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“The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives”
Anthony Robbins

Dr. Alan Zimmerman’s Personal Commentary:
Growing up in Wisconsin and living much of my life in Minnesota, ice fishing became a rather well-known winter activity. Of course, knowing HOW to ice fish was one thing, but knowing WHERE to fish was just as important.

I’ll never forget one man who began drilling a hole in the ice so he could try his luck at ice fishing. Suddenly a voice from above said, “There aren’t any fish there.”

So the man moved to another spot and started to drill another hole. But once again a voice from above said, “There aren’t any fish there.”

Of course, this strange, supernatural occurrence caught the man’s attention. He stopped drilling and asked, “Are you God?” The voice answered, “No, I’m the rink manager.”

The lesson is clear … to make anything work, you’ve got to know WHAT to do, HOW to do it, and WHERE to do it. And this is especially true when it comes to our relationships on and off the job.

Unfortunately, all too many organizations overlook the teaching of relationship skills. They focus most of their time, money, and energy on technical training and product knowledge as they overlook the people aspect of the job.

And does that make a difference? You bet! In one survey conducted by the National Association of Manufacturers, two-thirds of its 14,000 members said employee relationship skills have become so bad that there has been a noticeable decrease in such things as timeliness, attendance, productivity, customer relations, and an overall work ethic. And the cash register company NCR now has a software function that prompts cashiers to say “Hello” and “Thank you” to customers in the checkout line … which should be an automatic no-brainer.

To initiate, develop, and maintain caring and productive relationships, certain basic interpersonal skills must be present or must be taught. And the good news is … everybody can learn these skills … which fall into four areas. In fact, that’s what the second day of my “Journey to the Extraordinary” is all about.

Until then, let me brief you on the four interpersonal skill areas you’ve got to master if you want an organization, a team, a customer relationship, or even a marriage or friendship to work.

1. You must know and trust one another.
And it all starts with YOU. You’ve got to have enough self-awareness to know what you really think and feel, and you must have enough self-acceptance to be willing to share your thoughts and feelings instead of hiding them.

When you know yourself and share yourself, and when the other person gives the same thing back to you, the two of you begin the trust-building process … if the two you listen as well as talk.

And that’s not always easy. As educator David Schwartz observed, “Big people monopolize the listening. Small people monopolize the talking.” But the payoff is huge. As author Doug Larson points out, “Wisdom is the reward you get from a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.”

So let me ask you, when it comes to your work relationships, do you REALLY listen to your coworkers? Take this test. Every Friday afternoon, write down three things that you learned from your coworkers over the week. Examples might include an insight about a customer, a better way to handle a process, or reasons why a project didn’t work.

There’s so much to learn from your coworkers that if you can’t list at least three things a week, you’re probably not listening carefully enough. And you’re probably not building enough trust to sustain the relationship.

2. You must communicate with each other clearly.
It’s one thing to communicate your thoughts and feelings; it’s another thing to communicate them clearly … without ambiguity.

That’s what was needed in one golfing situation. A golfer who thought he was very good went out to a course he’d never played before. He was paired up with another single player, an older gentleman who said he’d been playing the course for years. Thinking that he would benefit from the veteran’s knowledge, the golfer began demanding his advice when difficult shots came up. When his shot went well, however, he took the credit; when his shot went astray, he glared at the veteran.

On the last hole, the golfer needed to get to the green on his next shot to ensure a good score for the round. However, he was behind a tall tree. Trying to decide what to do, he asked the course veteran for his advice. The veteran looked at the tree and said, “When I was your age, I’d hit over that tree with a nine iron.”

Thus advised, the golfer swung his nine and hit a towering shot — which hit the top of the tree and fell right back at his feet. He stood there in shock, staring at it. After a while the veteran said, “Of course, when I was your age, that tree was only three feet tall.”

Communication skills begin with sending messages that are phrased so clearly that the other person can easily understand them. They also include listening in ways that ensure that you have fully understood the other person. It is through the sending and receiving of clear messages that all relationships are initiated, developed, and stabilized.

If you’re a supervisor or manager, for example, don’t let your insecurities or the desire to be polite water down your words. Instead of saying, “Would you mind … or … Could you possibly …?,” come right out with it. Say, “Please do … or … I’d like you to …” And then follow up your request by asking whether the employee has sufficient time, is prepared, or has the right materials for the task.

One side note. As you learn to communicate clearly, nothing is more important than communicating your warmth and liking. Unless you believe the other person likes you and the other person believes that you like him, a relationship will not grow.

