Communication Skills Hints

September 2, 2011, 11:11 pm
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Accommodating is another conflict resolution style which can be beneficial in certain circumstances.  Accommodating is basically yielding to the choice of the other person or group of people.  This is an approach which is best used when the relationship is much more important than the issue.  When your significant other really wants to see a movie which you have little interest in, you go because the relationship is what matters.  It is also going to a restaurant the group likes when you are not fond of it.  Even a Vegan can find something satisfactory at almost any restaurant.  


The clear advantage of this approach is that is supports your relationship as long as it not accompanied by severe grumbling about the choice.   Please note that the importance of the issue increases if you become frustrated with constantly yielding to another person (e.g. constant “Chick Flicks”) and begins to make another conflict approach more appropriate.  Conversely, I really want Thai food (or other specific food) may not play with your lunch group and get you a solo lunch.  



Effects of Not Listening
July 29, 2011, 2:22 am
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As a semi-retiree who tries to keep track of the markets, I have been a regular CNBC watcher. At first I enjoyed Rick Santelli.  His rants and independent thinking added some life to shows which could be somewhat mundane at times—I am sure this is the goal of the producers.  As time has gone by, I found that I listen less and less to what he has to say even though I continue to respect his views and it usually louder than the normal stream of discussion.  As I have analyzed this change, I can see that a major factor is that he doesn’t listen to anyone else. His unique viewpoint is just that, unique.  He rejects any other viewpoint without consideration of them.  The first point of this observation is that we tend not to listen to people who don’t listen back or listen to others. We see their views as underdeveloped because it only recognizes their own perspective. If we want our views respected, we need to respect, listen to, and try to understand the views of others. Active listening both allows us to expand our own understanding and to better influence others.  This leads to a second point, that we are limited in our ability to influence others when we don’t understand their viewpoints. This is apparent even on the show, as others apparently readily blow off his views.   A third point is that the absolute certainty of ones convictions doesn’t make us right except from our own viewpoint. Our own viewpoint becomes more and more unique as we fail to listen and respect other perspectives. I have several blogs on the evils of absolute certainty.

When is Win-Win a Win
July 8, 2011, 1:02 am
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My previous blogs addressed conflicts where the importance of the conflict issue and the significance of the relationship were both small.  On the opposite end of the spectrum are situations where the relationships are very important and the importance of the issue is also very important.  This is the time for a win-win approach to conflict resolution.  In business, this situation often occurs at the start of project or a critical juncture.  In personal life, this could the purchase of a new home or a retirement decision.  These are all decisions that should made after lengthy evaluation of pros and cons, leading to an optimum solution.  

What are the trade-offs?  Clearly the positive is achieving the best possible solution based on the available information.  The negative is equally apparent.  It takes a lot of effort and possibly stress to get there.  A great current example is the deficit reduction inWashington.  Congressmen scramble to both achieve their goals but also retain some semblance of relationship with opponents. 

 People tend to lean towards one conflict resolution approach.  The clear danger of being oriented towards win-win situations is the tendency to waste time achieving an optimum solution where the problem may not significant. In most cases, a quick solution with a limited effort and a reasonable benefit may provide the best solution.

Conflict Avoidance Result
April 26, 2011, 3:30 pm
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Avoiding conflict is a valid approach to conflicts where the issue is minor and the relationship is minor.  Obviously this is from the perspective of avoider.  The issue may be very significant for the other person.  This should enter into our thought process using modern communication methods.  Sending an email or text to someone with whom you have little or no relationship to drive an action which may well be insignificant to that person is probably not a good idea.  We should really expect this drive a delete! delete! delete! response.   Obviously, the solution is start building a relationship or convince the other person that the action is more important than first glance.  Either requires a more personal interaction.  Visit the person’s office if possible or call if that is not practical.

