Interpersonal communication may be the most important thing we need to know. I teach the subject in my community, publish the e-newsletter Water Cooler Diplomat and maintain a communication blog.
Sample newsletters appear below:
Water Cooler Diplomat: Your Inside Guide to Courteous Communication
In This Issue:
Putting It in Writing
Successful communication isn't taught in any school--but it may be the most important thing you need to know. For your weekly communication tips, see below:
Thank those who are kind to you. Do it loudly. Do it often.
Your parents may have taught you that, when others are kind to you, they need to be thanked. Acknowledgment of another's good deeds can be public and loud, or written and sent--but it must be done.
Remember birthdays. You can find "birthday books" at any decent stationery store. When a friend, acquaintance or coworker mentions his birthday (or anniversary, etc), write it down.
Keep a box of pretty all-occasion cards. Friends and coworkers will be thrilled that you remembered and sent a card. They'll feel good, you'll feel good. Try it!
Write Condolence Letters
Number-one worst fact about life: People die. When they do, they're missed. What can you do to comfort friends and family of the recently deceased? Lots of things--but, at the very least: write.
Condolence letters need not be long, elaborate, or literary enough for publication. They need only be written. If sincerely, briefly, and with a favorite recollection, all the better.
As the wise and wonderful Judith Martin ("Miss Manners") pointed out in her Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, avoiding this task will just make you feel awkward later, when you run into the person you meant to write to, but didn't. (She's right. I know.)
By the way, don't email your message; write it (by hand, unless your writing is very difficult to read, or you have a disability that makes hand writing impossible). You can't know how much it might mean to a friend, former friend or even an acquaintance that you took the time to offer a word of comfort.
Putting It in Writing
A professional etiquette consultant once told me that if someone spends more than fifteen minutes doing something for you, that person deserves a written thank-you. How true!
Even if the person's efforts took less time, but are appreciated, let him or her know. A written thank-you takes only a few minutes to write, but the recipient will remember it for a long time after. It's worth your effort.
Some people feel self-conscious about their writing skills. Please don't worry about this. All you need do is write sincerely. You don't have to say anything more than, "I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate the way you resolved [such-and-such] problem for me. You were professional, kind and effective. I plan to continue to shop at [your establishment] for a long time." Of course, a note to a superior about especially courteous or conscientious service will probably be appreciated even more.
A thank-you note will also help you stand out from the crowd because, sadly, not many people take the time to write them anymore. Email is definitely better than nothing, but a written note carries that much more weight.
A note on notes: Choose blank paper or cards, rather than those imprinted with the words "thank you." Classic etiquette holds that pre-printed sentiment is lazy. It is, however, better to use a pre-printed card than not to write at all.
Sample newsletter no. 2:
Water Cooler Diplomat: Your inside guide to courteous communication May, 2008 Issue No. 6
In This Issue: Pinpointing the Problem
How often do people wind up arguing back and forth, chasing endless tangents, becoming-and making one another-angry, without coming close to solving the problem at hand? Answer: often!
Pinpointing the problem-agreeing about what it is that needs to be solved-will help you focus your attention and arrive at a course, or several possible courses, of action.
How do you do this? Three easy steps:
1) Define the problem. Sounds too simple for words, right? Yet, in virtually any argument you can think of, whether between loved ones or work mates, chances are this crucial step got overlooked.
Clearly state the nature of the conflict or difficulty. Let us say you feel as if your immediate supervisor is hovering. You might say, "The problem, as I see it, is that I feel over-supervised." You can also go on to support your argument, calmly and with similarly non-judgmental language.
Let's take a look again at your opening statement. "The problem..." (Good. You've stated your intention to define it, rather than talk around it) "...as I see it..." (Excellent! No one can fault you for stating what is simply your point of view. You have left the door open for others to "see" the situation differently. Very open minded of you.)
Finally, you accuse no one (at least, not directly). You merely discuss your feelings. "I statements" ("I feel," "I think") are nothing new. Psychologists and family counselors have advised their use for decades. That's because they work.
Contrast our sample statement above with what might be your first inclination: "Roberta keeps standing over me. It's driving me crazy! Do I have to be watched like a child?"
That kind of statement puts others on the defensive--and doesn't make you look good, either. It presents you neither as a team player nor a diplomat. Our sample speech might, at worst, come off as slightly new-agey or phony-but it will also mark you as tactful and in control of your emotions; two traits valued in business and in life. In other words, you'll be branded a winner. Pretty good for one short sentence!
Now That You've Agreed on What the Problem Is
2) Find out whether all (or both) of you agree that it's a problem. Seek out the other parties' opinions. However, don't expect your conversation mates to behave as tactfully as you do. Not everyone knows better than to shout, whine, accuse and excuse. Don't worry, though. You'll still look great. Probably even more so by comparison.
Once You've Done This
3) It's time for a solution! Tactfully propose your own, and listen to the suggestions of others.
"Brainstorming," whereby each participant proposes solutions rapidly, without judgment on anyone's part, can help a lot. It's also important to keep judgment to a minimum when discussing the merits (or lack of same) for each proposed solution. Try not to decide right away whether a suggestion is workable. Think instead in terms of:
Its good points
Its negative points
Its neutral points
Let us say we're working on solving the conflict mentioned above, between the worker and supervisor. Imagine that one proposed solution involves the employee turning the tables and watching her supervisor like the storied hawk.
What are some potential benefits offered by that sample solution? Hmm. . .
It might make the employee feel better.
It could help Roberta see how others interpret her management style.
It would cost nothing to implement.
Roberta's charge might, perhaps, feel valued within the company and therefore become less eager to look for a new position, et cetera.
Such an arrangement might waste company time
. . .Disrupt other employees. . .
. . . And benefit no one, particularly.
Plus, Roberta would probably feel resentful as all get-out.
The proposed solution's neutral points:
It is a possible course of action.
It will not involve many employees.
In future issues, we'll talk about how to listen actively and effectively. See you then.
Water Cooler Diplomat is a publication of the Lowe Co.
For questions, comments or topic proposals: cklowe(at)earthlink.net
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