3. You must accept and support each other.
You must respond to other people’s concerns and problems in ways that are encouraging and empowering rather than discouraging and enabling. And they, in turn, must respond to your challenges with equal respect if the relationship is going to survive and thrive.

Personally, I like the way author C. Leslie Charles describes the acceptance and support that are necessary. She writes, “Don’t send me flowers when I die — give them to me now so we can appreciate their beauty together!”

One simple way to show more acceptance and support to your coworkers is to develop a “cheat sheet” of questions to ask. Customize a list for each individual and sit down once a month to go over it. Ask them specific questions about their jobs, such as “Are you still having problems with the Baker account?” and “How did you solve the marketing problem for the new launch?” Also, have a group of “core” questions that you ask everybody, such as “What was the biggest obstacle you encountered last month? … and … How did you get around it?”

And one of the best resources for questions that build relationships can be found in my book, “Brave Questions: Building Stronger Relationships By Asking All The Right Questions.” As Denise Wood writes: “I ordered your ‘BRAVE QUESTIONS’ book and gave it to my husband for Father’s Day last year. He loves it! I have to admit that I sneak the book away and use it too. In fact, your book has helped me in my business relationships as well as the relationships I have with my four children. Thank you for writing this book.”

So ask lots of questions and then listen. As Lord (William Norman) Birkett, an English jurist, put it, “I do not object to people looking at their watches when I am speaking. But I strongly object when they start shaking them to make certain they are still going.”

4. You must resolve conflicts constructively.
Finally, learning how to resolve interpersonal conflicts in ways that bring you and the other person closer together is vitally important to maintaining a relationship. After all, conflicts will arise in every relationship, no matter how much the two people care about each other.

So you need to find ways to negotiate solutions that are acceptable and beneficial to the two of you. One customer and a customer service rep had some difficulty in doing that.

The customer wrote to a mail-order company and requested an engine. He wrote, “Please send me the A-1 outboard motor shown on page 200 of your April 2011 catalogue. If the engine is any good, I’ll send you a check.”

The customer service rep must have had a sense of humor, because she wrote back, “Please send us a check. If it’s any good, we’ll send you the engine.”

One way to resolve conflicts more constructively is to hold monthly gripe sessions. Smart supervisors and managers want their employees to complain … because they know if they’re not complaining, they’re telling somebody else or keeping everything inside until they quit.

Encourage complaints. Hold a monthly gripe session where employees can air their concerns. But don’t hold gripe sessions in the conference room. Employees will feel like they’re “at work” and may not speak freely. Arrange to meet at a local coffeehouse the first Friday of every month. And please note: Do it on company time, not the employees’ time. And attack problems rather than individuals.

Of course, it’s difficult to listen to others gripe, but it will help if you remember these three “is not” points.

  • Hearing is not listening. Many workplace disputes begin — or get worse — because people hear what others say, but they’re not really listening to all that is being said and left unsaid. Listen to the words but also listen to the other person’s gestures, tone of voice, and all his other nonverbal signal
  • Acknowledging is not agreeing. Use acknowledgment phrases to recognize the other person’s positions and feelings without agreeing with her. Try such phrases as: “I understand why you’re upset … If I’ve got this right, you believe we should … and … That’s an interesting idea. Let’s look at it in more depth.”
  • Acknowledging is not yielding. Once you acknowledge the other person’s views, it’s your turn to present yours. Allow the other person to challenge you the way you challenged her. You could say, “I’ve listened to your views, and now I’d like you to hear what I have to say … or … I doubt that plan will work, but what if we …”

In short, there’s no debate. The question is settled. Interpersonal skills are critical at work as well as at home. And if you master the four areas of interpersonal skill mentioned above, you’ll be on your way to much more productive relationships.

Just remember what coach Carol-Ann Hamilton says, “What if you considered every interaction with the people in your life to be your last?” It would probably be a very good interaction.

Action:

Ask three of your colleagues to rank order your effectiveness in the four interpersonal skill areas listed above. Give a “1” to the area they think you are best at and a “4” to the one they think you most need to improve. And then consider the lessons you learned from their feedback and what you’re going to do about it.

Make every day your payoff day!

Dr. Alan Zimmerman
Tel: 800-621-7881
E-mail: Alan@DrZimmerman.com

“©2010 Dr. Alan R. Zimmerman. Reprinted with permission from Dr. Alan Zimmerman’s Internet newsletter, the ‘Tuesday Tip.’ For your own personal, free subscription to the ‘Tuesday Tip’ as well as information on Dr. Zimmerman’s keynotes and seminars, go to http://www.drzimmerman.com/ or call 800-621-7881.

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