I’ve learned a lot over the past several weeks about my communication skills; areas where I am adept and areas where I could use focused attention for improvement. First, I will explore the skills I have demonstrated some measure of ability over are my use of non-verbal communications, confirming communications, and resolving conflicts with the win-win approach. Next, I will delve into the areas that I will, using the resources provided by this class, exerting effort in my endeavor to improve. Those areas are reducing my defensive reaction when it comes to criticism, having a better understanding and grip on my emotions, adjusting my self-concept, identity management, using the clear message format in tense situations, and finally empathic listening without diverting attention to myself.
I am far more aware of my non-verbal communication skills now that I have become friends with my new pal O, who seems to lack the ability to filter her facial expressions and body language based on her reactions to people and situations. I am now aware of the way I use body orientation and posture, touch, and voice to convey a more full meaning of my message to the intended recipient. I have noticed that this might not even be someone that you are vocally communicating directly with. For instance, I watched a girl use her non-verbals to clearly convey to another girl “Back off, he’s with me” without ever addressing her with a single word. I have been using these non-verbal’s to further the feeling of commitment and security to my boyfriend. Learning the ways to encourage him and make him feel comfortable while standing together chatting folks up at events for example.
This leads me to verbal confirming communications that I also make use of. When someone is uncertain of their position or role in your life confirming communications are an excellent means to ease this anxiety. While B and I may be attending a press party with several notable and attractive people in attendance, both doing our share of required schmoozing; these messages are what keep predators at bay. With just a shared glance from across the room, or endorsement in conversation, recognizing my lovely boyfriend is an excellent way to remind him that I recognize him and appreciate his presence, near or far.
Win-Win Approach to Conflict Resolution
Lastly, I have been focusing on improving my ability to apply the win-win approach to conflict resolution. I have wanted to improve the communication climate with a particular co-worker who has been labeled as difficult. Using the principles in the win-win approach have helped me better the marred relationship and frazzled nerves between us. I am currently attempting to integrate this principle into my daily communication by using even in simple conversations. For instance, I might ask N how he feels our team has been doing lately, and what we might improve on, from his standpoint. (The partner’s point of view: problem and unmet needs.) After a response, I might respond by offering further insight into what is going on, helping him to see a clear picture of our ideas, limitations or constraints. (Thus, describing our problem and our needs.) If the situation merits it, we may schedule a brief meeting to further delve into this conversation and to negotiate a solution. The key point is that this isn’t some battle we’ve geared up for, but my means of conducting even casual hallway conversations!
Non Defensive Response to Criticism
There are several areas however that I could use improvement on my communication skills. Foremost that comes to mind is the need to be able to respond effectively to criticism without sounding defensive or as if I am whining or offering excuses. It is embarrassing to admit this, but admitting to a problem is the first step in correcting it, isn’t that so? I believe this particular deficiency has lead to a considerable loss of creditability with my boss. She thought of me as a efficient and effective employee, but after a conflict arose (specifically the one mentioned above with N) my response to her criticism was quite defensive. In the end, whether or not his treatment of me was warranted or not, it was really the relationship with her (my boss) I should have been focusing on when she was offering the critique.
In the future, I intend on taking the advice directly from the text on seeking more information and agreeing. I am usually pretty good at asking for specific examples of the behavior, and clarifying for further details. However, what I need to do is ask specifically what my boss wants. It’s easy to say that I could have handled the conflict with N better, and that she was disappointed in the end result, however it’s very important to know what specifically she would have liked me to do to achieve the desired end result. Knowing what approach she would have preferred I take to the situation is key to being able to prevent a repeat of the drama next time around.
Agreeing with my boss would also have helped ease the feeling that I was just whining and excusing my behavior. Next time around I will be listening closely for facts to agree with. For this example I could have agreed that my late arrival for meetings and seeming inattentiveness did not help the situation. Next, I need to agree with her perception. “I can see how the impact of the situation on my work ethic made it difficult for you to defend me when the time came”.
Hopefully in the future, application of these principles in non-defensive reactions will help me appear more credible, solid and in control and less like a whining and complaining snit when things don’t go my way!
Management of Difficult Emotions: Rational-Emotive Approach
An improved capacity to manage difficult emotions will help me improve my relationship climates, especially when I find myself in conflict, as with the example of N. A point that I highlighted in my book is “One difference between the two types (facilitative emotions and debilitative emotions) is their intensity.” Extended duration is another factor in determining the difference between the constructive and destructive emotions. Debilitative emotions change your ability to work or react appropriately in a situation. For instance with the disagreements that arose at work with N, the anger and unfairness that I carried with me began to cause my health to deteriorate and for me to start being late for meeting and missing meetings, all of which I have never had problems with before, nor after.
In the future I plan on managing my emotions better by recognizing the physiological reactions that indicate to me that the situation has taken a turn for worse, and identify the emotions that are in play at the moment (rational-emotive approach). For an extreme example, in meeting with N, I might identify the heated feeling of my cheeks and the apparent rise in blood pressure as the realization point (monitor your emotional reaction) that something isn’t making me feel comfortable. Then I could pause for a moment and determine that anger at feeling unjustly treated or lack of appreciation was the motivating emotion (note the activating event).
