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Organization Improvement: Cooperative Communication
The workplace is a complicated
place. Imagine a spider web of people, managers, supervisors and staff
members who need to work together, interacting in various ways to fulfil
the organization's mandate. Disagreements and conflict are bound to occur;
between staff members, between staff and management, and between clients
and members of your organization.
As a result of working
with thousands of government employees to help them acquire and use defusing
hostility skills, we have concluded that a good amount of bad feelings,
organizational problems, destructive conflict and inefficiency result from
a lack of skill in the WAY that people communicate with each other. This
isn't that surprising if we consider that our society tends to glorify
the confrontational, John Wayne type heroes. And, that as children learn
language, they tend to learn confrontational, negative language before
they learn how to get along with others.
or the skills needed to get along in the workplace, or, for that matter,
anywhere else, are in relatively short supply, because we simply don't
teach them to children or adults. So we get unnecessary conflict and friction.
We get arguments that are more oriented towards winning than solving problems,
and we get the so-called personality conflict, a convenient phrase that
allows everyone to avoid responsibility for interpersonal problems. We
get teams that don't work well because they lack the skills. We get meetings
where the majority of time is wasted because people don't interact effectively.
We get clashes with clients and cus tomers that occur as a result of both
parties moving into confrontational ways of interacting.
We've moved forward in
defining the elements of cooperative communication so that they can be
taught to people. But what is cooperative communication?
What Is Cooperative Communication
Some ways of communicating
increase friction and anger. Other ways of communication tend to cause
people to work WITH us, and not against us. While it is clear that blatant
accusations, name-calling and personal attacks are confrontational (the
opposite of cooperative), there are many more subtle ways to ruin a communication.
To illustrate some of the techniques of cooperative communication, let's
take a look at the following sentences:
"You never finish the
work on time."
"It seems like you
are having some difficulty with the timelines. What can I do to help?"
Which of these phrases
do you think is more likely to elicit a productive dialogue? Clearly the
first at least "sounds" antagonistic", while the second doesn't. Another
example: "If you had bothered to read the report, you would know...."
It might be that the
report wasn't clear on those points. Would you like me to explain?
What are the cooperative
rules here? In our first set of examples, the initial statement uses an
absolute word "never", and as a result tends to cause the other person
to argue. In addition the phrase sounds blaming. The replacement phrase
lacks those confrontational characteristics, uses a qualifier "seems",
and offers to work together. In the second phrase set, the key word is
"bothered", which suggests that the person is lazy, or uncaring, and that
is what will be heard. It also is a blaming statement. In the replacement
phrase, we introduce another qualifier "might", followed by an offer to
solve the problem.
In both phrase sets, the
first phrases are likely to create argument and personalized conflict while
the replacement phrases are more likely to result in real problem solving.
There are a number of
other aspects of cooperative communication, far too many to outline in
a single article. However, cooperative communication involves the use of
techniques that are designed to prevent destructive conflict, enhance workplace
morale, and save considerable time and energy.
How Do People Learn Cooperative
Our estimates are that
between 5-10% of people consistently communicate in cooperative ways, although
that estimate is certainly not scientific. A minority of people acquire
these skills through experience, but unfortunately, experience is a slow,
unreliable teacher. As a result we have decided to offer our Building Bridges
series of seminars. At present there are two separate components to the
process. The first seminar "Communicating Cooperatively In The Workplace",
provides the basic components of cooperative communication, and highlights
the advantages of using those components. The second seminar is entitled
"Thorny Workplace Communication Problems" is a case-study based approach
that allows participants to work through real communication situations,
to determine how they can apply cooperative communication to them.
The first seminar can
be done stand-alone, while the second requires the first as a pre-requisite.
Since we believe that seminars should be custom-designed, we will not be
including an outline of content, since content will vary considerably from
workplace to workplace. If your workplace problems centre around meetings,
then the content would differ from a workplace that had general team-based
issues. Or, if your major concern is written communication, the content
would be different than if you are primarily concerned with verbal communication.
What we can tell you now is that these seminars will be much different
than the standard communication courses on the market, and avoid many of
the tired, ineffective old saws that are often included in basic communication
If you would like more
information about cooperative communication elements you can order our
help card on the subject (Communicating Cooperatively In The Workplace)
by using the order form included in this newsletter. Whether you are a
manager or staff member, you will find that learning and using cooperative
communication techniques can reduce the amount of destructive conflict
around you, save valuable time, increase team effectiveness, and reduce
supervisory/ management time dealing with conflict that is a result of
confrontational communication approaches. Call us for more information
at (204) 888-9290.