3. INTERPERSONAL SKILLS
Interpersonal communication takes place whenever two or more people interact on a one-to-one basis or in small groups. When the consequences of your behaviour match your intentions, your interpersonal communication is effective. Others perceive your message as you intend it to be received. Successful interaction with others requires confidence and the skill to assert yourself. When confidence and skill are present, effective interpersonal relationships can develop that can satisfy different emotional needs, for example, recognition, esteem or a sense of belonging.
Dwyer, (1993) states that at work, those who seem very successful in interpersonal communication appear to relate easily and positively to those around them with good listening, speaking and nonverbal communication skills. They also have the ability to use assertion without alienating others. Overall, their perception of messages is accurate and their approach to people is motivated and confident.
In an effort to become a better communicator and to develop better interpersonal skills, models for evaluating success has much to offer and will give criteria against which to measure your own interpersonal effectiveness.
THE HUMANISTIC MODEL
The Humanistic Model suggests that people who operate effectively in interpersonal relationships show five general qualities:
The inclination of a person to respond frankly and spontaneously to people and situations, and the ability to acknowledge personal feelings and thoughts as their own. Each person’s feelings some from the interaction between their attitudes, thoughts, prejudices and the real situation that is taking place. To demonstrate openness, you show others your genuine feelings and reactions to a situation.
The ability to understand and feel as the other person feels. As you develop skill in understanding another person’s experience, opinions and values, you will be able to comprehend their motivations and attitudes and recognise that past experiences may affect the present situation.
The ability to supply descriptive and spontaneous feedback to another person in a provisional or tentative manner. This feedback indicates that ‘For the time being I think I understand. Would you like to tell me more?’ As you describe rather than evaluate another person’s behaviour, that person receives feedback that can increase knowledge of the self.
Spontaneous reactions to the other person or situation, open-mindedness to the situation and the ability to describe the situation rather than pass judgement all help to develop a supportive atmosphere that lets them self-disclose and interact openly.
This is the ability to communicate in a confident way whilst also acknowledging the other person. As you demonstrate a positive attitude to yourself, others reflect this positive self-regard, particularly when it is also accompanied by a positive attitude toward the person to whom you are communicating. Each person needs to be acknowledged by others.
Equality refers to an interaction that recognises each person in the interaction as worthwhile and with something to contribute. In an interaction based on equality, each person sends and receives information in the communication process and gives acceptance and approval to the other person.
Occasionally, in an open atmosphere, people will express disagreement or challenge negative behaviour. Rather than doing this to win an argument or point, the disagreement is because of concern about the behaviour and its effect on the relationship.
This model emphasises the importance of openness, empathy, supportiveness, positiveness and equality as characteristics contributing to interpersonal effectiveness. A person with these qualities is able to develop and maintain satisfying interpersonal relationships (Dwyer, 1993, p.67).
THE PRAGMATIC MODEL
This model emphasises the specific interpersonal skills that lead to satisfying interpersonal relationships. Five are presented in this model. They are:
The ability to feel comfortable with the other person and the situation. Nonverbal communication conveys a great deal about ease or anxiety in a situation. Tone of voice, posture, use of space and dress all send the receiver a message about the sender’s level of confidence.
Refers to the sense of contact the other person receives from the person communicating. It refers to what is happening ‘here and now’. As you talk, use the other person’s name and respond with appropriate feedback and demonstrate liking, interest and attention to the other person. Nonverbal expressions, such as eye contact and an attentive and open posture, further complement this verbal communication.
3. Interaction management
The balance between the sender and listener as each acts on the other. In an effective interaction, each person is able to contribute to the communication flow in a meaningful and satisfying way. Both parties are satisfied. Successful interaction management is helped by self-monitoring which identifies those parts of your communication that are appropriate or inappropriate. It is worth considering, for example, how much you wish to self-disclose in different situations.
Refers to involvement, both as a sender and receiver in the interpersonal interaction. Important aspects of expressiveness reflect your genuineness, openness to others and willingness to give appropriate and informative feedback in the interaction. You should communicate this involvement with vocal qualities such as voice tone, rate of speech, choice of words, facial expressions and body movement.
