Study Unit

Interpersonal Communication Skills
By Tamra Orr

About the Author
Tamra Orr is a full-time educational author in the Pacific Northwest. She has written more than 200 nonfiction books as well as multiple ground and online courses in many subjects. She also has acquired years of experience behind a customer service desk. Tamra has a degree in education/English and has taught in multiple settings.

In any office, you’ll meet and interact with a variety of people every single day. It’s important for you to be aware that many of these people will most likely be quite different from you in some ways; it’s also important that you take these differences into account when you communicate with them. This study unit is designed to help you develop successful, rewarding, and professional relationships with all of those you interact with in the workplace. Understanding and appreciating cultural, gender, ethnic, and personality differences will help you grow both in your personal relationships and your career. One fact you’ll explore in this unit is that your interactions with others are never limited to words. The old saying “Actions speak louder than words” contains a lot of truth. In interpersonal relations, your body language, or nonverbal communication, is often as important—if not more important— than verbal communication. In fact, according to some communications experts, 7 percent of any message we send is conveyed through our words, 38 percent comes through our tone, and 55 percent is communicated through our body language. You read that correctly—55 percent! When you complete this study unit, you’ll be able to
• • • • • • • Explain the components of communication, including effective listening and observation List and describe multiple defense mechanisms that act as barriers to effective communication Describe personal traits essential for successful interpersonal relations Outline the components of the communication feedback loop List and describe at least six components of effective oral communication Recognize prejudice, discrimination, or insensitivity in interpersonal relations Define body language, or nonverbal communication, and describe the role it plays in communication

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Contents Contents

The Messages You Send Communication Components Effective Listening Paraphrasing Effective Observation Traits for Successful Interpersonal Relations Defense Mechanisms

1 4 6 8 9 15 17

Articulation Rate of Speaking Volume, Pitch, and Tone Enunciation and Pronunciation Improving Your Speech

20 21 23 25 26

Be Professional Interacting with the Office Team Displaying Loyalty and Respect/ Working with Others

29 29 32




Interpersonal Communication Skills
The Messages You Send
As an office professional, your job requires you to communicate, or relay and receive different types of information, in many types of situations (Figure 1). You’ll interact on a daily basis with executives, coworkers, new and established clients, and more. You’ll also handle incoming and outgoing telephone calls as well as written and electronic correspondence.

FIGURE 1—Effective communication is a large part of the office professional’s job.


Although you might not be aware of it, you’re constantly sending messages to others. Your posture, your style of dress, the position you take in a room, and the tone of your voice are nonverbal ways to convey a message about what you’re thinking and what you’re trying to say. In this study unit, you’ll learn how to interpret a number of nonverbal behaviors. As you read, keep in mind that nonverbal behaviors don’t always mean the same things to different people (Figure 2). Cultural differences often color the translation. For example, in North America, a nod of the head means yes and a shake of the head means no. In other cultures, such as Greece and Bulgaria, a nod means no and a shake means yes.

FIGURE 2—Cultural norms dictate nonverbal behaviors. Keep this in mind when interacting with people from different cultures.


Interpersonal Communication Skills

KNOW YOURSELF Before you can understand others, you must understand yourself. The following quiz will help you take a good, hard look at your interpersonal skills. Answer each question as it applies to you. Be honest. If you’re uncomfortable with your answers, you’ll know which areas of interpersonal skill you need to work on. 1. Do you find it easy to start a conversation? 2. Are you able to hold up your end of a conversation? 3. Do you ask good questions? (Good questions are usually open-ended, requiring detailed answers rather than just “yes” or “no” answers.) 4. Are you able to talk about topics other than yourself? 5. Do you listen to the speaker? 6. Do you use appropriate body language when speaking? 7. Do you draw others into conversations when they aren’t contributing their share? 8. Do you avoid exaggerating facts when speaking to others? (Tall tales don’t count.) 9. Do you remember names of people when introduced? 10. Do you avoid using dialect, bad grammar, slang, clichés, or jargon in professional or formal situations? 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. Do you enjoy learning about people, their interests, hobbies, and ideas? Do you keep others interested in what you’re saying? Do you give others an opportunity to express their views? Are you able to discuss controversial matters without getting angry or upset? Do you pay attention to the conversation without having your mind wander?

If you answered “yes” to at least 10 questions, your interpersonal skills are probably quite good. But try to work on any weak areas so that you can change “no” answers to “yes.”

Interpersonal Communication Skills


Communication Components
The communication process has five essential elements: 1. The message—information that you wish to communicate to another person 2. The sender—the person sending out the information 3. The channel—method used to convey the information (verbal, nonverbal, written, or electronic) 4. The receiver—the person receiving the information 5. Feedback—when the receiver and sender reverse positions Take a look at the communication feedback loop in Figure 3 to better understand the role each element plays.
FIGURE 3—The Communication Feedback Loop

Notice the wavy lines in the middle of Figure 3 that indicate interference. Interference is anything that gets in the way of clear communication between two or more people. It can come in a number of forms. In writing, an author’s style can be confusing or a reader’s comprehension level not high enough for the material. In conversation, a speaker’s word choice may be unclear. Interference can also take the form of outside noises or other distractions. Regardless of the type of interference, its presence disrupts communication. To be effective, communicators must keep their listeners’ needs, expectations, and comprehension abilities in mind.


