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Words at work Let’s begin at the workplace. Communication skills are essential when working in groups, dealing with others in positions of authority, and expressing ideas so that people listen. The HR Manager of a leading local oil conglomerate tells us on the promise of anonymity: “There are three things that work against women at workplaces here in Qatar. One is a factor exclusive to the region: women insist on segregation. As long as that continues, there is little chance of them climbing the rung. The other two factors are: They giggle when they are uncomfortable and cry when they are upset. They cannot communicate a point effectively. I am not saying that they are not efficient. In fact, the women workforce in my organisation is far more productive than the men. But beyond that they are reluctant to develop themselves.” Now before we raise a hue and cry, and cry blue murder, take a moment and think. What he says is true in part or in whole for most of us. We often complain that we are ignored and disregarded, or that our comments aren’t taken seriously. Most people believe this is a result of passive communication, but being assertive alone won’t solve the problem. To succeed, we need to understand why we are ignored, and then learn how to effectively deal with it. Wondering why we chose communication as an issue? Here is why. At a recent Woman Today photo shoot at Royal Plaza, we decided to approach some of the shoppers for an impromptu modelling session. While some of us (women, we are sorry to say) hemmed and hawed our requests and swallowed snubs with a giggle, our male colleagues (whom we like to describe as ‘cocky’ and ‘over-confident’) managed to get entire families to join in. Try and analyse your office dynamics, to see if what studies around the world reveal are really true, and if our experience matches yours. Do your male colleagues respond more confidently and quickly, speak more freely and spontaneously?
Interpersonal Communication Exercise
This is an exercise conceived by well known international motivational and inspirational speaker Kevin Hogan. “Do you ever feel uncomfortable communicating with people in “one-on-one” setting? If so, you will benefit from the following exercises which are designed to help ease discomfort in one-on-one situations,” says Hogan. “Please ask a friend to help you.” Silence: Sit across from your partner at a distance of 18-48 inches. For two minutes you must both sit in silence. You must look at your partner for the entire two minute period. You succeed in this exercise if you are able to keep your eyes on your partner for the entire two minutes. It is not important if your partner maintains eye contact with you. It is only important that you look the entire two minutes at the other person’s face or eyes without moving your glance to anything else. Closure: Sit across from your partner at a distance of 18-48 inches. You will ask your partner to look at various objects or locations in the room until you have asked your partner to look at a total of 20 objects. After your partner looks at each of these objects, you will say, “thank you.” Once your partner has looked at twenty objects, your partner will tell you that you have successfully accomplished this exercise designed to teach you to close cycles of communication. Instigation Deflection: Sit across from your partner at a distance of 18-48 inches. In this exercise, you will sit and listen to your partner attempt to harm you emotionally with his words. He has two minutes to go on a verbal rampage against you. He can say anything he wants, using any tone of voice he wants. His objective is to get you to argue or disagree with him. You successfully accomplish this exercise if you remain silent during the entire two minute time period and maintain eye or face contact without looking away. If you laugh or talk, you must start over. At the end of the two minutes, thank your partner and make sure he knows that this was your exercise and that you know what he said was designed by you, to help you. He meant no harm. You asked him to do this exercise to help you deflect the verbal abuses of others. Answer my question: Sit between 18 and 48 inches across from your partner. Ask them a specific question. “Do dogs meow?”
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By Vani Sar aswathi ave you ever been part of a group discussion, and ended up feeling like a silent spectator? Sat in on a brainstorming session at work and warmed your seat admirably? Lack of ideas? No. Your head was spinning with them, you had opinions to voice, suggestions to make... but the words lay buried deep in your throat. And it is not just at work. You go for a party, walk into a room full of strangers at worst, acquaintances at best; You seek refuge in one corner of the room, or in a huge group of people, hoping fervently that someone would take the first step and get you started in a conversation. Small talk? That’s an art too. To strike a conversation with a stranger, comment about a dress, talk about the holidays, enquire about revamp at work. And at home, with your husband? You skim over real issues, speak peripherally about the day’s routine, and avoid discusnovember 2005 22
Unless you try to do something beyond what you already mastered, you will never grow. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
sions of any real value, as you don’t know how to sound right – not too aggressive, and definitely not a doormat. Communication... As much the key to a successful career as it is to a successful relationship. If only there was a magic wand we could wave, or a spell we could cast, to get the words flowing. More importantly, to get people listening to what you have to say. While women are considered the big talkers, when it comes down to direct communication we tie ourselves up in knots, with allusions, hints, metaphors and concocted examples. We need to take a reality check on our WomenSpeak (WT, Oct 2005). Both at work and at home, we need to hone our communication skills. It is amazing how what we are at home is often a reflection of what we are professionally too. And vice versa. Be it our organisation skills, time management, or financial planning.
