In the introduction of his book, Bridges, not Walls, Stewart(1995) makes the observation, "The longer I study and teach interpersonal communication, the more I'm struck by how much the person I am today is a function of the relationships I've experienced." (p.3)
This same realization is proved in the author's life as she worked for Thrift Nickel TN, a want-ad paper. She worked first in composition, then as office manger, then in sales. The owners skills in leadership, management, sales, and effective communication were superior. As one analyzes the communication effectiveness found in the organizational environments of business, home, and community; the example of the TN owners will be used.
O'Hair, Friedrich, and Shaver(1995) identified six key components of effective communication skills:
1. Creative insight is the ability to ask the right questions.
2. Sensitivity means (a person) practices the golden rule.
3. Vision means being able to create the future.
4. Versatility is the capacity for anticipating change.
5. Focus is required to implement change.
6. Patience allows...people to live in the long term. (Tubbs, 1998, pp. 205)
The first skill is that of creative insight One of the owners of TN, not only was creative in his training and work procedures, he had that rare talent of making you feel that when you spoke to him that every facet of your life was exactly what he wanted to hear. He was never known to gossip, and he always asked the questions that would tend to open you up and help you come to the correct resolution of your problem.
"Questions are just that-a way to seek additional information from the speaker. Often a person makes inaccurate assumptions about what you already know or neglects to provide important details. Since he is familiar with his subject, it is difficult for him to make wise choices about what to communicate. Your questions let him know how your background compares with his. They provide an opportunity for you to receive clarification on points that seem vague or ambiguous. They prevent you from making inaccurate assumptions when you try to put together incomplete information."
Stewart then discusses the importance of perception checks, responses to avoid, constructive feedback, and then he ends with the skills associated with listening. All these are important to the role of creative insight and how it applies to communication. (Stewart, 1995, pp. 178-184)
The second skill, sensitivity, means that a person practices the golden rule. This is essential to good communication because of the simple fact that communication is not one-way.
Communication involves much more than merely the sending of a message. David Berlo(1993) introduced the notion that communication is a dynamic, interactive process. As such, he said, "If we accept the concept of process, we view events and relationships as dynamic, ongoing, ever-changing, continuous. The ingredients within a process interact; each affects all of the others..."(Golhaber, 1993, pp. 128).
This view of communication coincides with the golden rule. At TN, each employee from the top to the bottom was treated the same. Both owners took care to treat every individual with the same respect, whether it was a four dollar customer or a weekly full-pager, each client, as well as each employee was treated with worth.
Vision means being able to create the future. Vision as the third component is one that is more difficult to define or develop. The SOAR Peak Performance model defines vision in a leader as:
"Leadership is making what you believe in...happen. Every country's legacy has many examples of courageous men and women who have made what they believed in happen under extremely challenging conditions. These men and women saw the need for action, believed in what they were doing, inspired others and, in spite of incredible odds, changed the world. This is the essence of leadership. These men and women sought leadership roles and accepted the responsibilities that were part of those roles. Doing so is a leader's duty: to take what you believe in, something that flows out of your core values, and make it happen. (Blanchard, 1996, pp. 91-92)
When you read of such vision, such leadership, it seems that this is a gift, bestowed upon only a few that we denote as natural leaders. This is how the owners of TN appeared, as if they were both just naturally endowed with their communication and leadership skills. Is this true? In many cases it appears so, but the SOAR model states:
Effective performance rarely happens by accident. Effective performance is the result of predictable, planned actions that can be learned and applied by almost anyone in any organization anywhere. This is the good news. The even better news is that these planned actions are now being used by many forward- looking managers throughout the world. They are effectively using new management methods and techniques-and you can too. (Blanchard, 1996, p.92)
Obvious now are the positive-thinking seminars, the planning meetings
, the weekly personal inventories, the talk-tapes, and so forth, that were required by the TN owners for their employees. They understood the above principles and were trying to help their employees to learn vision.