Interpersonal Communication Skills

When we communicate, whether sending or receiving, we have reference points that determine how we express and understand messages. These points, which include education, life experiences, social and cultural expectations, and religious beliefs, color the way we communicate with others (Figure 4).
FIGURE 4—Our educational levels and life experiences are just two of the factors that affect our understanding of communication.

One of the most influential reference points is a listener’s language abilities. For example, if this study unit included a number of words that you weren’t familiar with and that the text didn’t define, you would most likely struggle to understand the message within it. The same holds true when you communicate with someone. If you use vocabulary, phrases, idioms, or expressions that are outside your listeners’ realm of experience, it isn’t likely that your message will be understood. For this reason, when working in an office, you should be sure to use your words wisely (Figure 5).

Interpersonal Communication Skills


Take your pick Be that as it may Get a head start Up to their necks Stay out of my hair

On the right track A baker’s dozen Heads will roll A tight ship Down in the dumps

Pearl of wisdom As clear as mud Solid as a rock A knight in shining armor Par for the course

FIGURE 5—These are some of the most common American idioms. You know what they mean—but people from other countries may not.

Effective Listening
A Turkish proverb states, “If speaking is silver, then listening is gold.” To be a successful communicator, one of the most important skills you need to develop is effective listening. This is the ability to accurately absorb information and then provide feedback to the speaker. By listening effectively, you can • Obtain more information • Increase people’s trust • Reduce the risk of conflict • Motivate others • Encourage commitment For example, picture this scene. Your coworker, Joe, is slumped over his desk. His head is in his hands. You ask, “Joe, are you okay?” He picks up his head but doesn’t look you in the eye as he replies, “Yes, I’m fine. Just tired.” Clearly, his verbal and nonverbal responses aren’t in sync. Joe may say he’s fine, but there’s something wrong beyond being tired. Listening to what others say is an important part of the communication process. However, listening isn’t complete without observation. Good listeners hear exactly what another person says, and they compare that message with the person’s facial expressions and other body language (Figure 6).


Interpersonal Communication Skills

FIGURE 6—When words are at odds with body language, the message being sent with the body is generally more reliable. It’s obvious this office professional is growing impatient with her supervisor.

When communicating with others, pay as much attention to their nonverbal clues as you do to their words. When a person’s words seem at odds with his or her actions, you can usually trust the person’s actions to be a much more reliable indicator of what that person is thinking or feeling. Listening involves the eyes as well as the ears! Becoming an effective listener takes time and effort. Here are some of the best ways to learn and practice the skill: • Prepare yourself to listen. Clear your mind of other thoughts and focus only on the person speaking. Stop any other activity that might distract you. • Look at the speaker. Eye contact displays your interest and also makes it more difficult to let your attention wander while the person is speaking. • Concentrate on what’s being said. Focus on the speaker’s words, not on what you’ll say in response to those words. • Listen with empathy. Understand what the speaker is saying and why he or she feels that way.

Interpersonal Communication Skills


• Listen not only to what is being said, but also how it’s being said. Remember, actions speak louder than words. Is the person’s body language and/or speaking voice contrary to the message? • Demonstrate to the speaker that you’re listening by nodding your head, leaning forward and saying appropriate responses such as, “Yes,” “I see,” “Okay,” and so on. • Don’t attempt to guess or predict what the person is going to say. This interferes with your ability to hear what’s actually being said. • Don’t interrupt or cut off a person’s statement. Try waiting three to five seconds after someone is done talking before responding. • Avoid thinking about a solution to a problem while the person is still talking. You can easily get so caught up in your own thoughts that you stop listening.

One of the foundations for developing listening skills is paraphrasing, or repeating a person’s message back to that person, using different words to express the same idea. To paraphrase, you listen to a speaker and then repeat his or her message in your own words, without changing the meaning. Read these examples: Speaker: I work so hard all year long, it doesn’t seem that I’d be out of line to expect decent accommodations and good weather for two lousy weeks! Paraphrased: When you finally take a vacation, you want things to go well. Speaker: Lisa told me that she would take care of the final details. She didn’t do it, and now it looks like I was the one who didn’t follow through! Paraphrased: Lisa didn’t do what she was supposed to, and now you have to deal with the blame.


Interpersonal Communication Skills

Notice that neither example repeated the speaker’s words verbatim, or word for word. Doing that doesn’t guarantee that you understood what the speaker said. It could just mean that you, like a well-trained parrot, have a knack for repeating what you hear. Besides, repeating a person exactly could be quite annoying. Rephrasing helps a person feel like you truly were paying attention and are fully engaged in the conversation. Paraphrasing allows you to test whether or not you’ve heard the message correctly and have understood the speaker’s intentions. Hearing the message reflected back lets the speaker know he or she got their points across correctly. It gives everyone involved the opportunity to catch any misunderstandings and clarify or correct them.