You are going to say, “thank you,” when your partner answers you with “no.” However the partner can choose not to respond, change the subject or ask you the question back instead of answering your question with a no. Your partner may do this four times for each of these four questions. He must give you a straight “no” answer on or before the fifth time you ask, “do dogs meow.” You succeed if you only say, “Do dogs meow?” after each non-responsive answer and when you say “thank you” to the correct answer to the question. The other three questions are these: * “Are mailmen all women?” * “Do birds eat sharks?” * “Can you walk on water?” The correct answer to all the questions is “no,” and you must eventually elicit a no response from your partner. You may only use the words in the original question. This is how you succeed. No time limit is necessary, but each question should take no more than two minutes. The purpose of this exercise is to teach you to remain focused on the goal of your communication and your ability to ask the same question after it has been ignored or a new direction has been taken by your partner. When these exercises are completed, have your partner express his or her true feelings about you, to you. If anything he said still has you upset, make certain you discuss this with your partner. These exercises teach you to communicate and maintain your composure easily and effectively in difficult situations.
Kevin Hogan has trained persuasion, sales and marketing skills to leaders in the government of Poland, employees from Boeing, Microsoft, Pillsbury, Carlson Companies, Fortis Insurance, the State of Minnesota, 3M, The United States Postal Service and numerous other Fortune 500 companies. He is the author of twelve books, including, The Science of Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion and Irresistible Attraction.
Do the women in your office generally wait to speak, formulating answers before expressing them. And as a result are they interrupted more often? Because, when they pause and hesitate, they are devaluing their answers, however brilliant their observations. When you are sure about an answer or confident about a point, don’t be apologetic. Be straight. Don’t ‘question-mark’ your opinions. Try “This window display has no theme and is rather jarring” versus “I think, maybe, the window display can be a little different.” With the first, some serious changes would be made in the display before you finally approve. With the second, one mannequin’s (of the 10) wig would be changed from blond to brunette, and you would be pasting a pseudo-smile on
your face and nodding vehemently. Don’t take it to heart While you want your opinions to be heard and your suggestions to be heeded, you should also be prepared to debate your point, argue, and take some flak. A comment on your suggestion is not a slight against you as a person/colleague/ woman. So don’t take it personally. And women do tend to do this far more than men. If someone gets in your face and insults you, just stay calm. Let them yell and scream while you sit calmly and wait until they are finished. Then you can say, “Yes, maybe I did mess up. Let’s check it to find out.” This usually stops whoever is being nasty because they do not expect a reaction like this. It is then easier to handle from there. If you are wrong, apologise, but don’t become effusive and grovel over it. Get the apology over with quickly, and seek a solution.Don’t shout, don’t whisper. And do address them by name... remembering someone’s name makes them more open to a conversation, and addressing them by their name opens up an immediate connection. Body language Body language is the most important part of your message, and has the maximum impact. So don’t be timid... coyness is hardly becoming in a professional scenario. You are not trying to get into the Principal’s Honours List by being sweet, unpretentious and unassuming! But, an aggressive and smile-less face is hardly the solution. Smile often, be the first to extend your hand, maintain eye contact (but don’t stare unblinking into the other’s eyes). Women smile more than men. Why? Since childhood, we have been taught not only to mask our negative feelings but to “let a smile be our umbrella.” And most women have learned this lesson too well. On the plus side, a smile is an asset. However, smiling at inappropriate times – especially when it conflicts with your tone of voice or the words being
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Love is blind, not mute!
