How to improve communications

A handful of communications skills, consistently applied, can make a world of difference in improving day-to-day interactions with coworkers.The skills include clarifying and confirming, giving balanced feedback, effectively opening and closing discussions, exploring ideas, managing differences, and crediting others' work.


A handful of communications skills, consistently applied, can make a world of difference in improving day-to-day interactions with coworkers.

The skills include clarifying and confirming, giving balanced feedback, effectively opening and closing discussions, exploring ideas, managing differences, and crediting others' work. See table for sample.

"Most difficulties that people have in the workplace are people problems, not technologies. If people internalize a few key principles, then, when the pressure's on, they will react in the most effective way," says Ellie Willis, senior director of organizational effectiveness for Cahners Business Information (Newton, Mass. Cahners is the parent company of Control Engineering , 23 other manufacturing magazines at and 130 magazines overall.)

Ms. Willis has taught "Interpersonal Managing Skills" about 200 times, according to her estimations. She recently led the two-day course from AchieveGlobal (Tampa, Fla.), at Cahners' Des Plaines, Ill., office for managers seeking to improve people skills.

Ms. Willis says "These fundamental skills still apply when communicating with your boss, colleagues, employees, spouse, and children. If you respect someone for who they are, you should clarify and confirm that they bring value to the table. Doing that means you will treat people with respect, listen, get opinions, and readily incorporate their ideas. That means others will be more likely to go along with what you have to say.

"Technology-minded people often go into their line of work because they enjoy data or things. When thrust into management or a team-based role, they adjust more easily by upgrading people skills. Engineers like this kind of program, because there's a system to it—very specific things people can do to make a difference. If you ask specific questions, listen, look for merits, and express concerns, then the improvement is fairly clear cut," Ms. Willis says.

Feedback, differences

Aside from admitting the need to improve, what might be most difficult for those working in the control engineering field? Ms. Willis suggests "The greatest challenges include providing balanced feedback and managing differences."

When giving feedback, most people focus only on what's wrong. Pointing out merits—what's good about something—gives some attention to the good things people do, rather than giving all emphasis to the 5% that needs change.

To better manage different points of view—more common in the team environments of many workplaces today—people have to be comfortable with confronting issues and having differences. Admitting that someone doesn't have to be right or wrong, but that viewpoints differ, can make a world of difference.

Best idea, worst decision

"The best idea may be the worst decision if acceptance is zero. People have to have their hearts behind decisions important to them," she says.

Melvin L. Kuppinger, account executive with AchieveGlobal, agrees, saying, "Managing differences—one of the skills taught in the course—positions employees to more effectively serve internal and external partners." Printed materials, videos, and exercises reinforce the material. A user's guide serves various situations.

Ms. Willis adds that the skills can be applied on the plant floor or in the front office. "Effective communication requires treating people with trust and respect, rather than saying or thinking, 'My way or the highway.'"

"Interpersonal Managing Skills" is offered by AchieveGlobal (formerly known as Xerox Learning Systems and Learning International), a Times Mirror Co., based in Tampa, Fla. For more information, visit . Mark T. Hoske, managing editor

How to Improve Interpersonal Managing Skills

Clarify and confirm

Clarify by seeking additional information about what's been said and why.

Confirm by stating your understanding of what's been said and why.

Provide balanced feedback

Specify merits you'd like to see retained.

Specify concerns you'd like to see addressed.

Explore ideas

Explore ideas for retaining merits and eliminating concerns by inviting and making suggestions.

Build on ideas of others giving credit.

Innovate by temporarily suspending the rules, thinking, "What if...?"

Manage differences

Define the differences, stating what's important to you and why.

Clarify and confirm what's important to the other person and why.

When able to consider alternatives, discuss the difference and explore ideas for an acceptable solution.

When unable to consider alternatives, end discussion by acknowledging the other person's right to differ and explain what you've decided and why.

Graphic by Cahners Business Information using data from the "Interpersonal Managing Skills" course, AchieveGlobal, Tampa, Fla.

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