Effective Observation
Remember how we said that listening is using your eyes as well as your ears? This is known as effective observation, and it’s defined as the ability to recognize and understand nonverbal communication, or the body language that reveals a great deal about an individual. It may sound simple, but communication experts have determined that there are more than 100,000 nonverbal signals. The eyebrows alone have almost two dozen! Take a look at this list for some key examples: • Facial expression • Gestures • Eye contact • Posture • Tone of voice • Touching • Physical proximity (Too close—pushy or aggressive? Too distant—aloof, angry?)

Interpersonal Communication Skills


Can you see why learning how to read nonverbal communication is so important? Often a person’s body language is a more accurate indicator of what a person is thinking than is anything he or she says (Figure 7). This is because most nonverbal communication isn’t under our conscious control. Certain habits— nail biting, finger tapping, hair twisting, and so on—reveal our inner emotions without our even realizing it.
FIGURE 7— Body language is usually unconscious. This office worker may not realize that he’s projecting an aura of (possibly) sadness, anger, or confusion.

Nervous habits are easy for an observer to recognize, but other types of nonverbal cues aren’t quite so obvious. In fact, the same gesture or facial expression may mean one of several things. For example, sitting with your arms folded over your chest could mean that you’re • Trying to protect yourself from somebody or something • Hugging yourself as a form of comfort • Feeling self-conscious about your physical appearance • Cold and trying to warm up


Interpersonal Communication Skills

Which one of these is accurate? You can’t be sure, and that’s why it’s essential that you not jump to any conclusions about the meaning of any particular nonverbal communication. This is especially true if you work in an office setting where coworkers and clients are from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Each culture has its own meanings attached to nonverbal communication. Here are just a few examples: • Many Asian cultures believe eye contact to be rude. • The “O.K.” gesture in America means “worthless” in France. • The “V for Victory” sign here means “Get lost!” in some countries. Proxemics is the study of what people consider comfortable personal space. How close is too close? It depends on your cultural background (Figure 8).
Culture Distance between Speaker and Listener in Inches Middle Eastern Western European North American British/Scottish/Irish/Welsh, Korean, Chinese Japanese 24 36 8 to 12 14 to 16 19
FIGURE 8—Appropriate personal space varies from culture to culture.

One of the most powerful nonverbal tools you can use is eye contact. Looking someone in the eye says, “I’m interested in speaking with you and hearing what you have to say” (Figure 9). On the other hand, if you look away from someone when he or she is talking to you, you may give the impression of disinterest or even disrespect. Of course, it’s important not to overdo it and stare at someone. This can be disconcerting and even project hostility.

Interpersonal Communication Skills


FIGURE 9—Eye contact sends the message that you’re interested in what the other person has to say.

Other body gestures can enhance your interaction with others. A welcoming or parting handshake, for example, is a sign of friendship in American culture; so is patting someone on the back or shoulder. Smiling virtually always conveys friendliness and approachability, two very important qualities for the office professional. What are some other body expressions and their common meanings? • Looking upwards and to one side: “I’m thinking about something.” • Tapping the hands and/or feet: “I’m getting impatient.” • Stretching the arms backward or upward: “I’m ready to leave.” • Holding the stomach in: “I’m feeling anxious and need to get control.” • Leaning in towards the speaker: “I’m very interested in what you’re saying.” • Leaning away from the speaker: “I’m not remotely interested in what you’re saying,” or “Get out of my personal space.”


Interpersonal Communication Skills

KEY BODY LANGUAGE TIPS 1. Face your listeners as they speak so you can maintain eye contact. 2. Stand up straight and avoid slouching. 3. Keep your facial expressions relaxed, or match the other person’s expression. 4. Speak in a moderate, clear vocal tone. Don’t whisper or shout. 5. Avoid fidgeting or any other nervous behaviors. 6. Hold your arms at your side or gently folded. 7. Stay an average of one arm’s length away from the person to whom you’re speaking. 8. Remember that as you’re observing a person’s body language, he or she may be doing the same.

One method for interpreting body language is to “turn the volume down” on a person’s words and “turn the volume up” on the person’s facial expressions and gestures. Concentrate on facial expression, body posture, placement of limbs, and so on. You can practice by watching a video with the volume turned off. Can you figure out what people are saying and feeling just by watching them? It can be quite challenging, but will get easier as you practice. Another way to practice body language analysis is to spend time in front of the mirror mimicking facial expressions and movements you’ve seen other people make. Exaggerate them and see how you feel as you do them (Figure 10). If you’re dealing with a person and wish to confirm your understanding of a particular nonverbal communication, discuss it with him or her, but remember not to be rude or judgmental. Use tact—say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean! Avoid playing amateur psychiatrist, and don’t invade the person’s privacy. Here’s an example:

Interpersonal Communication Skills


FIGURE 10—Facial expressions are another example of nonverbal communication.

