Communication within the workplace
Table of Contents
The purpose of this paper is twofold: to investigate, discuss and analyse some of the most important interpersonal skills, which are used in the workplace environment by everyone, including myself. To reflect upon my own self-awareness and motivation and analyse how they matchup with my strengths and weaknesses. In my discussion I will cover a range of topics including communication, which allow you to quickly connect and build a rapport, listening skills, which aid in building trust or even demonstrating concern, team-working skills, necessary for working well together in any circumstance and finally emotional intelligence, the ability to express and understand workplace relationships. In order to better understand my strengths and weaknesses, I have undertaken the ‘Clifton Strengths Finder 2.0’ giving a better understanding of my strengths and weaknesses, to therefore implement a plan of self-improvement.
Introduction to Interpersonal Skills
Communication in the workplace is vital to all lines of business. The need for communication lies in the differences in people’s opinions, people hold different ideas and beliefs which leads to the necessity to communicate those in order to reach a final desired and agreed upon outcome. People in the workplace need to be alert to their surroundings and most importantly their colleague. The topic of communication covers a wide variety of sub topics, in this section I will cover a few which fall closer to personal skills and building a relationship or rapport.
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A survey conducted in the late 70s where the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) reported on the most sought after skills for a successful professional. The results show how important these essential skills are in the workplace, with over 35% indicating relations skills and 25.4% of respondents of the survey citing communication skills. (Clement, Walker & Pinto, 1979) The ASTD followed up on this survey slightly more recently and the results supported the previous survey, over a third of the replies to the survey stated that communication or interpersonal skills held the key to a successful workplace environment (ASTD, 2000).
It can often be obvious when good interpersonal skills are displayed and equally as obvious when poor interpersonal skills are displayed. To better understand when good and bad skills are displayed, it is important to define what interpersonal skills are. A general definition is the skills used when people interact with each other. This is a very simple and easy to understand definition, however it is a very broad umbrella definition. Many of the concepts under the umbrella definition lie around effective communication, relationships, how they are managed and interpretation of social environments. If we bring these ideas together, we find a more rigid definition of interpersonal skills ‘goal-directed behaviors, including communication and relationship-building competencies, employed in interpersonal interaction episodes characterized by complex perceptual and cognitive process, dynamic verbal and nonverbal interaction exchanges, diverse roles, motivations and expectancies.’ (International Review of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 2006). From this definition we can begin to explore the different areas of interpersonal skills. Relationship-building skills can be appropriately placed under interpersonal skills as well as communication skills, these two areas will be discussed in the sections following this introduction.
Communication does not solely consist of oral communication, in can include written and non-verbal. Communication skills help with effective exchange of information between colleagues. Active listening, oral and written communication, trust, nonverbal communication are all examples of communication skills. An example of a great communicator was Winston Churchill, he had many famous quotes such as, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts”. His quotes are short and punchy, short and powerful messages are far easier to remember and inspire confidence in people.
Oral and written communication
It is vital for a speaker to be able to convey their message, to achieve this they must think about appropriate vocabulary, grammar and voice tone when conversing, especially in the workplace where different situations arise. For example, your vocabulary is likely to change when discussing matters with a client as opposed to a colleague. A discussion with a client needs to have carefully thought through tone and use of language for the professional setting in which the discussion is taking place. There are also various easy pitfalls, for example, interruptions and inattentiveness may convey disrespect (Goffman, 1955). I have seen colleague fail to get recognition for their efforts due to their constant habit of interrupting people.
