Interpersonal Effectiveness in the Workplace

by Bill Blundell
The Antioch Group

Old-fashioned, face-to-face communication may be needed to resolve the issues of the digital workplace.

As we move forward in the world of technology (smartphones, tablets, social media), it appears that we humans are losing touch with the art of face-to-face communication. While the advancement of technology is a positive step, staring at screens most of the day can lead to a decrease in communication, rational thinking and assertiveness. Technology is needed in today’s world, and in most realms, it’s integral. The hope is that technology and interpersonal skills can continue to coexist as we move into the future.

A Two-Way Street
Communication is a key component in any relationship. For the purposes of this article, the focus is on relationships in the workplace. It’s not a secret that sometimes relationships are not always functional in the workplace, but yet, work still needs to be done. We cannot allow personal issues or biases to get in the way of accomplishing tasks with coworkers with whom we may not get along.

As we all know, communication is a two-way street: one person talks, and the other listens. But many times, there is a breakdown in that simple process. The person talking may have difficulty getting his or her point across, whether because of the words being used or the way they are being said. On the other hand, there may be difficulty in the other person’s ability or willingness to listen. With both of these potential malfunctions in communication, the common denominator may be the issue of cognitive distortion or irrational thinking.

While there are a myriad of cognitive distortions to discuss, the ones that seem most prevalent in the workplace tend to be “jumping to conclusions,” “mind-reading” and “self-fulfilling prophecies.” It is very easy to jump to conclusions in workplace settings. People like to make assumptions, and the end result is usually not a favorable one. Assumptions are easy; they don’t involve going directly to the person and addressing an issue. Some of the time, the assumption is that the other party is going to respond negatively to whatever might be said. This leads us to the issue of “mind-reading,” which can be detrimental to relationships.

As humans are not clairvoyant by nature, a person’s ability to “mind-read” usually fails. While there are chances of coincidence, they are rare. Rather than try to guess what is on someone’s mind, it is better to go to the source and ask him or her directly. The cognitive distortions of “mind-reading” and “self-fulfilling prophecies” are closely related. If a person tells him/herself that a situation will not end well, often it will not. If you need to confront a coworker or employee and assume it will end badly, you may be less likely to approach that person because you feel what you conjured in your mind will really come true. This is where “mind-reading” needs to be put aside, and where assertiveness comes in.

Balance of Goals
Conflict in workplace relationships is normal and healthy—as it is in any type of relationship—but assertiveness should not be confused with coercion. When you need something from a coworker, it needs to be communicated effectively. Many times, people demand what they need and see themselves as being assertive, but this is an aggressive act, and most people do not respond well to aggression. Unfortunately, when one worker demands something from another worker, it is often effective, because intimidation may be a factor. This leads to the other aspect of being assertive, and that is a person’s ability to say “no.”

If a person is feeling bullied in the workplace, he or she needs to be confident enough to stand up and say “no.” Often times, people are hesitant to be assertive in this way because they fear what the other person may think, or one of the cognitive distortions listed above may come into play. Another thought to consider is “What if I ask my coworker for this, and he/she denies me?” With that thought, people are less likely to ask for what they want or for the help they need. Being assertive is about being firm in what you are asking for or the command being given (for cases in which you are the boss), as well as being able to say “no” in a way that is confident and not rude or disrespectful.

Marty Hanson of The Antioch Group puts things into perspective. “Being assertive and/or interpersonally effective is easier said than done,” he explains. “Being interpersonally effective requires a balance of three main goals. Your first goal is to get what you want, yet the second goal could conflict with the first, which would be to still have a good relationship. Both of those goals are kept in check with the third goal of maintaining your self-respect. With practice, a balance of all three goals can be met.”

Talk Directly to Each Other
As technology progresses, it will become even easier to stay behind a screen and communicate in that manner. This writer is first to agree that the availability and ease of that option is welcomed, but it is also important to be able to talk to one another. Interpersonal effectiveness extends outside of the workplace, and we cannot always rely on a cellphone or tablet to communicate.

So be adventurous! The next time you need to communicate with a coworker on the other side of the building, resist that urge to send an instant message or text message. Get up, and go talk directly to him or her instead! iBi

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