Rude: You don’t have to cross your arms over your chest, Mr. Somers. None of the other interviewees were a bit nervous! Tactful: Mr. Somers, you seem anxious. Would you like to sit at this desk and review your materials before your interview? Observing and interpreting nonverbal behavior is especially important when the body language contradicts the individual’s words. In this case, the individual may be expressing through nonverbal communication what he or she is unwilling or afraid to say out loud. For example, observe the nonverbal behavior in Figure 11. What do you think his behavior is saying?


Interpersonal Communication Skills

FIGURE 11—What nonverbal communication is this worker expressing?

Along with watching and interpreting other people’s nonverbal communication, you need to monitor your own. How can you do this? Ask a friend to record you on video. Have someone take a series of photos of you. Check each one for evidence of nonverbal habits. What can you change or improve?

Traits for Successful Interpersonal Relations
Relating to people means making a connection between you and another person. If you have the following personality traits, or if you take the time to develop them, you’ll find it easier to form positive connections. You must have • Patience • Tact • Courtesy

Interpersonal Communication Skills


• Empathy • Consistency • Respectfulness • Honesty • Sensitivity Patience is an important interpersonal skill that allows you to deal effectively with other people. It means allowing others to work at their own pace or in their own style, even when that differs from your own. It means not getting irritated or annoyed when things don’t go your way. Tact means doing and saying the right things at the right time. If you’re tactful, you maintain good relations with others by avoiding needless offenses. You need to be perceptive in recognizing your own feelings and those of others. Often, it’s not what is said but how it’s said that causes offense. Take care to use an appropriate tone, inflection, and style of speaking. Courtesy means putting the needs of others before your own. It means cooperating, sharing, and giving. You should treat all people in a polite manner—courteously, professionally, and impartially. Please, thank you, you’re welcome, excuse me, and may I help you? should be standard phrases in your vocabulary. Courtesy is intertwined with common decency; you must be careful never to play favorites. Don’t do special favors for one coworker that you wouldn’t do for another. Doing so breeds ill will and dissent in the workplace. Empathy means being able to recognize and understand what another person is feeling. When you empathize, you can make the other person aware that you understand his or her feelings. Empathizing is more than just paraphrasing; it involves both the basic message and the emotions behind it. In empathizing, the listener not only understands the content of the message but also brings out and labels the speaker’s underlying feelings. Consistency means being reliable and predictable in how you respond to others. If people know what to expect from you, they’re more likely to trust you and communicate freely with


Interpersonal Communication Skills

you. Your coworkers and the executives you work with on a daily basis need to know that they can count on you to do a job well and follow through when you say you will. Respect: No matter whom you’re dealing with—your employer, your coworkers, or your clients—it’s essential to be respectful in your manner and speech. Treating others with respect, and remembering to respond rather than react to them, will inspire people to communicate in the same way. Honesty: Being honest is very important in all of your workplace dealings. Telling a lie of any sort is only going to lead to more trouble. Keep in mind that it’s okay to tell a client or coworker that you simply don’t know something, as long as you immediately offer to find the information elsewhere. Bluffing doesn’t belong in the office. Sensitivity: Staying aware of people’s needs and feelings will help guide you in determining how to respond to them. Most likely, people will appreciate your awareness and reflect it back to you as well. Taking the time to congratulate a coworker on a job well done, for example, improves his or her morale and can make work a more pleasant place for both of you. Taking notice of a coworker who has a problem and offering to help can do the same.

Defense Mechanisms
Psychologists and psychiatrists have identified a number of defense mechanisms, which are unconscious adjustments we make in our behavior in response to people and situations. Defense mechanisms make interpersonal communications difficult. Because you’ll be working with so many different people in so many different situations, it’s important that you recognize and identify these mechanisms in yourself and in the people around you. Repression. Socially unacceptable or painful desires or impulses are pushed out of the conscious mind into the unconscious, without our being aware of it. These feelings may crop up in dreams or in subtle behaviors.

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Displacement. Emotions about one person, idea, or situation are transferred to another, seemingly more acceptable or easier target. Projection. One’s own ideas, feelings, or attitudes are attributed to someone else. For example, you convince yourself that someone else is to take the blame for something because you don’t want to take the responsibility. Rationalization. Justifying your actions for “logical” reasons, without really examining the true motives of behavior. Intellectualization. Again, reasoning is used to avoid the truth, as a way of denying strong feelings that may be socially unacceptable or difficult. Sublimation. An instinctual desire or impulse is diverted into a socially acceptable activity. Temporary withdrawal. Finding ways to avoid dealing with painful or difficult situations by avoiding that situation. Malingering. Deliberately pretending to be sick when healthy in order to escape an anxious situation. Denial. Failing to accept and deal with a traumatic, stressful situation by refusing to admit or acknowledge that the situation exists. Regression. Returning to an earlier mental or behavioral level during times of stress. If on occasion you recognize some of these defense mechanisms in yourself or someone else, don’t worry too much. These behaviors are the mind’s natural way of coping with stress. However, habitual use of such defense mechanisms can indicate a need for counseling. Chronic dependence on defense mechanisms can point to interpersonal communication problems that might be solved if they’re faced and analyzed. In the next section, we’ll talk about oral communication skills. Before going on, please check your understanding of what you’ve studied so far by completing Self-Check 1.