Is the ability to attend to and focus on the other person in an interpersonal interaction. This means seeing the situation from the other person’s point of view and expressing empathy with verbal acknowledgement of the other person’s feelings. For example, ‘I can understand why you are disappointed’ or show interest with 'Really' or 'When did that happen?'
Nonverbal focusing with direct eye contact, leaning forward, nods and other gestures all show attention and interest in the other person. The most important skills in interpersonal communication are speaking , questioning, listening, the use of nonverbal communication and the ability to use feedback (Dwyer, 1993, p.68).
Techniques for effective communication
Effective communication leads to increased understanding and more satisfying relationships. It is based on a willingness to communicate, an empathy with the other person and the ability to use and adjust your communication to the other person’s situation in a way that also recognises your needs and rights.
As you communicate, choices are made between a range of relationship skills. Each of us is personally responsible for the choices we make. The more knowledge we develop in relationship skills, the greater our capacity to relate to others.
Adopt the following strategies in your everyday life and evaluate your performance in one month. Have your interpersonal skills improved? If not, what areas do you need to concentrate on? Think about it, they do work!
The following six interpersonal strategies will enable you to display openness, empathy, supportiveness, positiveness and equality:
An assertive person can stand up for their rights. Assertion comes from high self-esteem and an acceptance of yourself. An assertive person realises the type of behaviour suited to a particular situation and recognises their own behaviour is assertive, aggressive or non-assertive.
Skills in assertion
Paraphrasing, or giving an understanding and reflecting response, is suited to three interpersonal situations:
Paraphrasing the other person’s message gives an understanding response that shows your desire to understand rather than evaluate them. Thus, it is important to communicate a desire to understand rather than evaluate and restate in your own words to paraphrase more effectively.
Feedback lets the sender understand how the message is being received and helps the receiver confirm whether their perception of the message is correct or incorrect. Effective feedback creates trust and openness, and in an organisation, appropriate, constructive feedback creates an open and encouraging organisational climate.
Feedback lets the sender understand how the message is being received and helps the receiver confirm whether their perception of the message is correct or incorrect. In the communication process, feedback can be the:
By practicing and using feedback skills well, you come closer to understanding the verbal, nonverbal and undercurrent messages sent by others. Indicate through spoken communication that you are receptive and willing to listen to the other person. Check your understanding of the other person’s message with a mirror question, for example, ‘So what you’re saying is …’ before you give your response.
Different types of feedback used within organisations and businesses are:
positive feedback from superiors
positive feedback from co-workers, and
Dwyer, (1993) states that negative feedback is not necessarily detrimental to the receiver; the result depends on how the feedback is provided. Positive feedback from superiors and peers encourages the repetition of that behaviour and acknowledges the role and contribution the individual makes to the organisation. People also self-evaluate their own work and interactions with other people. Self-evaluation lets the person compare the results or behaviour with their perception of the results.
Feedforward is information sent before the main message. An appropriate constructive feedforward lets you say something about the message yet to be sent. Dwyer, (1993, p.78) states that feedforward has four functions in the communication process:
Networking is the exchange of ideas and information with other people and is important as it builds your contacts and develops your interpersonal skills. Your network contains satisfying personal relationships, casual acquaintances and your co-workers in the workplace environment.
As you develop your network, your contacts and confidence increase and the positive and open contact you receive from others provides you with support and a sense of belonging. The willingness to contact and interact with others as an equal demonstrates this confidence.
Self-disclosure occurs when a person is willing to be open with another person and can lead to increased self-awareness and self-understanding. The Johari Window illustrates four different aspects of self by showing the areas known and unknown to yourself, and known and unknown to others. As we disclose more about ourselves and receive feedback from others, the blind area and hidden area in the Johari Window become smaller, while the known or public area becomes larger.
Self-disclosure does not mean you have to reveal intimate details about your past. It means letting the other person know your feelings and reactions to the current situation. Ideas and feelings are shared. As you self-disclose, you also provide feedback to others on how their behaviour is affecting you.
A factor which has a significant effect on interpersonal behaviour is self-concept: the mental image or idea that each person has of themselves that stems from past experience and interactions with others. It is how we see ourselves which will influence the way we relate to others, our capacity or readiness for self-disclosure and our ability to give and receive feedback in interpersonal relationships.
