, and still enjoy your family holiday.
With your eye on your objective—rather than on who has power or who “wins”—consider communicating in a way that shows your researcher that you understand their reality:
- Open with an acknowledgment that they have a lot on their plate and that you are interrupting them.
- Apologize—sincerely—for the interruption and do ask if it’s a good time. Offer to call back if necessary. This goes a long way toward helping them be willing to take the time to listen to you.
- Remind them that you are partners working together on a tight grant deadline for their grant.
Ask for their help
Typically, requests from staff to PIs come across as demands.
Be clear that you are asking for their help in order to be able to meet your application deadline and accompanying compliance requirements.
Consider how much more difficult it is for your PI to say no to this:
I really need your help to meet this grant deadline. Any chance you might be able to help me with that?
This is a much better approach than, You’re late with your narrative. I need it yesterday!
Not everyone can pull off humor in a tense situation—and not everyone under stress will welcome an attempt at humor.
Keeping that in mind, if you’re able to inject a touch of levity into a difficult communication, and—in your judgment—some humor would be welcome, it just may relieve tension sufficiently to get you your narrative sooner rather than later.
Reinforce positive results
Also, shower your PIs with thanks when they comply with your requests for help. Preferably, and if appropriate, thank them in person out loud in front of others to emphasize your gratitude.
A handwritten note won’t hurt, either.
- For future reference, leverage this brief slide deck on faculty-staff relationship best practices.
Is an antiquated system part of the problem?
The best research compliance software supports a comprehensive internal and external communication system that aligns research faculty and administrative staff requirements as they work together to draft, win, and work on grants.
Legacy systems tend to work in siloed stacks that require numerous steps and time that simply are eliminated with state-of-the-art research compliance systems.
New software systems such as ours offer a seamless workflow that maximizes efficiency when it comes to producing applications and compliance requirements.