In our lives, we will realise that we are able to communicate well with most of the people in our lives. They can be our family members, friends, colleagues, mentors or even strangers. It is only the degree of closeness that varies, yes? Why are we able to communicate well with most of the people we meet in life? This is because humans are social beings and hence they require interactions to keep their lives going. This is also the reason why there are many clubs and organisation promoting teamwork and community interactions. It is not difficult to chat someone up and befriend that person. We can see friendships being forged in most social and networking gatherings. Even the quieter ones among us warm up to others when approached for a conversation. Life will be great if our lives revolve around friendships and conversations in a gentle and serene setting, surrounded by laughter and joyful banter.
But no, life is not like that.
Life’s more than a conversation. We need to do more than engaging someone in conversation. We need to do more than listening to someone’s travelling experiences. We need to do more than joining friends to watch movies together.
In a word, life is also about working with others.
Now, do not get me wrong. I am not saying that working with others is not good. The point that I am making here is that there are a substantial number of challenges that we need to overcome if we are to work with others. In the midst of working together, even best friends can have conflicting ideas or interests. This is inevitable. Below are three factors that I have identified as the primary causes of classroom/workplace conflicts in a team:
- Communicating Style: This is a more serious issue as compared to one’s working style (please see below). This is because our communicating style affects our lives over a lifetime. While a not-so-ideal working style will affect us adversely in the classroom (when we are students and working in groups), in the workplace (where we work with colleagues in a team) and in our homes (where we have to work with our siblings and/or parents to tidy our house etc), the problematic issues in our working style does not translate directly into all aspects of our lives. For example, we do not have problems communicating or conversing with someone we have just met even if we have a not-so-ideal working style. However, if we have a bad communicating style, it will permeate all aspects of our lives and damages our relations with people that we have met or those that we know. There are many communication styles that are not ideal and it’s not possible for me to list all of them here. Nevertheless, I will list the more commonly-known ones that I have encountered:
– 1. Pretending to listen while seeking to communicate one’s stand on things: We should be mindful of committing the mistake of pretending to listen when we are not. I have personally come across individuals who will nod their heads in unison with what we are saying but in actuality, they are not listening. They may even prompt you to continue speaking with “prompters” such as “Go on, I am listening.”, “Yeah, I understand”, “Of course, sure” etc but in actual fact they are not listening. By the phrase “not listening”, I am not referring to the fact that they are not listening literally. They are actually listening to us most of the time and they are often able to repeat what we have just said if we asked them. What I mean by the phrase “not listening” is that these people are not taking what we have said into consideration, because they often have already made their stand on the issue(s) being discussed. One way we can identify individuals with such communication style is not to ask them to repeat what we have just said but rather, ask them for their stand on the issue(s) being discussed. And ask this question intermittently during the entire discussion and not only towards the end (of which it will be too late). When we ask them for their stand, enquire about their rationale for their stand as well. It is all right if they still maintain their stand on things (since each of us have our own realities, as reflected in my previous article here). However, skilled communicators will maintain their stand but will not only take your arguments/perspectives into consideration in their responses but reiterate your perspectives in detail as well, like this: “I understand where you are coming from (note: skilled communicators do not just end their responses here but continue with –>) and this is what I have gathered from your thoughts………” Thus, if we were to track the patterns of skilled communicators, we will feel that regardless of the stand that they are making, we feel that we are being listened to, and that we are being understood. This is one of the essences of great communication. Some individuals will merely nod their heads, give some prompters and simply reiterate their stand. For such instance, it’s best that we make efforts to enable them to understand us from our points of views but more often than not, it will not work. In such instance, it’s better to cease the current communication and think of better ways to relate to these individuals.
–2. Not responding (verbally and/or non-verbally): I will probably be talking more about this in my subsequent post “Reciprocity is key in our communications“. For now, I will briefly elaborate on what I mean. In all forms of human communication (be it in person, via emails, telecommunications etc), it should be 2-way. Unless we are looking at mass media communications tool (such as television, radio, magazine etc), human communications are almost always 2-way. All communication models reflect the same process of someone talking while another responds while taking into account some form of feedback (verbal/non-verbal) from the speaker. Thus, in all forms of face-to-face human communications, we should respond to others in some ways. It can be in the form of non-verbal responses such as maintaining eye contact and nodding our heads. Or it can be a verbal response. Or it can be a combination of both, which is usually the case. However, there are many communicators who fail to communicate interest by responding verbally or non-verbally. This is often the case for telecommunications such as SMSes and emails rather than face-to-face interactions but I have seen instances for all situations, especially for emails and SMSes. Some individuals never reply emails that require response and SMSes (with some replying as late as three days later and they are in town, not overseas). I believe that – unforeseen circumstances aside – a prompt response is a strong indicator of the value that one places on a friendship/relationship. Thus, by not responding / replying to others promptly is not only rude but an indirect indications that he or she is not interested in this friendship/relationship. What’s regrettable is that few of them who commit this mistakes ever realise that they are making one. Thus, in all communications, we must respond promptly to others whenever possible. Prompt responses in our communications with others are key to better friendships/relationships.
