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Improving People Skills

While many of us feel confident in our social skills and ability to communicate, we all can still learn improve our listening and assertive skills.

Improving communication skills is directly beneficial in nearly every career field, not to mention with personal relationships. As such an important aspect of our lives, we should seek to become more effective at listening to others and expressing ourselves. Robert Bolton can be considered an expert of highly effective communication. He spent six years managing a consulting firm that specialized in communication skills workshops. His research during that time laid the foundation for his work, People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts, which provides useful guidance and tips to becoming a better communicator. 

The first area Bolton covers is refining listening skills. There is a clear distinction between listening and simply hearing another person. Studies have shown that “up to 75% of oral communication is ignored, misunderstood, or quickly forgotten.” There are many parts of listening that need to be engaged in order to fully capture and understand another. Attending to the speaker is crucial to facilitate effective listening. One’s mind and body (including body language) must signal that their full attention is on the speaker. This can be further reinforced by paraphrasing the speaker to confirm understanding and to provide reflective responses to show engagement while also allowing the speaker to elaborate. The combination of these skills allows for more attentive and engaged listening which will allow for greater understanding. 

Assertiveness skills are the complement to good listening skills. With poor communication skills, most people will resort to forms of nagging or aggression to get something they want. These attempts are often met with hostility or are ignored, either way demonstrating an ineffective way to express one’s wants. A more effective technique is verbal assertiveness. While practicing assertiveness, a person who wants something (a change in attitude, a physical object, etc.) can remain expressive in his emotions by the way he speaks without directly displaying any aggression or nagging behavior. This allows the receiving party time to respond to the request more positively since they do not feel threatened or frustrated by ineffective nagging or aggression. 

The final chapters of People Skills deals with conflict resolution skills. Most people are observed to think of a problem in terms of it’s solutions. For example, two siblings are both planning to go out for the weeknight (to different places) but fight over who gets to use the family car. Currently, both siblings are thinking in terms of solutions, namely the family car. Bolton argues that this is not effective, and this type of thinking actually excludes possible solutions. The way to best accommodate everyone’s needs in a dispute is to directly state a person’s needs. In this case, each sibling has a need of transportation. By assessing the problem in terms of needs, the siblings can more effectively work out an agreement to satisfy both person’s transportation needs rather than bicker about who gets the car for the night. 

Overall, Bolton provides a seminal work on effective listening, assertiveness, and conflict resolution skills. The greatest think about this type of improvement is that it does not require changing one’s personality or way of thinking–it simply provides tools for more effective communication. Better communication allows for stronger relationships and quality of life. 

Sources: Bolton, Robert. People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986. Print.

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