Interpersonal Communication Skills

Self-Check 1
At the end of each section of Interpersonal Communication Skills, you’ll be asked to pause and check your understanding of what you’ve just read by completing a “Self-Check” exercise. Answering these questions will help you review what you’ve studied so far. Please complete Self-Check 1 now.

Indicate whether each statement is True or False.

______ ______ ______ ______

1. Feedback is a return message. 2. Sitting with your arms crossed over your chest always means you’re trying to warm up. 3. To paraphrase, repeat what someone said, word for word. 4. The five components of the communication process are the message, the speaker, the voice, the listener, and feedback.

______ ______

5. One of your reference points is the amount of education you have. 6. Body language always reinforces or agrees with the spoken message.

Check your answers with those on page 37.

Interpersonal Communication Skills


People often list public speaking as their second biggest fear in life. Yet some form of public speaking is required in virtually every job imaginable. At some time, you may have to present information to coworkers, executives, or perhaps even clients. Being able to speak clearly and well is an integral part of good communication, so knowing the basics will help you do your job better. Let’s explore the qualities that are needed for strong oral communication skills.

Your professional interactions require you to be articulate, or able to express yourself readily, clearly, and effectively (Figure 12). Your message is going to be lost if it isn’t understood. Use concise words, correct grammar and speak in a pleasant tone of voice without rushing. Remember to add pauses where you would have commas and periods and don’t be afraid to pause between statements for emphasis. If you smile often, that smile will transfer into your voice and promote good business relations.
FIGURE 12—Effective speakers use correct grammar and pronunciation. They also speak at a pleasant rate.


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What makes a voice pleasing? Proper volume (not too loud, not too soft), clear enunciation, good pitch, and a correct speaking rate are the most important elements.

Rate of Speaking
Your rate or pace of speaking can serve as a source of interference when trying to get a message across. Always strive to speak at a moderate rate, that is, not too quickly nor too slowly. You’ll find listeners more attentive to what you have to say when you speak at a moderate rate. Analyze your voice to see if it needs improvement in this area. How quickly do you speak? Do people often ask you to repeat a statement? Do they seem to lose interest when you’re speaking? Your voice should sound natural, not affected. If you have a tendency to be a fast talker, slow down. If you speak too slowly, speed up. An average rate of speech should be approximately 120 words per minute. You can measure your rate of speed by reading the passage in Figure 13 out loud, taking time to pause where you would if you were engaged in a conversation. Read the passage through silently once or twice to familiarize yourself with the words. Time yourself. When you finish, divide 600 by the number of minutes it took you to read. Don’t round off to the nearest minute, but to make your math simple, it’s okay to round off to the nearest 15 seconds. For instance, if it takes you 5 minutes and 15 seconds, divide 600 by 5.25. If it takes you 5 minutes and 45 seconds, divide by 5.75. A speaker with an average rate of speech will take approximately 5 minutes.

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COMMUNICATION BARRIERS While there are many barriers to effective communication, Thomas Gordon, an expert on interpersonal communication, has identified 12 of the most common ones. These “conversation stoppers” are almost guaranteed to block the flow of communication between individuals, and can even end friendships! How many do you recognize? Criticizing. Making a negative evaluation of the other person’s actions or attitudes. “You brought it on yourself; you’ve got nobody else to blame for the mess you’re in,” or “Can’t you do anything right?” Name-calling. Putting down or stereotyping the other person. “You hardhats are all alike” or “What a dope!” or “Just like a woman,” or “You’re really dumb.” Diagnosing. Analyzing why a person’s behaving a certain way; playing amateur psychiatrist. “You’re just doing that to irritate me,” or “I know just what’s wrong with you,” or “ Just because you went to college, you think you’re better than I am.” Praising evaluatively. Being too nice by saying things about a person that are excessive or aren’t really true. “You’re perfect.” Or “You’re the best typist in the world,” or “I’ve never seen anything like that report—really fabulous.” Ordering. Commanding the other person to do what you want to have done. “I want you to do this report right now. Why? Because I said so!” or “Get these letters out right now and take your break later.” Threatening. Attempting to control the actions of others by warning of negative consequences. “If we don’t get along better, I’m going to tell Mr. Smith about you,” or “You’ll finish that report tonight or else!” or “Just come in late again and see what happens.” Moralizing. Telling another person what to do or “preaching” what you believe is right or proper. “You shouldn’t get a divorce; think about what will happen to the children,” or “You ought to tell him you’re sorry,” or “You can do much better than that if you try.” “Bully” questioning. Asking questions that are often conversation stoppers because the response must be a forced yes or no. “Are you sorry you did it?” or “Well, weren’t you supposed to know that before you attended the meeting?” or “You mean you didn’t take the report with you?” Unwelcome advising. Giving the person a solution to a problem even when the person didn’t ask for one. “If I were you, I’d sure tell her off!” or “That’s an easy one to solve—first you . . .” or “What you need to do is go to night school.” Diverting attention. Pushing the other person’s problems aside through distraction. “Don’t dwell on it, Sarah, let’s talk about something more pleasant,” or “You think you’ve got it bad— let me tell you what happened to me.” (Continued)
FIGURE 13—Read this passage aloud to determine your rate of speaking.


