Detailed Description

The Subtle Art of Connecting Micro-Skills for Building Good Relationships At Work

The Harris Poll of 27,000 workers in key positions suggests that only 15 per cent of employees work in a high trust environment. Only 17 per cent felt their organization fosters open communication that results in new and better ideas. Why are communication problems at work so widespread?

Communications and work relationship experts Sharon Bronstein MSW & Alan Caplan MA have designed a dynamic, experiential workshop that will explore the often unnoticed interactions at work which define the quality of relationship and cooperation at the work place. Through engaging role plays and illustrated scene enactments, participants will be exposed to some of the more common dynamics that undermine trust-building. Relevant research by John Gottman into the nature of creating connection in relationship will shed further light on this important issue (Gottman). Finally, participants will be offered insights into how hidden blocks may be transformed into more encouraging cues that inspire others to build trust and connection. The most essential micro skills will be modeled, and participants will have the opportunity to try them out with one another so they develop a felt sense of how they are communicating the messages that we all know people at work want to receive: messages that they are cared for, appreciated, trusted and needed.

Today, more than ever before, the potential for mis-communication is greater. In a multi-tasking world that includes laptops, Blackberries, and constant emails, people can’t always provide undivided attention to one another. The boom of technology constantly plays as third party to our conversations, creating numerous unintentional misunderstandings.

The following situation illustrates these dynamics:

Janet, a HR representative for an insurance company, went out for a drink after work with George, a respected member of the marketing team for the same company. In the course of their chat, Janet complained about their manager, Kevin, whom she assumed was not fond of her. She was bothered by the fact that, when she asked Kevin how his weekend had been, he didn’t respond and began answering his email. She wasn’t sure if he hadn’t heard her or he thought she was being nosey. When George heard this, he went on to talk about how he was thinking of moving to another company because Kevin wasn’t open to hearing about his fabulous new idea on sales productivity that he had been researching and developing for the last month. Janet wondered how she could survive without George at work and began to ask details about the new company.

Kevin probably would have been surprised by these reactions because he was a conscientious manager who had read extensively about good employee relations. He was well-organised and efficient, but he simply was not aware of the non-verbal messages he was giving out. As hard as he tried, he had a vague feeling that he was not respected, but he had no idea why. He had no awareness that he was missing his employees’ cues, both verbal and non-verbal. His responses to these cues were giving his employees the message that he doesn’t like them and that he is not interested in their ideas. Kevin was unaware that he could improve his communication dramatically if he were able to respond effectively to cues.

So much of communication trickles out through our bodies, in spite of the appearance we may emulate or the desired effect we may strive to achieve. Tone, posture, timing, even some slight nuance of gesture that conveys a double message – all this can have a dramatic impact on how we are being received. A manager can ask his employee to, “have the report ready by Tuesday” and it can sound like an insult, a demand or a kindness, depending on the above-outlined factors. In workplaces where there are frequent time constraints and deadlines, it is especially easy to be unaware of the hidden influences affecting our interactions. Renowned psychologist,  Albert Mehrabian, claims that 93 percent of the emotional impact of a message comes from nonverbal sources whereas only seven per cent is verbal. (Ronald, Rolls, & Towne)

In this workshop we will focus on the interactive skills that determine the degree of connection between people. There will be 3 main areas of focus:

1. Responses to cues that encourage people
2. Double messages and confusing responses
3. Conscious responses that create synergy and inspire employee motivation

Discussion of case studies and stories will introduce these areas, followed by interactive explorations of actual situations.

Bidding Exchanges: Responding to others’ cues

John GottmanPHD researched relationships and micro-communication by videotaping 5,000 hours of people in conflict, while hooked up to heart and skin temperature monitors and blood pressure machines (Gottman). The videotapes were analyzed for non-verbal and verbal cues as well as physiological vital signs such as rising blood pressure and sweaty palms, as communication became more contentious.

As a result of distilling this massive amount of data, Gottman came up with a set of descriptive terms to define behaviour. Gottman calls the smallest measure of communication possible a “bid.” Furthermore, a bid can be described as “any single expression that says I want to feel connected to you.” A response to a bid is just that – “a positive or negative response to somebody’s request for emotional connection.” (Gottman). Relationships, he maintains, are developed one encounter at a time, each exchange containing emotional information that can strengthen or weaken connections between people. The most fundamental implications of this exchange process can determine the success or failure of any relationship. The most basic factors of human social need – to be included, have a sense of control over our lives, and be liked – all are played out daily at work, often with little awareness of the implications.

The reason Kevin, the manager at the insurance company, was at risk of losing good employees, was that he was unaware that he was receiving bids. And, even if he did recognize them, he didn’t know how to respond effectively. The good news is that this can be taught quite simply. First, one learns to recognize when a bid is being extended; then one develops an awareness of the various options for response and their probable impact. As obvious as this may seem, it takes awareness and skill to develop this ability. Because we are often so busy and preoccupied with getting “results” at work, we may miss the nuances of these exchanges.
Gottman recommends that people actually start to track their encounters to develop more sensitivity to this micro-skill ( Gottman). Once Kevin recognizes that Janet is asking him about his weekend because she is offering a bid, he will be able to respond in a way that she will feel satisfied. Janet will want to work harder for him because she feels he cares and she has a relationship with him. Also, when Kevin realizes that George is offering him a bid by sharing his sales idea, Kevin can then convey to George that he values his idea and appreciates the time he has invested in preparing this research. Studies show that people who turn towards one another in this way form more productive work teams with higher morale (Gottman,).

Non-verbal messages and mixed or soft messages

Kevin will also need to become aware of his body language, tone and other hidden aspects of his non-verbal communication. He may not have appreciated how turning to his computer when Janet was asking about his weekend may have seemed like a priority in terms of getting things done, but it also was part of a social interaction that could determine the degree of future commitment and engagement of a valuable employee. To illustrate this further, we will ask participants to pair up and explore some of these dynamics through playful, interactive role plays. We’ll ask then to practice “turning away” offers, then sending and receiving double messages.

Because we convey more than what comes out of our mouths or computers, we may not be aware of the non-verbal cues which are being played out every day. This often has a profound effect on morale.

Supportive responses that will create synergy

We’ll close the session with an exercise in which participants pair up and experiment with receptivity to bids. When we are “turning towards” bids we  offer the message of acknowledgment and amplify what is being offered by the other. When Kevin hears George’s idea about sales, he can respond so George not only feels heard but supported. George’s ideas will be advanced further and enhanced as a result of Kevin’s response. A new synergy will be formed between George and Kevin, enhancing further involvement, as well as commitment and exchange.

A few micro-skills, well-orchestrated, can go a long way towards productive management that will create strong, effective team work in any organization.

“Leadership: The art of getting someone to do something you want done because that person wants to do it.”

– Dwight D. Eisenhower