Conflict Avoidance
April 2, 2011, 1:19 am
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An important element in effective communication is the ability to resolve conflict. Most people have a negative impression of conflict. But conflict is a necessary element of  the improvement process and moving forward. Conflict is a critical point in overcoming group think as well. Conflict is inevitable. As humans, we possess a richness of perspectives. Everyone brings a unique viewpoint to each issue or problem to resolve.

A common approach to conflict is avoidance. Some will go to nearly any extend to avoid conflict. The advantage of avoidance as an approach is that we do not put a lot of effort into the conflict. The obvious key disadvantage is that we are also unlikely to resolve the issue at the heart to conflict. Further the conflict is unlikely to be resolved in the direction of our perspective. Another disadvantage is that the person or group we are in conflict with may become frustrated with our inability to deal with the conflict.

Most conflicts can be sorted in two key ways. The first is importance of the task or significance of the issue at the heart of the conflict. The second is the importance of the relationship we have the person or group on the other side of the conflict. With advantages and disadvantages, there will be times when this approach will be beneficial, specifically when the task and the relationship are not very important to us. Avoidance, while it does little or resolve a conflict, can be the best approach to a conflict.

June 3, 2010, 1:19 am
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My recent blog at included a comment on the negative aspect of certainty in religion. Much like absolute power, absolute certainty can corrupt our ability to see reality. Certainty has been a great detriment to progress over time: certainty that the earth is flat, certainty that the earth is the center of the universe etc. etc. etc.  It reminded me that certainty is an equally dangerous thing in communication. Certainty can keep us from being open to listening, the key enabler for influencing others and resolving conflict.  It is natural to be confident in our view.  But letting certainty keep us from listening to others is a serious liability at work and in life.  Even when we are right, we find ourselves unable to convince others because we are unable to comprehend their views.   With the ability to understand the viewpoint of others, we will inevitably struggle to influence other and resolve conflicts.

email more effectively
March 16, 2010, 3:46 pm
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While I have focused on active listening skills, effective communication also relies on expressing oneself effectively.  Email has become a critical method of communicating.  Email has great powers which are easily abused.  Some useful tips for email communication are included below. 

Number one is to get the most important points in the first two or three lines.  This is most common tip I have seen and probably the most important.  Most people get too much email and reading every word is often impractical, so getting attention very early is critical.  Sometimes this is not possible with longer documents such as team minutes.  A good habit is following up with key action holders individually with separate email (with or without minutes attached as a forward) with their critical action in the first few lines. It helps remind the person of the action and also shows that you believe the action is significant.

Tip two is never send angry emails or even mildly upset emails.  Emails potentially don’t ever go away so be careful. Set it aside for a day if possible or at least an hour or two.  Come back and reread the email or review the other communication that was upsetting, make sure your reply is suitable and proportionate.   One thing to remember is that emails facilitate escalation. Think about whether are you comfortable with the email being copied to higher levels of management. I have often found that a review of whatever set me off is valuable.  Reviewing the incident from the perspective of the other party often creates greater understanding and lower offensiveness.

Tip three is as offshoot of the above.  Think about escalation before expanding the copy list on emails.  Before the email, escalation of issues was more difficult. Now, it has become far too easy.  I have seen way too many emails escalated by copying higher levels of management on simple questions between peers.  If your boss expects to be copied on every minor question you answer, he or she has control issues or needs a real job.  If you escalate an email, i.e. copy your boss and/or the sender’s boss, have a reason and put it in your reply, such as getting a second opinion.  I have seen so many simple questions grow into significant issues, wasting significant time and effort.   

Finally, the fourth tip is a pet peeve of mine, use of “reply all” as a first choice.   Way too many people have “reply all” as their only option.  I have actually seen someone send their credit card number to a massive list of people, replying to a meeting coordinator setting up room reservations. Think about whether the information is really useful or appropriate for everyone on the mailing list before picking “reply all”.   Also, never “reply all” to be deleted from a mailing list.  I have seen this grow to email exchanges in the 100’s of replies.