Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Bettering our people skills

Dear Friend/Colleague,

Communication skills, no matter how finely structured cannot be a substitute for authenticity, caring and understanding. But, it can certainly help us express these qualities much more effectively. Nearly all of us want better communication skills. However, we don’t always realize that our communication is full of road blocks that prevent real communication with others.

Two of the main ones are judging and giving instant solutions. While talking to someone, it is difficult to listen to what they are saying without putting in our own ‘two bits’ worth. Here I recall a saying ‘What is the point of my two cents of value addition, if it results in reducing other person’s enthusiasm in half’. This is actually the nicer side of judging because the other is criticism and labeling.

With people close to us, we feel we should be critical, otherwise we don’t see how they will ever change. With others, we feel the need to give them a label such as ‘intellectual’, ‘brat’, ‘jerk’ or ‘nag’ but by doing it we cease to see the person in front of us, only a type and our own projections. Our ‘good advice” is rarely constructive, because it usually comes almost as an insult to other person’s intelligence.

Much of the description above forms the context setting for the summary of “People Skills: How to assert yourself, listen to others and resolve conflicts” – by Robert Bolton. I read the gist of this from ’50 Psychology classics – by Tom Butler-Bowden” which I have picked up at the Just Books outlet recently.

I liked the way essence of listening skills is broken into sub components namely attending, following, paraphrasing and reflective responses.

A gist of each sub component as follows:

Attending is all about giving the full and undivided attention as 85% of our communication is non verbal in nature. I liked the example of painter Norman Rockwell was creating a portrait of US President Eisenhower, despite several pre-occupations and election campaign pressures, the president gave his full attention to the painter for full one-and-half hours. Without really intending, the lapses in our attending easily show up. Last statement is Jagan-ism, paraphrased statements by Jagan (description of paraphrasing coming ahead)

Following is being clued into the other person’s emotional state and responses. It forms an essential part of listening as with our own body language we either reassure the other person. We might end up convey the opposite meaning, often without intending. In order to very good at this, we have to learn to become comfortable with silence both from the other and more importantly curb our rush to fill in the silence. Without being comfortable with silence, perhaps our own license to improve our people skills expires quickly.

Paraphrasing is a concise response to the speaker’s content which conveys essence of other’s content. It is like reporting them back what they said, but efficiently. This feels strange initially and needs lot of getting used to. Listening for long without paraphrasing can be paralyzing.

Reflective response is a type of effective listening which provides a mirror to the speaker so that the state and emotion they are in is recognized. Often people are reluctant to bring out their real feelings and beat around the bush. By being reflective and not reactive we are able to discern their real message. It is important to be reflective and not deflective.

Assertiveness Bolton considers the listening as the yin (the receiving part) of communication where as assertiveness is the yang (the active part). Assertiveness provides the vital third alternative to complete withdrawal versus aggressive behavior. Whole point of assertion statement is to produce change without invading other person’s space.

Conflict prevention and control – Much of the conflict is due to seeing it as win-lose or lose-win situations. If the focus is on understanding other party’s needs, using the listening & assertive principles, there is greater likelihood for the same.

While the book could be quite dated, apparently it still sells well. The apparent secret is the focus on learnable skills and not making the issue a function of personality. Finally a last expression as a closing to the topic:

Adopting a pupil’s mindset will definitely better our people skills.

Would like your thoughts and feedback.


Jagan Mantha