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COMMUNICATION BARRIERS—Continued Logical argumentation prematurely. Attempting to convince the other person with an appeal to factors or logic without knowing the factors involved. “Look at the facts: if you hadn’t left work early the other afternoon, we would have finished the report and Ms. Smith wouldn’t be upset,” or “By devoting 20 minutes to opening the mail in the morning and concentrating on getting all your typing done before lunch, you should be able to spend every afternoon on changing the files over.” False reassuring. Trying to stop the other person from feeling negative emotions. “Don’t worry, it’s always darkest before the dawn,” or “It will all work out okay in the end,” or “There’s no point in crying over something that you can’t do anything about.”
FIGURE 13—Continued

Volume, Pitch, and Tone
Your speaking volume is the degree of loudness. The pitch of your voice is its highness or lowness of sound. Tone communicates mood or feeling; your voice can have soft, rough, sweet, harsh, excited, bored, and many other qualities. The volume, pitch, and tone of your voice vary according to circumstances. Listen to someone who’s thrilled about something. That person’s voice has a high, louder-than-usual quality to it. Or, listen to someone giving a speech over a microphone; the tone is normally lower and richer. Some people speak so loudly that they blast the listener’s eardrums. Others speak so softly that they can hardly be heard. It’s difficult to concentrate on either type of voice. Of course, there are times when shouting and whispering are the appropriate speaking volumes. But do you shout or whisper when you speak in normal conversation? Although it’s good to maintain a moderate volume, pitch, and tone in the office, you shouldn’t take moderation too far. Speaking in a monotone voice—one that doesn’t show a change in feeling or pitch—is a quick way to put your listener to sleep. A voice with variety is more pleasant than a constant humming sound. Raise and lower your voice as you speak. This variety makes the speaker appear more interesting, and, therefore, the subject appears more interesting. Use a pleasant

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tone of voice that shows enthusiasm and warmth. Your voice represents your personality. Your speech should match the smile on your face. The telephone can bring out the worst in people’s voices. Some people who speak at a moderate volume face-to-face use the telephone like it’s a bullhorn. Others speak as if they believe the telephone wires amplify their voices. Since a significant part of your job may include answering the phone and/or making calls, you should make sure that your voice is at the right level. Ask your friends to spend time with you on the telephone and give you helpful feedback on your volume, tone, pitch and speed (Figure 14).
FIGURE 14—Speaking correctly on the telephone is just as important as speaking correctly in person.


Interpersonal Communication Skills

Enunciation and Pronunciation
In the movie My Fair Lady, the character of Eliza Doolittle repeated the phrase, “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain” over and over. Her manner of speaking made it almost impossible to understand what she was saying. After enough practice and instruction, however, she finally made herself clearer. In so doing, she learned the art of enunciation and pronunciation. Enunciation is the way you form your words when you speak. Pronunciation is how you say each syllable. To perform both properly, you have to use your lips, teeth, jaw, and tongue. It can be hard for you to tell how you sound; we’re used to our own ways of speaking and may not notice a flaw or problem. To study your voice, read out loud into a tape recorder and then play it back. How do you sound? Do you notice anything that needs work? Don’t stop there. Have someone else listen to it, too, and get his or her feedback. You may discover an accent that you didn’t realize you had! Avoid the following common mistakes in enunciation and pronunciation. • Don’t sound a silent h. heir honor heiress • Be sure to sound the h in each of these words. wharf when where which while whip whiz why honest honorable

• Distinguish between the sound of ern and ren. southern western northern eastern children brethren

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• Don’t confuse per with pre. perform persist perhaps pretend prevent prescription

• Sound the final g, but don’t hang on to it and don’t make it hard like the g in grunt. sitting playing dancing • Don’t run words together. Give me (not gimme) Saw her (not saw r) Let me (not lemme) Catch them (not ketch em) Don’t you (not doncha) Might as well (not mize well) sing ring thing

Improving Your Speech
You might look into taking a speech, communication, or acting class to improve your oral communication skills. You may even consider finding a local Toastmaster’s group ( They specialize in helping people improve their speaking abilities. You can also become more articulate by keeping your ears and eyes attuned to language. Here are a few suggestions. Listen attentively to those who speak correct, effective English. Pay attention to the oral delivery style of news announcers, national speakers, and politicians. These people have been coached and taught the elements of strong speaking skills, so pattern your speech after theirs. (However, be aware that not all announcers are perfect. You may stumble upon one who says “innernet” for Internet or “innerview” for interview.) You might also consider asking a friend, teacher, or coworker who speaks well to listen to you and make suggestions (Figure 15).


Interpersonal Communication Skills

FIGURE 15—You might consider asking someone whose opinion you respect to grade and/ or guide you in your speaking performance.