You fell in love looking into each other’s eyes, comfortable that words will never be needed. Then you wake up one day, married and sharing a roof, and realise that there is only so much of ‘looking into each other’s eyes’ that can be done in a day. You choke on your words, and either spit it out rudely or swallow it meekly. Why aren’t the words flowing? Why isn’t it easy to talk? Communicating effectively takes practice and a great deal of effort. Without communication, it is nearly impossible to resolve conflicts or grow your partnership. Whether you are in a troubled marriage, simply seeing the value of a “tune-up”, or seeking marriage help, here are some useful tips, from the Institute of Equality in Marriage, for communicating effectively within a marriage. Realise that no one “wins” an argument. If you don’t leave a discussion with a possible solution to the problem, then neither party has been successful. Compromise is an essential tool to solving problems through communication. Before bringing up a problem, make sure you have thought of ways that you can help solve it by mutual compromise. Try to be positive when bringing up sensitive marital problems. Instead of jumping right into a discussion, open by acknowledging that every partnership could be improved and you’d like to take some time and discuss the things that are working in your relationship and the areas that could use improvement. It helps to start by talking about positive things and then moving into the problem areas. Be a “reflective” listener and make sure you understand what your partner has said. “What I hear you saying is...” is a great way to make sure the proper message has been received. If an argument gets heated and irrational, it is better to postpone the discussion to a time and place where effective communication can
spoken – can work against you by sending a mixed message. After researching women’s smiling behaviour for more than a decade, Audrey Nelson-Schneider, an American communications consultant (Americans do a lot more studies and research than the rest of us put together!), concludes that inappropriate smiling is the most common example of the way women’s nonverbal behaviour discounts their verbal messages. “When we are angry or we are trying to sell something, we want to be taken seriously,” she says. “But then we smile.” Inappropriate smiling can make us appear weak and unassertive or be misinterpreted as a sign of flirtatiousness. Some women also have a habit of laughing at inappropriate times – when they are nervous, are introduced to someone and aren’t sure what to say, or when they end their statements. But like smiling, giggling can make you appear silly and girlish. How can you avoid becoming a victim of what Nelson-Schneider calls the “Howdy Doody Syndrome?” Monitor yourself for nervous grinning and giggling and learn to keep a poker
face in business situations, such as serious meetings and negotiations, where a smile may do you more harm than good. Watch out for other small gestures that may make you appear submissive, such as tilting your head to one side. Many of us do this without even realising it; yet, it reinforces the cute little girl look – particularly when we’re talking to men. And when accompanied by a question, the head tilt says you’re indecisive. Head bobbing, usually done when listening, is another distracting habit. It can be particularly dangerous, since it indicates that you agree with what someone is saying, even when you may not. And when you’re talking to a man who is taller than you, try to resist the urge to bend your head back or tilt it to one side. Instead, casually take a few steps backward until your gaze is level with his. This establishes you as more of a peer, rather than a subordinate. When there’s a discrepancy between verbal language and body language, your body language is believed every time. Don’t discredit yourself by using body language that distracts or discounts your words
happen. Make sure your body language, facial expressions and vocal tone are in line with your message. One study showed that 55 percent of the emotional meaning of what you say is expressed by your facial expression. While only 7 percent of the emotional meaning is verbal. Be honest, direct and focus on the real issue. If you enter a conversation insecure about making your point – you probably won’t make it. If you can’t come up with a definitive solution, at least try to end the conversation on a positive note like “I think it’s good we’ve both shared our feelings and we’ll continue to talk about it and come up with a better solution.”
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Don’t ever be rude or talk down to your partner in a discussion about your relationship. Don’t dismiss an idea or thought as absurd, but instead listen to your partner’s point and then react with the reasons you disagree in a respectful manner. Stay on track. If you sit down to talk about a financial problem and suddenly other emotional issues are coming up, realise that you may need to focus on one area at a time in order to create solutions instead of mere bickering. Recognise when you need outside help to communicate effectively. A counsellor or marriage retreat may help solve what seems to be an impossible communication problem.
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