The Johari Window concept
Dwyer, (1993) suggests an approach to understanding our self-concept is offered in the Johari Window, named after the theory’s originators, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingram. This theory explains the parts that make up each person’s self-concept in two broad divisions. These are:
the areas of yourself unknown to you.
The Johari Window is used to divide these two broad divisions further into four main areas:
The Public area covers those things known about yourself and known to others. Free and open communication takes place in this area. Self-image or self-concept is created from the information in the public area and hidden area, the two areas known to you.
The Hidden area covers the things you are aware of but hide from others. This enables a front or cover for hurts, disappointments, weaknesses or other things to be built as a protection or barrier rather than to self-disclose to others. Although self-disclosure leads to an increase in what others know about you, it also can reduce the size of the hidden area.
The Blind area covers those things unknown to yourself but known to others. You are unaware of some of your reactions or feelings, whereas others perceive and know how you react. This window suggests that each person has a blind area, that is, no knowledge of some characteristics, even though others may perceive and identify these from the public area.
The Unknown area covers those other aspects of yourself about which you and others are unaware. Self-disclosure leads to an increase in what others know about you and reduces the size of the hidden area.
Figure 3.1 The Johari Window
(Dwyer, 1993, p.84)
The challenge is to extend and develop your interpersonal skills further.
The rewards are the opportunity to communicate, to set goals and plan in a way that meets and extends your own abilities while maintaining a balance in your interpersonal relationships with family, friends and co-workers.
By listening well, you are able to avoid directing and leading, blaming, judging or evaluating the other person. Skill in listening lets you enjoy the company of others or to interact in a group environment.
A variety of listening skills can be learnt and developed with practice. Listening is so important that it is worth a section based on its own merits and an undertaking of practicing the different skills in each type of listening.
There are four main types of listening:
1. Attending listening
A method of attending listening, is when you focus on the speaker by giving your physical attention to the other person. You use your whole body and the environment you create to provide feedback that assures the speaker of your total attention.
This is achieved by the following considerations:
Environment - create an environment without distraction or interruptions, e.g. ensuring there are no telephone calls during the conversation.
Eye contact – show attention to the speaker and be supportive.
Orientation – use your posture to attend to the other person, such as, lean slightly forward toward the speaker in a relaxed way.
Personal space – position yourself at a comfortable distance from the speaker. This can vary from elbow length to arm’s length.
An open position - maintain an open position with arms and legs uncrossed. At times, if you copy the body language of the other person inconspicuously, they will feel as if you are similar to their self and therefore feel more comfortable in your company.
Body movement – also reflects interest or lack of interest. People who tend to move about a lot indicate boredom and distraction.
Interest – show an interest in the speaker.
2. Encouraging listening
Encouraging listening indicates that the listener is willing to listen and invites the speaker to disclose their thoughts and feelings. This form of listening encourages the speaker to further discuss the point.
Use the following strategies to provide the feedback that will encourage the speaker to continue.
3. Reflecting listening
Reflecting listening restates or mirrors to the speaker both the feeling and the content in the message. This indicates that you accept the speaker and understand the message. There are several techniques you can use to provide feedback in reflective listening. These are:
4. Actively listening
Active listening is a way for the listener to relate back to the speaker exactly the total message received, that is, both the content and the feeling. Active listening focuses attention and provides feedback to match the perceived message and the intended message, and is suited to problem solving and counselling. However, only use it if you genuinely want to listen.
Actively participating in the conversation with the other person is a conscious attempt to empathise with the other person in terms of the content and feelings and to let the other person express and recognise those feelings. For example, a response, ‘You seem to be feeling down about this …’ lets the other person either agree or disagree to the reflecting response.
Listening is not a passive activity; it is an active, participative, creative process that demands intelligence and sensitivity. It is listening with openness, hearing what the other wants to say before passing judgement on their statement. It is a skill that requires concentration and practice.
Efficient listening will result in improved learning and remembering, better interpretation of instructions and feedback on job performance, which in turn will enhance your career success. It will also enrich your personal relationships through a better awareness of what is going on both career-wise and socially.
Bendeich (1997) suggests that several basic skills can be applied to listening which will develop your competence and make your listening more effective. They are:
å Why you need to listen;
å The purpose of what is being said;
å What the act of listening will do for you; and
å What the speaker is saying that you can use.