Listen to audio books. These are narrated by professional speakers. Pay close attention to the use of slang, accents, and local dialect. Picking out the differences between standard English and these styles is a good way to improve your language skills. Become good friends with your dictionary. You’ll encounter many unfamiliar words when you read or talk to others. Don’t let these new words escape your scrutiny! Look them up in the dictionary and note how they’re spelled and pronounced. Read their definitions and try to use them when possible so that they become a part of your active vocabulary. Think positively. Anytime you have to give a speech or presentation, visualize yourself giving it wonderfully. See the words flowing smoothly and your audience listening and appreciating your information. Keep up a positive internal dialogue by telling yourself, “This speech will go well,” “I’m prepared, organized, and professional,” and, “I know I’m capable of doing a good job.” By programming your brain with positive images, you effectively enhance your skills and abilities.

Interpersonal Communication Skills


Self-Check 2
1. List five barriers to effective communication.

__________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________
2. Give four ways you can improve your oral communication skills.

__________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________
3. Practice saying the following to gain accuracy and precision of pronunciation. Modulate your pitch and tone in an interesting way. a. b. c. d. e. f. g. h. i. Are our oars here? Bring me some ice, not some mice. Suddenly seaward swept the squall. He saw six long, slim, sleek, slender saplings. Amos Ames, the amiable aeronaut, aided in an aerial enterprise at the age of eighty-eight Six thick thistle sticks, six thick thistles stick. A big black bug bit a big black bear. He rejoiceth, approacheth, accepteth, ceaseth. Geese cackle, cattle low, crows caw, cocks crow.

Check your answers with those on page 37.


Interpersonal Communication Skills

Be Professional
All office personnel share the responsibility for making sure an office is professional. Not only should your office have an efficient, business-like aura about it, but so should you—at all times. While no one is perfect, doing your best at all times is expected. This means that in all of your interactions, whether it’s with coworkers, bosses or clients, you should be • Honest • Punctual • Reliable • Helpful to others • Trustworthy • Wary of gossip • Appropriately dressed • Maturely behaved

Interacting with the Office Team
An office staff is very much like a sports team. Everyone works for a common goal (winning) but has his or her own specific duties (quarterback, pitcher, forward, etc.). As an integral part of a team, you work with others to achieve the goal of a professional, successful office (Figure 16). You must be flexible, willing, and able to assume additional duties or assist other people when needed. “That’s not my job” is an expression you should eliminate from your vocabulary of phrases. Willingness to help in a pleasant and cooperative manner will earn you the high opinions of your coworkers.

Interpersonal Communication Skills


FIGURE 16—The success of any office depends on the quality of teamwork by its staff.

Of course, you shouldn’t overstep your boundaries, either. There’s a difference between pitching in and taking over. Don’t ever assume that your assistance is needed. Wait until you’re asked. The ability to cooperate and get along with other people plays a major role in success at the workplace. Your coworkers are people you have to work with despite any differences among you in personality traits, beliefs, values, and work habits. Problems with your colleagues can result in negative consequences, such as subpar work performance, more frequent absenteeism, and overall job instability. To deal with problems effectively, you’ll have to be dependable, polite, and patient. You must strive to remain above pettiness and moodiness, because the competent office professional doesn’t bring a bad mood to work. Never let your personal problems interfere with professional interactions—even if the problem happens to be with a coworker. Remember to put the objectives of your job before your personal feelings. Supervisors generally welcome input from employees. Most supervisors hold regular staff meetings so that office staff have the opportunity to get to know each other, review office


Interpersonal Communication Skills

policies and work procedures, and discuss and solve problems. Although meetings can seem tedious, try to view them as excellent opportunities to interact effectively with the other people in your office. When working with others, keep the following rules in mind: • Be sensitive to your coworkers’ feelings. • Adjust your attitude so you can cooperate with fellow employees. • Show interest in other people—but not to the point of gossiping. • Express appreciation. If someone assists you in some way, show that you’re grateful for the help. • Be courteous to everyone. • Be open to new ideas and concepts. • Keep communication lines open among all staff members. • Be honest with yourself and others. • Keep the private business revealed to you by your coworkers to yourself. • If you have a criticism of an employee, take it directly to that person rather than complaining to everyone or spreading rumors. Don’t do it in front of others, either; set a convenient, private time and place to discuss things. • When misunderstandings occur, clear them up as soon as possible. • Admit your mistakes and learn from them. • Accept constructive criticism graciously and with an open mind. • Be open to taking work problems to a mediator or objective third party if needed. • When you talk to your coworkers about a problem, remember to have a dialogue, not a debate. The goal isn’t to win but to get the issue resolved.

