Being able to communicate effectively with others requires people skills, and here’s eight essential ones:
1. Understanding people
People not only come in all shapes and sizes, but they come with different personality types as well. You may want to brush up on how to communicate with the four main personality types by reading this article. Indeed, dedicated students of communication could do little better than purchase Bem Allen’s excellent introduction to personality types, ‘Personality Theories’.
People are individuals, with as many similarities from one person to the next as differences. To communicate most effectively, each will require you to communicate with them in their own individual preference style, using their language, their body gestures, and their pace and intonation.
So how do you find out how best to communicate with someone? Spend time with them! Don’t expect to meet someone off the street and talk intimately with them within a minute. Understanding a subject takes time — whether that subject is an academic one or another human being.
2. Expressing your thoughts and feelings clearly
Our brains can only take so much information in at any one time. We are bombarded with messages every second of the day, so to compete with the barrage of ‘noise’ a person faces, your message needs to be clear, succinct and to the point.
It is very worthwhile taking time to plan your communication — no matter by what method it is delivered — to ensure that you are taking the least amount of time to express the right level of thought in the most receptively simple manner.
3. Speaking up when your needs are not being met
Just as important in business relationships as in domestic ones, speaking up to ensure that your needs are met is a fundamental part of any relationship.
You may wish to read this article on assertive, not aggressive, communication, but in a nutshell there are six different ways you can be assertive and not aggressive in your communication: by rehearsing your behaviour prior to the communication; by repeating your communication (the ‘broken record’ technique); fogging; asking for negative feedback; tentative agreement with negative feedback; and creating a workable compromise.
Assertiveness is a useful communication tool. It’s application is contextual and it’s not appropriate to be assertive in all situations. Remember, your sudden use of assertiveness may be perceived as an act of aggression by others.
4. Asking for feedback from others and giving quality feedback in return
Alongside assertiveness techniques, the giving and receiving of feedback is a key communication skill that must be learnt if you want to have any hope of developing long-term business relationships..
Toastmasters International teach a useful feedback and critical review technique — first give a sincere compliment, follow this with any practical suggestions for improvement, then wrap up with further sincere praise. It is known as ‘CRC’, or ‘Commend, Recommend, Commend’, a three-step model for excellence in giving quality feedback.
Remember, too, that truthfulness is a subjective view. What you may find distasteful in someone may be equally desirable from another’s point of view. As I learnt, by living through a series of IRA atrocities in England and watching the US political and media reactions, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.
5. Influencing how others think and act
We all have the opportunity to influence how others think and act. All the way from Cialdini’s Persuasion principles down to simple violence (of a verbal or physical nature), we are daily able to shape the thoughts and actions of those around us.
From something as simple as smiling and saying, “Hello!” as a way of influencing someone’s mood, to leading by example during an intense period of change, there are many ways of either leading to or drawing out of others required behaviours and attitudes.
Remember that an attitude leads to an emotion, which in turn leads to an action. Shape the attitudes and you have a more reliable way of predicting actions.
6. Bringing conflicts to the surface and getting them resolved
I confess: I’m not a ‘natural’ at handling conflict. It’s taken marrying into an existing family of three children to help this only child come to terms with conflict.
It’s taken me three years of living in my family to realise it’s possible to co-exist in conflict and not get personally involved. But it wasn’t an easy lesson to learn, I can tell you!
But being a step-father to teenage children has helped me learn the importance of bringing conflicts and resentments to the surface where they can be more easily managed.
Your employees might be harbouring secret resentments of you, and unless you find out what they are, bring these ‘dark secrets’ out into the light of day, you are never going to be able to successfully deal with them.
It’s embarrassing, potentially humiliating and requires a strong level of patience not to launch straight into a defensive mode, but giving people the opportunity to express their concerns, disappointments and anger, face-to-face, gives you tremendous opportunity to put things right, or help them see where their thoughts and feelings are misplaced.
7. Collaborating with others instead of doing things by yourself
I’m a shocker at this, but learning to delegate and share has been instrumental in growing my own business.
The quickest way of burying yourself in excess detail and workload is to try and do everything yourself. Yet sharing the workload can be the smartest thing you will ever do. Here’s why:
Leverage is taking your skills and abilities and allowing others to magnify your work capacity. You train them to do what you do and you do something else.
One bricklayer can only lay a certain number of bricks in an hour, but that same bricklayer can train 15 mates to lay bricks and suddenly those 15 bricklayers are building monuments while the first bricklayer is out securing more work for them.
While the 15 are laying bricks, the original bricklayer can be learning how to perform advanced bricklaying, or learn sales strategies, or learn supervision skills.
The lesson is simple: try and do it all yourself and the ‘all’ will bury you; teach others to do what you do and you build a monument.
Jesus taught 11 men how to do what he did. Then he left them to carry on while he moved on to other things. From the simple act of one man teaching 11 others, a church and the largest, most influential religious movement the world has ever known was born.
8. Shifting gears when relationships are unproductive
Sometimes you need to walk away. Sometimes you need to jettison unhealthy cargo. And sometimes you need to take drastic steps to regain balance and momentum.
‘Shifting gears’ can be as simple as changing the venue of your supervision meeting from a dark office to a nearby cafe. Sometimes it can be moving the meeting from straight after lunch to first thing next morning, when clearer heads might prevail.
Sometimes it can mean increasing the level of assertiveness in order to ensure the point you are making is being received. Sometimes it might mean bringing others into the meeting so that the other person understands the implications of their attitudes or actions.
And sometimes it can mean helping them find a more meaningful and satisfying role outside of your sphere of influence.
As a management psychologist I clearly remember one organisation I consulted to: the only way out of a staff impasse was to remove the impediments to progress. Which meant helping key protagonists find new work outside of the organisation. Sometimes culture change can only be effected in a quick way by bringing in an entire new team and throwing away the dead wood. But only as a last resort.
The whole idea of being people skilled is knowing or finding how to bring out the best in others in any situation, rather than their worst. By mastering these eight essential people skills you dramatically increase your chances of achieving the best outcomes out of your interactions and business challenges.