The fourth communication skill is versatility; which is the capacity for anticipating change. Using a systems-level criterion, TN should be evaluated on priorities, goals, and functions. "Acknowledging that every system has multiple functions and also exists within an environment that provides unpredictable inputs, a system's effectiveness can be defined as its capacity to survive, adapt, maintain itself, and grow...(Lazarus, 1980, p. 231). This is in effect versatility.
Bennis(1962) combines many facets of effectiveness criteria and introduces these ideas in relation to the traditional methods of evaluating the output and satisfaction at a certain point in time. He uses a more general concept of "health":
"If we view organizations as adaptive, problem solving, organic structures, then inferences about effectiveness have to be made, not from static measures of output, though these may be helpful, but on the basis of the processes through which the organization approaches problems. In other words, no single measurement of organizational efficiency or satisfaction-no single time slice of organizational performance-can provide valid indicators of organizational health. (Bennis, 1962, p. 273)
Therefore, using the "basis of the processes through which the organization approaches problems," TN would be a model of effective communication. The buzz word teams had not entered he business world, nor had synergistic decisionmaking, but the owners of TN understood both concepts and applied them. Whenever there was a conflict of any kind, both sides left feeling as though they had been the winners. To accomplish this, great versatility was needed.
The fifth communication skill O'Hair, Friedrich, and Shaver identified was focus. Focus is required to implement change.
"Successful managers give meaning and relevance to the tasks people perform. They provide focus and direction, assuring successful completion of tasks. The durability of a manager's excellence is demonstrated through the sustained high performance of the organizational unit managed. This commitment is achieved by keeping the right focus, keeping it simple, being action oriented, and building task importance." (Blanchard, 1996, p. 453)
"There are at least three steps in the diagnostic process for those managers who are interested in implementing change, they are: point of view, identification of problem(s), and analysis. (Blanchard, 1996, pp. 460-467)
Of the diagnostic tools, the Force Field Analysis is perhaps the tool that was used the most by TN. It also is an excellent tool for personal decisions as well as professional.
Force field analysis, a technique developed by Kurt Lewin, assumes that in any situation there are both driving and restraining forces that influence any change that may occur.
Driving forces are those forces affecting a situation that are pushing in a particular direction; they tend to initiate a change and keep it going. In terms of improving productivity in a work group, encouragement from a supervisor, incentive earnings, and competition may be examples of driving forces.
Restraining forces are forces acting to restrain or decrease the driving forces. Apathy, hostility, and poor maintenance of equipment may be examples of restraining forces against increased production, (Blanchard, 1996, p. 463).
The last skill is that of patience which allows people to live in the long term. This is by far the hardest communication skill to develop. "Patience, though a virtue of restraint, has the effect of energizing students. Inquiry, growth, and learning flourish under low pressure.
Concepts and ideas are difficult to plant in our intellectual garden. They have erratic, individualized growing circles, and harvesting is always under the student's control. Yet I found this simple lesson difficult to learn. Patience is not readily acquired... Impatience comes more easily." (Stewart, 1995, p. 490)
Are not employees as students, and their supervisors, teachers? The owners of TN must have realized their role. Hence, the perspective to help change those under them, but to do so in such a way as to allow change and not force it. Patience.
There are no proposed recommendations for this company. Perhaps time has eroded the errors of the past, but it is believed that this company was indeed a model example of communication effectiveness. Many years have passed, many courses have been taken, other roles and employment have transpired, but none have come close to the excellence this small business attained.
In conclusion, the following has been observed. The more that is learned about effective communication, the more aware a person becomes that life's triumphs, both personal and professional, are because of the communication skills and techniques gleaned through positive mentoring relationships and continued daily application.
Bennis, W.G. Toward a truly scientific management: The concept of organizational health. General System Yearbook, 1962, 7, 269-282.
Blanchard, K.H., Hersey, P., Johnson, D.E. (1996). Management of Organizational Behavior. Upper Sadddle River, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Goldhaber, G.M. (1993). Organizational Communication. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Lazarus, R.S. (1980). Organizational Psychology.
Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall,Inc.
Stewart, J. (1995). Bridges not Walls. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Tubbs, S.L. (1998). Small Group Interaction. New York: McGraw-Hill.