Communication Skills

Group participation requires effective communication skills

Communication in a social or group setting is quite different from communication in the classroom where the focus mainly on reading and writing skills. When listening to a lecture, your main interest is the content of the lecture and how it is structured. You are should be alert for the professor’s body language and tone of voice to know what he or she considers most important, and therefore is most likely to include on a test.

In organizations and in many jobs, the two most important skills are careful listening and effective speaking skills.

If you are to be an effective part of a group, you need to learn as much as possible about the other members . You need to talk to them and listen carefully to what they say.

Empathy is an important part of careful listening

Daniel Goleman, in his excellent book, Working with Emotional Intelligence, 1998, describes empathy as “an awareness of others’ feelings, needs and concerns.”  He divides this into five categories: .

1. Understanding others
2. Developing others: Sensing others’ developing needs and bostering their abilities
3. (In jobs that involve customer service) anticipate, recognize, and meet customers’ needs
4. Leveraging diversity: cultivating opportunities through dilfferent kinds of people
5. Political awareness: reading a group’s emotional currents and power relationships

As part of an organization you should listen to people to understand their concerns and interests, and their reasons for participating. Here, you may often be less intereted in what they say and more interested what this tells you about them. It is important to be aware of their emotions and body language. You also want to learn who their friends are, who they admire in the group, and who they don’t like. You need to be aware of their complaints and what they like about the group.

I will try to illustrate these in terms of a college organization.

Understanding Others

You need to understand the members of the group. This includes their concerns, their interest, and their reasons for participating in the group. While it is important to hear WHAT they say, you also need to pay close attention to HOW they say it. Be aware of body language and emotions. Watch who they sit with and talk to. Be aware of their complaints. Find out who they admire most in the group. Whose advice do they take?

Developing Others

As you get to know others in the group, you can get some ideas of what they need to participate more effectively. They may need someone to really listen to them. They may need encouragement to share good ideas with the group. They may develop stronger skills if given a job they can do well. You might suggest they volunteer for a job, telling them they’d be good at it. You might nomimate them in an election. They will remember and appreciate what you did. A good leader always encourages peeople and helps them to grow and improve.

Unless your group works with customers, in some way, the third point doesn’t seem to be relevant.

Leveraging Diversity

There are or should be different kinds of people in your organization. Your members may be diverse racially, ethnically, from different parts of the country, studying in different departments, and having skills of many different kinds. As you get to know people, you need to understand how their situations, knowledge and skills can be helpful in your group. If you want to publicize a group event, members with writing skills should get involved in preparing an article for the town or college newspaper. Those with artistic skills should be asked to help with posters. Those with computer skills might get the word out through facebook or a college website.

You not only get the best work done this way, you also honor people by recognizing, using, and appreciating the skills they bring to the group.

In discussions, it helps to begin with a wide variety of opinions. If only one perspective has been shared, encourage people that you know have a different perspecitve, to join the conversation.

Political Awareness

This area has nothing at all to do with national politics or how you voite. This is about the political relationships within the group. This is the area I find most intriguing. I know a woman who was the head or an important organization. Many people commented on how amazing her political skills were. If she wanted a certain job done, she knew exactly who to talk to and who the people were that could others excited about the project.

You might also describe this as “group dynamics. ” As you talk to people who have been part of the group for a long time, ask about the people in the group. What are the strong points of the group leadership? Who else is especially important in the group. Who has the greatest influence. If you wanted to get something done, who would be the people to talk to?

Observe discussions. Who in the group do the members respect and agree with. Some organizations have small groups that tend to disagree or fight about everything. You’d want to have friends in each group but should not join one side or the other.

Observe who gets people organized when there is work to be done and who assign tasks. These may be the people with the greatest influence. Try to understand just what they do and how they do it. Could you learn some of these skills?

Speaking Skills are also important

IL’m sure you have noticed that the people in your organization with the most power or influence are usually good public speakers. They are confident and stand up and give their opinions in persuasive ways. They inspire you or get you excited about a project.

Take a class in public speaking

If you are not an effective public speaker, begin by taking a class. If your school doesn’t offer a class in public speaking, or if you cannot fit it into your schedule, check to see if their is a Toastmasters Group in your area. Check out for information and to locate the nearest group.

Either this organization or a class will give you opportunities to try your skills in public speaking. If there are other opportunities to speak in public, take advantage of them. The more experience you get, the more you will learn and the more you will relax and enjoy the experience.

Present an opinion in your group

My suggestion, if you want to present your opinion  in your organization or elsewhere is to organize what you are going to say. For a very brief statement, you should have:

1. A brief statement of what you want to say.

For example, “We all know about the tornado and the damage il did in Middletown. I think our group should do something to help.”

2. Statements usually sound best in three, four or at most, five parts.

For example:  “I’ve been thinking about this. We might have a fundraiser, perhaps a carwash to raise money to help those who lost their homes.  We might collect pillows and blankets for the people living in shelters.  We might go and help search for missing pets and organize a way to help people reconnect with their pets.”

3. A way to finish your statement.

For example: “Do any of you have other suggestions?”

This, obviously, isn’t a speech, but it is a public statement. It’s hard to be more specific without knowing what organization you chose to join.

If you are in a photography club, your group might volunteer to take new family photos for those who have lost all their family pictures in the tornado.

If you are part of the school newspaper, you might find out if any students at your school had families whose homes were damaged, and interview the student and their family. This story might include suggestions for how other students could contribute or help out.

If you are part of a religious group, you might want to check the churches that were damaged and ask how you might be helpful to them.

Learn from others in your group

Finally, watch carefully as others speak in your group. Observe who the most effective speakers are. Are they effective because they have something particulary important to say, or is it their speaking skills that make the difference? Continue to ask yourself what you can learn from watching and listening to others.

And in learning to listen with empathy and learning to speak effectively, you are learning skills you will find helpful for the rest of your life.

Links:             Team Building           Conflict Resolution          Leadership Skills


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