I was recently in a situation which required me to think about how I communicated with an executive at my company. I was a member of a team responsible for opening business bank accounts, our process for verifying businesses was lengthy and slow, so we had a big backlog of accounts waiting to be opened. After trying to go back and forth within the team chatting casually about what was to be done about the situation and getting nowhere, I decided to go to the Chief Operating Officer of the bank. We spoke and I laid out the information very clearly, detailing where the short fallings were and why we were running into issues. We decided to put together a taskforce of all the relevant team members who had the authority to make decisions about altering the process. Within a day we were able to clear our backlog of accounts. Thanks to the clear professional language and assertiveness to demonstrate the nature of the situation we were able to resolve the issue. The expression of one’s rights in a problematic interpersonal situation will produce positive outcomes (Wolpe, 1973). The explanation that in order to effectively do our job in this situation we had a right to the necessary information, lead to the creation of the taskforce and ultimately the resolution of the situation.
For written communication, the same ideas apply as discussed above. You must also be aware of the appropriate method of communicating, for example texting a manager about an important issue is probably not the most professional way of communicating, it would be better to use a well-constructed email with the appropriate language and tone for the situation.
Nonverbal communication consists of many different interactive behaviours such as body language, facial expressions, movement and posture. Nonverbal communication is important as it reinforces the verbal communication which goes with it. The key difference between nonverbal and verbal communication is that verbal communication is almost always intentional. There are obviously intentional nonverbal communications such as waving or shaking someone’s hand. Scientists have argued, however, that a greater proportion of the nonverbal side of conversation is unintentional (Ekman,1985). It is vital within the workplace to attempt to be self-aware of your own nonverbal actions. For example, folding your arms in an interview is a very defensive action and can convey a lack of interest in the position, ultimately leading to not being hired.
Listening may not seem complex, however active listening is a little more indepth, it ensures that the information is well understood. It includes things such as asking for explanations, paying attention and requesting topics to be repeated when necessary. Carl Rogers and Richard Farson (1987) talk about how active listening is important in bringing about change in people. They argue that it is not a passive approach and evidence shows that sensitive listening is most effective for personality change and group development. We can use this skill to assist us with negotiation and cooperation, things which occur often in the workplace environment.
Relationship-building skills is another large umbrella term for many different individual skills, some of which are trust, negotiation, coordination and cooperation. Teamwork is an integral part of any business, to achieve a successful teamworking environment, drawing from all the interpersonal skills is important.
In the digital age with the internet enabling global communication and an expanding economy, the importance of teamworking skills is greater now that it has ever been before. Cooperation is the act of offering help to those who are in require it, whilst not taking over and steamrolling the activity as this can sometimes be misinterpreted, causing a breakdown in teamwork (Salas,2004). From a managerial standpoint, the ability to effectively set activities to fit the teams needs and ensure a pace adequate to the team’s ability is followed, is important when leading a team.
With the growth of team-based work in the workplace, there are fewer managerial figures to report to. This leads to an increased requirement for trust between employees. Trust is the willingness to believe in one and another and their ability to complete tasks, provide information or even retain confidential information. Trust is built and broken easily through every day actions, over time shared information and experiences leads to a build up of trust. Trust, however, comes with a side of vulnerability, a manager who places their trust in an employee opens themselves up to risk if the employee fails to deliver. A lack of trust also generates an unproductive environment where team members spend more time checking others work than adding to the value of the work (Cooper & Sawaf, 1996).
Emotional Intelligence is being able to identify and express emotions whilst understanding them and regulate both positive and negative emotions in yourself and other people (Matthews, Zeidner, & Roberts, 2002). To be successful in the workspace one must understand that not all issues are cognitive, but rather many issues are resolved by understanding and interpreting the emotions in and around the workplace and then acting upon those appropriately. Strong emotional intelligence has been related to positive reviews for customer service representatives (Feyerherm & Rice, 2002). Emotional intelligence plays a large part in self-awareness, it is the “ability to motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations; to control impulses and delay gratification; to regulate one’s moods and keep distress from swamping the ability to think; to empathize and hope” (Goleman, 1995). Motivation in the face of adversary is the key message from this quote, being self-aware of this notion allows for you to muster through tough situations in the workplace. I was recently on a project which unfortunately did not peak my interest, I was getting frustrated at my own disinterest and it was cutting into my productivity. I have now re-evaluated my view point and have been trying to avoid getting frustrated by every day doing one thing to help alleviate my situation. So far I have been seeing a rise in my productivity and also movement towards working on a project which I find incredibly interesting.
