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Sharpening your communication skills.

Sharpening your communication skills

Through experience, I have developed and adopted some general techniques for effective communication in the laboratory. I have also learned that to communicate effectively, a supervisor must adjust to each individual's communication style.

This involves learning to speak someone else's language. "What type of person am I dealing with," the supervisor should ask, "and how can I best get my message across to this type?" Answers to such questions may be readily available through a special survey technique. I will describe this method after quickly reviewing the following general communication rules:

* Explain your decisions. Supervisors should always tell technologists why they arrived at a decision. The staff may not like the decision but will accept it if valid reasons are given. It's wrong to slam the door abruptly: "This is the way it is because I say so." What employees hear is: "I cannot be bothered to explain, and nothing you can say would change my mind. Your opinions are of no value to me." Communication is blocked; input that could have a favorable impact on the situation is cut off; and employees are insulted and frustrated.

* Avoid ambiguity. State instructions as clearly as possible. If they are nevertheless carried out incorrectly, ask staff members what they thought you said. For all your carefulness, the instructions may have been open to more than one interpretation. Understanding this should defuse any anger you may feel. If the problem was ambiguity, admit it: "I can understand why you did that--my instructions could be taken two ways. Here's what I meant...."

* Set up regular channels. Don't assume that word will spread if you just tell one employee something all should know. I tried that approach once when an outdated procedure was deleted, and it worked only because good news (elimination of a laborious task) travels fast. On the other hand, when we instituted a new technique, the same approach failed miserably.

Now we post new techniques or changes on the bulletin board and schedule meetings to discuss the procedures and air any problems. In addition to such ad hoc sessions, regular biweekly or monthly meetings can help busy supervisors update technologists on new developments.

* Encourage constructive discussion. Supervisors are generally less receptive to technologists who say, "I have a complaint," than to those who say, "I have a suggestion." Urge staff members to present possible solutions at the same time that they call attention to problems. Remember to do this yourself in discussions with your own boss or the staff. By orienting everyone toward constructive exchanges, you also discourage chronic complainers from taking over meetings and rambling on about vague grievances.

* Provide feedback. When the solution to a problem rests in your hands, let staff members know what action you have taken. Feedback is always appreciated, and it facilitates change.

A usually overlooked communication factor is recognition of the intrinsic behavior patterns of different types of people. For example, in explaining something to a technologist, the supervisor should know whether individual needs every detail or only the bottom line.

How can the supervisor know? There are several tools available to assess an individual's communication style. One of these, based on psychologist Carl Jung's personality theories, is called "I Speak Your Language." Developed by a New York-based out-placement firm, Drake Beam Morin, it categorizes people as thinkers, feelers, sensers, or intuitors, based on their responses to a behavioral survey.

An abbreviated version of the survey is shown in Table I. It is not a substitute for the original--I present it only to give readers an idea of the assessment tool.

How might you use the information derived from this survey? Scores will tell you what an employee's dominant communication style is. In Table II, you can look up traits associated with each style. These traits should guide your efforts to communicate with different employees.

When talking to an intuitor, for example, emphasize the big picture. Develop the basic structure of a project but give this person freedom to devise an innovative approach within that structure. Set time limits, and monitor progress. Do not be demanding or overly specific, or expect action-oriented behavior. This person might enjoy a long-term project that allows ample time for creativity.

When talking to a thinker, be specific, logical, and well organized. Explain in detail how and why you want a project done. Do not try to save time by going quickly to the bottom line. Do not be aggressive, domineering, or overly emotional. This person will probably enjoy a project or problem that requires a precise, analytical approach.

When talking to a feeler, stress your need for help. Be supportive and encouraging, and recognize achievements. Do not be cold and overly demanding or expect immediate action and change. This individual is people-oriented and might enjoy projects involving lively interaction with others.

When talking to a senser, be specific and to the point. Emphasize results and the bottom line, and avoid long-winded instructions. Stress short-term rather than long-term objectives. This person might enjoy a project that can soon be completed.

SAying someone enjoys short-term projects by no means implies that he or she is incapable of long-term projects, and vice versa. Most of us are mixes of the above types, but Drake Beam Morin points out that one of the four elements of personality will become the primary communication style in each individual (some also have a strong backup style that enhances the primary style).

In our microbiology section, most of the technologists are sensers, as the survey confirmed. They go to the bottom line and make quick decisions--it's the nature of the work.

Be careful what you do with this kind of survey. Screening job applicants with it or similar uses would be inappropriate and in many instances illegal. The survey should only be used as an aid in improving communication to enhance work relationships. You may ask your employees if they would like to volunteer as participants. The survey interests most individuals, but it makes some very uncomfortable; no one should be pressured or coerced into participating or punished for not doing so.

Supervisors benefit by filling out the questionnaire themselves and learning what their communication style is. Since we communicate most effectively with those who share our style, the challenge is to communicate well with individuals who have other styles. Once we are clear about our own style, we can adapt it to fit the circumstances.

Apart from the survey, there are a number of clues that can help you determine someone's communication style: conversations, letters, and memos, for example. A person's work area and clothes also provide valuable evidence.

Intuitors are often involved in many projects, and commonly have many books around them, particularly of a theoretical nature, according to William J. Morin, Chairman of Drake Beam Morin. If they have an office of their own and paintings on the wall, the art is likely to be abstract. The office will almost always have a bookcase, and if the intuitor is an executive, there may be a conference table. Intuitors are not ordinarily fashion plates; many look like absent-minded professors.

Thinkers are likely to have orderly desks, with only their current work in sight and possibly a calculator. Their surroundings may strike a visitor as simple, sometimes sterile. Charts and graphs on the wall are signs of the thinker, as are computer printouts. Most thinkers dress in a slightly conservative manner and pay careful attention to such details as color coordination and accessories. Men tend to wear ties with geometrical patterns, women solid or tweed suits.

Along with work material, feelers have mementos, family photos, or other personal items on their desk. Their surroundings are also personalized: Plants, photos, souvenirs, and citations may be in evidence. If there are books, they are apt to be biographical or people-oriented. Of all the communication types, feelers are likeliest to have the warmest, most colorful offices. Alert to how they and others appear, feelers frequently try to make an impression by wearing casual and colorful clothing.

Sensers by and large have the most disorganized desks and offices, cluttered with half-finished projects and piles of papers. Any paintings on display are likely to depict action or motion. Sensers often seem too busy to be neat in their attire. Men typically have their jacket off, sleeves rolled up, and tie loosened. Women frequently wear loose, casual clothing with few accessories. If someone strikes you as down to earth and action-oriented, he or she is probably a senser.

Remember, successful communication depends not only on the speaker but also on the listener.
COPYRIGHT 1987 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:speaking language of audience facilitates communication
Author:Kuhn, Phyllis J.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Mar 1, 1987
Previous Article:Quality control in the new environment: lab testing near the patient.
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