Interpersonal Communication Skills


Displaying Loyalty and Respect/ Working with Others
The company and people you work for are entitled to your loyalty. When you’re with friends or family, avoid making negative or derogatory remarks that could cast an unfavorable light on any of your coworkers, bosses, or company. It could damage their reputation—and yours. As a member of an office team, your coworkers expect a certain level of professionalism. It’s essential that you make a concentrated effort to treat all people you meet equally, no matter what personal feelings you have about the person’s race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and so on. It’s highly likely that you’ll interact with people of different races and cultures in your job (Figure 17). They may speak and act in ways that are completely new to you. It’s important for you to be tolerant and understanding of these differences and show respect for every person’s cultural beliefs. Remember that your behavior and mannerisms may seem odd to a member of another culture. How would you like that person to treat you?
FIGURE 17—Show respect for all people of all cultures.


Interpersonal Communication Skills

Respecting others requires you to be aware of your own beliefs and potential prejudices. Most people don’t think of themselves as prejudiced. In reality, though, every person has preconceived notions and biases. It can be hard to see our opinions as prejudices, because they seem perfectly reasonable to us. However, personal prejudices affect the way we view and treat others. For example, restaurant servers waiting on couples often place the bill in front of the man without asking who is paying. Some people still assume a doctor will be a man and a nurse will be a woman, even though both jobs are held by both genders. Stereotypes are preconceived ideas about a group of people made without taking individual differences into account. Stereotyping groups people together, assigning them the same traits and behaviors simply because they belong to a certain social group. Labeling in this way is a symptom of prejudice. Office professionals who respect individual differences and honestly care about people won’t label individuals. If you learn all you can about other cultural groups, you’ll avoid offending people who have different ethnic backgrounds. You’ll also earn their respect and confidence in return. However, what do you do if the prejudice is directed toward you? By law, employers aren’t allowed to discriminate based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, family status, handicap, or age. If you feel discriminated against, you should contact your state branch of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ( or the Canadian Commission for Labor Cooperation ( Discrimination is a very serious charge, though, so be sure of your facts before contacting authorities. Look over the list of the most common types of prejudice that follows and ask yourself: Do I subscribe to any of them? If so, make every effort you can to rid yourself of such prejudices. • Race or ethnic group • Gender • Age • Sexual orientation

Interpersonal Communication Skills


• Handicap or disability • Religious beliefs or practices • Non-English-speaking individuals • HIV-positive individuals, or those afflicted with AIDS • Weight • Marital status • Use of public assistance • National origin • Pregnancy


Interpersonal Communication Skills

Self-Check 3
1. How is stereotyping a symptom of prejudice?

__________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________
2. List at least five practices that will help you work well with others.

__________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________
3. Name at least three ways you can exhibit professionalism in the office setting.

__________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________

Interpersonal Communication Skills


Self-Check 3
Questions 4–10: Match the statement given in the left-hand column to its correct form of bias in the right-hand column. a. weight b. gender c. marital status ______ ______ ______ ______ 6. “Don’t ask her. She’s Jewish.” d. public assistance 7. “I bet she won’t even fit in her desk chair.” 8. “Did you know she’s on welfare?” 9. “Only hire married people. Singles are too unreliable.” e. non-English-speaking f. pregnancy

______ ______

4. “What does she know? She’s just a woman.” 5. “We don’t provide maternity leave here.”

g. religious beliefs

______ 10. “He can’t understand you, so say whatever you want.”

Check your answers with those on page 38.


Interpersonal Communication Skills

Self-Check 1
1. True 2. False 3. False 4. False 5. True 6. False

Answers Answers

Self-Check 2
1. Any five of the following: • Criticizing • Name-calling • Diagnosing • Praising evaluatively • Ordering • Threatening • Moralizing • “Bully” questioning • Unwelcome advising • Diverting attention • Logical argumentation prematurely • False reassuring 2. • Listen attentively to those who speak correct English. • Imitate a favorite radio or television announcer. • Listen to recordings of popular books. • Acquire the dictionary habit. 3. Self-check your answers.


Self-Check 3
1. Stereotyping unfairly groups people together and doesn’t take individual differences into account. 2. Any five of the following: • Be sensitive to your coworkers’ feelings • Adjust your attitude so you can cooperate with fellow employees. • Show interest in other people—but not to the point of gossiping. • Express appreciation. If someone assists you in some way, show that you’re grateful for the help. • Be courteous to everyone. • Be open to new ideas and concepts. • Keep communication lines open among all staff members. • Be honest with yourself and others. • Keep the private business revealed to you by your coworkers to yourself. • If you have a criticism of an employee, take it directly to that person rather than complaining to everyone or spreading rumors. Don’t do it in front of others either, but set a convenient, private time and place to discuss things. • If misunderstandings occur, clear them up as soon as possible. • Admit your mistakes and learn from them. • Accept constructive criticism graciously and with an open mind. • Be open to taking work problems to a mediator or objective third party if needed.


Self-Check Answers

• When you talk to your coworkers about a problem, remember to have a dialogue, not a debate. The goal isn’t to win but to get the issue resolved. 3. Any three of the following: • Be honest. • Be punctual. • Be reliable. • Be helpful to others. • Be trustworthy. • Avoid gossip. • Dress appropriately. • Behave maturely. 4. b 5. f 6. g 7. a 8. d 9. c 10. e

Self-Check Answers


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