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Self-awareness if the ability to assess our own strengths and weaknesses, our motivators based around our personality and morals. Self-awareness can be an excellent skill when it comes to improvement as it allows us to accept feedback and take constructive responses to it. It’s easy to blame a failed exam on lack of ability and be defensive when another alternative reason is suggested such as lack of methodology for learning. There have been studies which show that students who plan their own learning process tend to have a much higher success rate (Zimmerman & Schunk, 2001). In this scenario it is important that the students can plan their own study plan as each student differs in what allows them to retain knowledge efficiently. Self-awareness comes into play here as understanding your own ability and methods which work best for yourself are a key way to find success.
I recently undertook the Clifton strengths finder, pioneered by Don Clifton who is often referred to as the ‘Father of Strengths Psychology’. I hoped to better understand where my core strengths lay, to act upon it and improve myself. After taking the test I learned my key strength was strategy, the ability to constantly be thinking ‘What if?’. Sorting through a complex situation to find the best route to a solution. I can become a resource for consultation for any colleagues who are having difficulty with obstacles or blockers on their project. I need to gain the trust of those around me first using various interpersonal skills to fully utilize my skills. I must also be wary of others misinterpreting my strengths as an attempt to belittle their ideas (Rath, 2007). It is often easy to be seen as a naysayer, despite trying to examine all avenues to ensure the goal is reached. Therefore, I must be aware of the language and tone I take when conveying my ideas.
Motivation is simply being self-aware of your needs and problem areas, then acting to rectify those for better results. Your needs can help raise your motivation by discovering what motivates you, for me it is the possibility of additional responsibility, to lead projects in a direction I believe in. There are many different motivators in the workplace, but equally we must realise that if these motivators are not present, then they become inhibitors. A study in Slovenia tracked these for higher educated employees through a survey sent out to various businesses.
Fig.1 The left side of the graph shows the ranking of the biggest inhibitors for employees when they were envisioning their least favourable work environment. The right hand side of the graph shows what employees look for in their ideal work environment. (Damij N, Levnajić Z, Rejec Skrt V, Suklan J, 2015)
This survey shows us that the three biggest inhibitors in the workplace are relations with superiors, relationships with colleagues and helpful coworkers. All of these are heavily related to interpersonal skills and building the bond between coworkers and managers. We can conclude, therefore, that an inhibiting working environment can be helped by improving one’s interpersonal skills. On the other side of the graph we see the biggest motivators are a sense of achievement, interesting work and relationships with colleagues. These are more in line with personal goals in the workplace, which shows that it can be important to have a direction in your career and goals to achieve. Personally, I am looking to find a project which I am interested in and gives me a degree of responsibility. Finding these two things would boost my motivation in the workplace, to achieve this I must work on taking opportunities which present themselves, to ultimately work towards achieving my goals.
Throughout this report I have investigated various interpersonal skills, how they can lead to success and what causes them to fail. I have also investigated my own strengths and what motivates myself and others. Throughout this report it has become increasingly obvious that interpersonal skills play a more important role within the workplace than first thought. Some of the core skills discussed under the topic of communication were verbal, non-verbal and written communication as well as listening skills.
- Ekman, P. , & Friesen, W. V. (1969). The repertoire of nonverbal behavior: Categories, origins, usage, and coding. Semiotica, 1, 49–98.
- Zimmerman, B.J., & Schunk, D.H. (Eds.). (2001). Selfregulated learning and academic achievement: Theoretical perspectives (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
- RATH, T. (2007). Strengths finder 2.0. New York, Gallup Press.
- Damij N, Levnajić Z, Rejec Skrt V, Suklan J (2015) What Motivates Us for Work? Intricate Web of Factors beyond Money and Prestige. PLoS ONE 10(7): e0132641. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0132641
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