04 September 2012

Interpersonal Communication Skills

The first time I ever heard the phrase Interpersonal Communication Skills was 1991, I was a young soldier in Military Police School at Ft McClellan, AL. I wish I could say that I remembered anything about the class, but I don’t. What I do remember is that the title of the block of instruction has stuck with me for 20 yrs. Here is why, there is nothing as basic as communication with other people, but so hard to master.

Fast forward 15 years or so later and I would find myself attending both the FBI Negotiations Course, as well as our local sheriff’s department’s course. I was being trained as a “talker”. During both courses the phone would ring and a student would have to answer it, on the other end would be an instructor acting out a scenario. Whoever answered the phone had to negotiate the scenario to a conclusion. Even though it was just training and you were in no danger; we all got stressed out.

Over the years I have worked on my IPC skills, and shared my skills with officers I’ve trained, or was able to talk to people that others could not. Over the next few years I had the opportunity to negotiate several times with positive outcomes.

Of all the skills everyone should possess, I find this to be one of the most important and easiest to practice. I mean we talk to people every day. You only need to be dedicated to one goal…getting your needs met. Let me explain.

We go throughout our day and interact with a wide range of people, even if we don’t necessarily work with the public. One of the best ways to apply your trade is to work on making miserable people smile. I usually do this with a funny offhand comment. Every time I accomplish this I win. I caused a stranger to interact with me, at my command, and set the tone of the interaction.

The next way to do this is by working on verbally disarming people who you anger. Here is an example, say you accidentally cut in front of someone at the grocery store and don’t realize it. As you pass you hear them say something under their breath. Respond to it with something like, “I’m sorry about that, I was not paying attention”. If you get a smile from them; you win the interaction.

When you are in a crowd, look around for “hooks”, hooks can be everything from the shared pain of waiting in line, to someone wearing a shirt with a group that you are familiar with such as a sports team or fraternal organization. Use this to strike up a conversation and see how far you can take the conversation away from the original topic. This is reeling them in, what else would you do once the hook had been set? You will be amazed at what people will tell you during one of these conversations.

One of the most important, and hardest to practice part of this skill set is to deal with angry people. It is also the most rewarding. Usually the best way to start is by talking to them in a lower voice and calm tone than they are using. Many people will feel immediately self-conscious about yelling at someone who is only talking to them.

It is time to look for your hook to reset their fuse box. If their problem is with a third party, a good tactic is to say that you understand and see what they are saying, even if you don’t, remember it is about getting your needs met. Don’t tell them to calm down; it will have the opposite result. By now you actually see them starting to take deeper breaths, this is a clue that you are on the right track. Now it is time to separate them from the source of conflict, and continue to sooth to the point you need them to be.

The last part is doing the above when you are the source of the anger. Remember, get your needs met. You need to solve the problem verbally and not physically. By doing so you will know when you have exhausted all your options, and you will get better and better at recognizing when you need to counter with aggression.

Learn to give people an out, and allow them to save face. This will defuse many interpersonal conflicts. Simply saying you are sorry, or accepting blame to get what you want is a great survival habit. Most things are not worth fighting over.

Lastly I will leave you with what I have found to be the most important principle, don’t lose your temper and don’t yell. When you yell, it says you have lost control, people yell back, and you make bad decisions. Instead, learn to talk slowly and clearly, until the time for doing so is over. At that time a loud verbal command is as good as a flash bang, to interrupt their thought process allowing you to take things to the next level when you choose to.

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