The Role of Social Skills in Communication

10th Nov 2008
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When you are in the process of communicating with someone else, or even with more than one person, you realize that your role as a speaker or a listener can quickly change. If you are the sender of a communication message and you deliver that message to the receiver, more than likely you will not turn around and walk away, terminating the communication process. The receiver is likely to instantly process and interpret your message, react and respond to your message, and then become the sender of a new communication message. You now become the receiver in this process.

If there are several listeners who are waiting to become the speaker, there may even be competition for the next opportunity to step into the speaker's role. Many business authors advocate the use of emotional intelligence as the answer to handling complex relational interactions. I believe that your ability to get along with others relies more upon your social intelligence, rather than your emotional intelligence, because social intelligence is focused strictly on how you deal with people.

Social intelligence is not something you need to consider in every communication or every situation; however, it can be used for important communications at work. I have read a lot of research on the subject of social intelligence and it is generally classified into four categories:

Presence: This is the presence that others see or the image that you project to others.

Authenticity: This is the degree of integrity and honesty perceived when others are communicating with you.

Clarity: This is your ability to speak clearly.

Empathy: This is your ability to relate to the other person while you are communicating.

I would also like to expand on this research and give you a checklist, so that you have a set of reminders for the next time you have an important communication, whether at work or at home:

Image: What image do you want to project? Do you remember the different types of work relationships that we talked about in prior articles? There is employee-to-employee, employee-to-customer, and employee-to-manager relationships. If you are working with a customer, it is a good reminder that as you communicate you are representing more than yourself; you are also representing your organization.

Credibility: It is very difficult to earn credibility and very easy to lose. I have heard it said that on an average, it takes five positive interactions to overcome one negative interaction. This means that credibility is built one interaction at a time. Where credibility matters the most is at work, with your manager, with your co-workers, and with your customers. It is important for those people that you work with and interact with to be able to trust you and to know that they can rely upon your word. Most organizations rely upon the combined results of all employees, meaning that the job that you do, no matter how small or unimportant that you believe it may be, there is someone else who relies upon what you do and is trusting upon your credibility to get their own work done.

Context: What is the situation surrounding the communication that you are going to have or will need to conduct? Are there special circumstances? Do you need to conduct research? Do you need to make special accommodations? This should all be part of planning for your important communications.

Neutrality & Tone: When entering a communication, especially one where you have had time to think and plan for it ahead of time, it is natural to have your speech planned and timed. You know what you want to say and you become emotionally invested. At the time of the communication, you find that you are no longer neutral and have become very emotional. That is a very natural reaction. It is also important to remind yourself that one of your objects is to remain neutral and to set a neutral tone. If you are a manager and you are conducting a performance probation matter, this technique may not apply; however, for a general feedback matter this would be an applicable tool.

Expressiveness: Once you begin to communicate with someone, think about the way that you are communicating verbally and non-verbally. You may have the best speech prepared but have the worst posture and be tapping your pencil, telling the receiver that you really aren't interested and whatever you say may not be taken seriously.

Open-mindedness: This is very difficult to do in communication, especially when you have prepared yourself in advance for the communication and what you want to accomplish. The reason that being open-minded is important is that the other person has needs, expectations, and more importantly, they may have additional information and ideas that could add to, change, or alter your plans and possibly improve upon your original plan. By remaining open-minded, you leave yourself open to new possibilities and in the process, you would collaborate with someone and build a new working relationship or strengthen an existing working relationship.

Connection: The most important aspect in any communication is your ability to build a connection with the person or persons you are speaking with, whether your role is that of a speaker or a receiver. Choose words that are appropriate to the person or audience, try to find ways to reach common ground even if it means that the only thing you have in common is getting the job done for the good of the organization. There are times when you and another co-worker are not going to like each other and there is no way to resolve it, not even with manager intervention, and the only common ground is the fact that you have to work together and you have to meet your department goals. That is your connection and it is a form of politeness and respect for your employer, which is all part of social intelligence.

Your ability to interact with and communicate effectively and efficiently with people, whether as a sender of communication message or as the receiver of a message, relies upon your social intelligence. Your social intelligence consists of your image, credibility, the context of the communication, your ability to remain neutral, the tone of your message, your ability to be expressive and open-minded, and more importantly, your ability to connect with the person or persons you are communicating with, whether your role is the sender, receiver, or both. Social intelligence is an important indicator of communication effectiveness as it addresses your ability to deal with people. In order to be socially intelligent, it is important to prepare in advance for important communications, in order to come across as being natural and relaxed at the process.

Bruce A. Johnson, MBA, M.S. Ed.

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