- Working Style: While our working styles do not hold as much prominence as our communicating style, it is still very important in our lives. This is because we spend half our lives working and for the rest of it, we cannot avoid working with our loved ones and friends in completing some tasks. For those of us who do not have a good working style, something will happen: We will realise that our friends and loved ones may enjoy our company in times of fun and joy but will show more hesitancy when working with us. Since we need to work with others at one point or another, it’s best that we refine both our communication styles and working styles. Below are two commonly-encountered working styles that are unpopular:
-1. Providing tight deadlines: It is almost evitable that all of us work with deadlines in the corporate workplace. I believe that this is one of the reasons why corporate employees dread going to work on a daily basis, not because they do not enjoy their work but because they dread to work under intense pressure and tight deadlines. Let’s be truthful? Let’s see a raise of hands if you are among those that dislike deadlines? I believe most of us are. There are some books that state that working with some stress is good for us but I believe that in current times, most of us are experiencing stress that goes beyond the healthy level in the workplaces. However, what’s more important is that I believe that most of us work well at our own time, and I believe this is also the reason why most of us prefer telecommuting (aka working from home) than in the workplace. I believe the word here is flexibility, which is not often granted in corporate workplaces, especially in organisations where bureaucracies run high. Thus, individuals who throw deadlines at others are often among the unpopular communicators. This is so when the deadlines given are very tight. This is especially so in some workplaces where pressure and deadlines come from the top and everyone down the corporate ladder are all taking the heat. In our personal lives, we often see many of them: the domineering boyfriend/girlfriend who gives deadline to their partners to complete some tasks, the students (team leaders) who slaps his team mates with unreasonable deadlines, the boss who cancels his/her subordinates’ leave application so that they are able to meet the deadlines he/she has set (although the employee has already promised that the tasks can be completed on time while on leave). People who throws deadlines are unpopular communicators because we sense pressure around them and it’s human nature that we all flock to individuals who are at ease and happy with themselves.
-2. Top-down approach: There are some individuals, specifically those in senior management who have a predilection of transmitting messages through key personnel (usually managers) to their subordinates. While this approach works well only in times of emergencies, time constraints and/or lack of manpower, this practice is often employed in a typical day in a workplace almost on a daily basis. Communicators who communicate in such a manner are usually unpopular because they have absolutely no contact with their subordinates in their line of work. This approach is almost imperialistic in nature, with the boss sitting on a pedestal while their subjects are being briefed by their supervisors. While it has worked in the past, it is passe in contemporary times. To improve one’s communication skills, one must go down to the ground (defined as making the effort to talk to everyone in the organisation) to chat with others and assess the situation on the ground. This is especially so for those of us who are in leadership positions. And this approach of engaging everyone in conversation works exceptionally well in organisations who has decentralised operations in various locations in the country or even around the world. Multi-national companies fit this profile very well. In our daily lives, we also often see similar situations: boyfriends/ girlfriends ordering their partner around, students idling while their team mates complete the work load, bosses who prefer to communicate with their subordinates via emails over face-to-face interactions etc. For these individuals, it’s time to step down from their pedestals and thank the people who put them up there in the first place, or at least enable them to stay there.
- Priorities:Each and every one of us have our priorities. Some of us prioritise our families and loved ones above all else, some of us prioritise work, some of us prioritise our children, some of us prioritise our parents and some of us prioritise our personal time. Thus, when conflict results, it is usually a conflict in the prioritisation of the relevant parties. I believe that you will agree with me that each of us do things in a different order and in different ways. If we were to examine these differences closely, we will realise that they stem from differences in the things that we prioritise. It will be good for the various parties working together to clear the air by declaring their individual priorities before actual work commences. I believe there will then be mutual understanding and respect among the various parties. Otherwise, there will probably be delays and conflicts, not to mention the damage incurred on the working relationship(s).
If we are able to avoid the five fallacies of communication above, we will be well on our way to being great communicators in the workplace, in the classroom, in our homes or anywhere in the world.
This is because good communication and working style are universal and hence transcends cultures.