Communication in the Workplace
Communication in the Workplace The maxim that "everyone should be treated with respect" does not mean that everyone should be treated in the same way. Due to cultural differences, personal preferences and individual perceptions, behaviors which may be acceptable to some will be offensive to others. A good example of this is direct eye contact, which may be interpreted in very different ways across different cultures. Looking another person in the eyes may be seen as a sign of open and honest communication in one culture, but in others, the same behavior can be seen as impolite, disrespectful, aggressive, and even threatening.
When introducing diversity to the already complex process of communication, it becomes much more complicated, but also a much richer experience—and opens a path to learning more about other cultures.
Get to know those whom you perceive to be different from you. Speak with them. Listen to them. Exchange perspectives. Ask them how they perceive you; tell them how you perceive them (tactfully); discuss those ways in which you are the same, think the same, feel the same. On those issues where you disagree, agree to disagree respectfully.
This may sound simple, but can actually be quite difficult for many of us. The keys to better understanding and acceptance, conflict resolution, inclusion and positive personal or professional inter-relationships all begin with open, effective communication.
Half the process of open, effective communication involves the active use of language. Some rules to remember for effective speaking, or writing include:
Collusion is cooperation with others, intentionally or unintentionally, to reinforce stereotypical attitudes and biases, or disrespectful, harmful language. There are three types of collusion:
Focus on "I" rather than "You": It is usually much more effective to tell another person how you feel about a comment, behavior or situation than to confront that person with why his or her actions or language (as you perceive them) are incorrect or offensive.
"I just don't believe that" instead of "That's a lie!"
"I was offended by that statement" instead of "You are rude and insulting."
"I feel that my input is being ignored" rather than "You people just can't accept that someone of my age (race, position, education level . . .) may have something worthwhile to contribute, can you?”
Perhaps one way to avoid focusing on the other person's behavior is to attempt to remove the word "you" or "your" from assertive comments. Which of the following would most people prefer to hear when having their supervisor hand back a report they've submitted?
Effective Listening Practicing effective speaking skills is just one half of the process of improving communication. The other side of the coin is effective listening.
Listening attentively is a skill that needs to be developed and practiced. It does not come easily. Often we try to interpret the speaker's message based on our own perceptions and expectations instead of being open to the true meaning and intent of the speaker.
Some rules of effective listening are:
Often the true message of what a speaker is saying comes from the emotions behind the words. Imagine the speaker's intent and ask questions to help both of you obtain a clearer understanding of any underlying issues. Attentively listening for the whole message, spoken and unspoken, will enhance the communication process for all parties.
Do not allow anger or defensiveness to interfere with listening. Preconceived ideas may make us react initially with anger or frustration. When this is the case, we are not really hearing what the speaker is trying to say. A listener's emotional reaction is counterproductive to effective listening.
As discussed earlier, this reaction might be more about the listener's sensitivities than what the speaker actually intended. If a person says something that seems derogatory or inflammatory, make sure you understood the person clearly before getting angry. Try to understand (not necessarily agree with) his perspective.
Even if the other individual intended his comments to be insulting, you can be the better person by accepting his emotional state and attempting to steer the conversation to an area of common ground, hopefully resulting in a more respectful exchange of ideas.
Conflict Resolution Conflict is unavoidable. In the work place or educational setting, especially, conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, in any such environment there will be both healthy and unhealthy conflict.
Healthy debate among diverse members of a team frequently leads to better strategies, perspectives and problem solving. This type of interchange should be encouraged as it provides opportunities for team members to challenge their own viewpoints while also challenging the team to stretch its potential and find more ways to excel.
Unhealthy, or destructive, conflict is divisive, interferes with the ability to succeed as a team, and can be demeaning and abusive towards groups or individuals. This type of conflict is characterized by getting off task and into the realm of personal attacks, interruptions, emotional outbursts, finger-pointing, and an inability or unwillingness for either side of the conflict to understand or concede an inch of ground to the other.
All too often, unhealthy conflicts are side-stepped or swept under the rug instead of addressed head on, especially if they are a result of uncomfortable situations involving a clash of cultures or diverse perspectives. Often unresolved conflict may appear to fade away, but is actually churning just under the surface, ready to explode in even more destructive ways. For this reason, you should not avoid an opportunity to openly discuss a situation because you fear it will lead to a confrontation. Sometimes confrontation is the best way to achieve understanding and promote cooperation.
Conflict Resolution Guidelines for controlling destructive conflicts include:
"I understand you told the Vice President that my current personal situation is interfering with my ability to manage this project. I don't feel it is anyone's place but my own to discuss my personal life. In the future, if you think it is necessary to do so, please address your concerns to me personally, or, if you believe there is a legitimate need to discuss my personal life with others, I would expect to be included in that conversation."