Over the past several weeks, I have had a variety of conversations with people about the significance of effective communications in the workplace. From workshop experiences to consulting interactions to just causal conversations, it appears people are very interested in understanding how communications works, why it turns bad so quickly, and what can be done to improve office communications. Individuals keep saying to me that poor communications prevents them from being able to effectively do the job they were hired to do.
During a recent lunch with a friend with whom I have co-facilitated a number of times, we began discussing this seemingly growing concern about communications. She too has seen this issue surfacing in almost all of her workshops. We began to share stories and resources that we use to address the concerns.
This caused me to think of a recent e-mail that was sent to me by another co-worker. The e-mail quote was from an older resource by Carl Rogers. I want to share that quote because it relates so well to the discussions I have been experiencing. It goes like this;
"When I am at my best, as a group facilitator or as a therapist, I discover another characteristic. I find that when I am closest to my inner, intuitive self, when I am somehow in touch with the unknown in me, when perhaps I am in a slightly altered state of consciousness, then whatever I do seems to be full of healing. Then, simply my presence is releasing and helpful to the other. There is nothing I can do to force this experience, but when I can relax and be close to the transcendental core of me, then I may behave in strange and impulsive ways in the relationship, ways that I cannot justify rationally, which have nothing to do with my thought processes. But these strange behaviors turn out to be right, in some odd way: it seems that my inner spirit has reached out and touched the inner spirit of the other. Our relationship transcends itself and becomes a part of something larger. Profound growth and healing and energy are present.“ Carl Rogers, "A way of being“ 1980, p.129
This quote speaks to the need of really connecting with another to begin understanding that person. It also speaks to the need to be “present’ with the other person. I find this kind of connecting by being present with another individual to be missing in most work environments today. Instead, I find people so busy being busy that they are not even conscious that they are not communicating. Then, add to this lack of consciousness, the fact that we are relying so much on electronic methods of communicating to increase our ability to get more done, and I wonder how we even communicate at all. We do not structure our lives and our interactions in ways to enhance our communication, which seems to be so vital to the workplace and being effective in our jobs.
In my conversation with my co-facilitator friend, I shared the work of Roger Schwarz in his resource, The Skilled Facilitator. In that book, he describes some ground rules that I have found to be very helpful when facilitating groups. I have discovered in my own experience that when I work hard at practicing these grounds rules, I experience some of what Carl Rogers described in the quote above. I believe I have shared the ground rules before, but once again here are the ground rules that Roger Schwarz has identified for working with groups;
- Test assumptions and inferences
- Share all relevant information
- Use specific examples and agree on what important words mean
- Explain your reasoning and intent
- Focus on interests, not positions
- Combine advocacy and inquiry
- Jointly design next steps and ways to test disagreements
- Discuss undiscussable issues
- Use a decision-making rule that generates the degree of commitment needed
If communication is so vital to being productive in the workplace, then maybe we need to begin practicing these grounds rules when we interact with others. Perhaps then we will be present and experience the connection we need to effectively communicate with others.
Until next time, study these ground rules, read Schwarz’s book, and practice vital communications with others.