At that point, by means of awareness, I would be in be in command of my emotions and could appropriately react to those potentially debilitative emotions and turn them into facilitative ones instead. I will watch what I tell myself (recording self talk), and dispute any irrational statements that I might bring up. In the future I expect this approach will help me remove unneeded emotion where it is not appropriate and thereby be more effective in my communications.
Self Concept Adjustment
Through papers I have written for my Expository Writing class, as well as from threads I’ve participated in on the discussion board, I have become aware of the need to adjust my self concept. At one point, earlier in my life, I was a confident assured individual with high self-esteem. Through the battering of daily life in the business world, failed relationships and unmet moral ideals, I have suffered abuse great abuse to the girl I once knew. I am able to readily identify the affect this deficiency has had on my relationships with others when my boyfriend tells me that I need to have more self-confidence and that he misses the girl he met who suffered from far less self-doubt and cared far less about other people’s perceptions of her.
I am going to start having a realistic perception of who I am, which requires first that I stop being so hard on myself. I am an incredibly intelligent and talented person who has reached her dreams despite a lack of formal education and the advantages afforded to others around me. Having realistic expectations would mean not being upset with myself when one of the PhD’s across the table uses a word I don’t readily know the definition of. I can learn it just the same as they have, and that indicates my will and skill to change, two other necessary steps in an adjustment of one’s self-concept.
Identity Management: Other’s Perception of Me
One of the points I’m planning on working on for my performance review and commitments at work is my switching of my style to the one most appropriate in the current situation (there is a term for this, but it escapes me at the moment). At Microsoft, it is common to have two different approaches to engaging with others. Some times people are all about business and solving problems, hashing through things and coming up with ideas. In other words, they are all about being productive. Other times, people are all about relationships. Someone who doesn’t note this difference in the purpose of a meeting might sit and wonder why they just don’t get to the point and feel that no one is addressing the issues. These two modes of operation in meetings are examples of constructing multiple identities.
For the next review period at work, I intend on constructing these two identities: the personable easy to work with relationship focused person, and the driven results oriented team player. Primarily, I will be relying on face-to-face impression management, by use of manner and appearance appropriate to the setting. I have the personable identity down, it’s the business focused no-shit one that I’m focusing on. Although it might seem a subtlety without much impact, I plan on updating my wardrobe from my typical cute designer look to a more sophisticated and buttoned up look. I think this appearance change might help to connote the right impression I’m looking for and will start changing people’s perceptions without much thought. I’ve always heard the advice “Don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want.” Or similarly, there is the admonition to “Always dress two levels above you.” I will make a conscious effort to have the capability of changing my manner in meetings from being social to results oriented.
Use of the Clear Message Format
I was totally captivated by seeing this “Clear Message Format” lain out so succinctly in the textbook and anticipate making sure it gets regular use as a tool in my handy communication tool kit. I am currently deficient in this as I’m not using it as often as I could. Its affect on my communications with others is that my messages are less clear, and my intention and desired results are less apparent to others.
For example, B quite often pulls out his “Smart Phone” at dinner and will absentmindedly start checking and responding to his email. In the past I might have said something like “Do you really need to do email right now?” or tease him telling him “You’re such a geek.” Neither of these messages successfully conveys that I would like him to stop checking his email and why. At best I suggest the idea.
Using the clear message format, my future response to his behavior would be something along the lines of “When you check your email at dinner (behavior), it seems as though like you’re not paying attention to me (interpretation), and makes me feel like I’m not being interesting enough to keep your interest (feeling). I end up keeping quiet because I feel alienated (consequence) but I would rather figure out how to make dinner an enjoyable and engaging experience for both of us (intention).” I think if I use the clear message format in the future B won’t have a chance at missing my point.
My last goal as I leave this class centers on an old habit of mine. I started with the best of intentions, to improve my showing of empathy in ways that others are cognizant of it. However what happened is that I would often recount my own experiences as means of showing that I could relate to their perspective and therefore was empathetic. However this was perceived by many as my turning the conversation around so it focused on me as the center of attention, deflecting the attention away from the person that I was trying to relate to in the first place.
Showing empathy as is defined in the text is not so much about things that are added to the conversation (such as my personal experiences) but rather things are going on in your mind. It’s a about taking the perspective of another person, really trying to feel as they might feel emotionally, and showing concern based on that new awareness. It does not require relating of experiences of your own to show that you understand. These stories, while they might have a place, are not the main means of showing empathy. I will incorporate this new understanding into my communication style with my roommate. She often talks with me about her boss and her tumultuous situation with him. Instead of judging and advising or offering empathy based on personal experience (since I have no relevant experience in her matter) I will instead try to look at things from her viewpoint, to feel how she must feel and then offer support and show concern accordingly.
In summary, I have a lot of work to do, both in elements of communication where I have ability and other areas where I need considerable work. However, I feel that I am well equipped with the skills found in this class to be a trained and proficient communicator.