Enjoying Your Work
Richard Brislin

Social skills can improve
through hard work

IN RECENT WEEKS, I have discussed various social skills that can assist people in achieving their workplace goals.

These include encouraging participative decision-making, showing respect for others, listening carefully, reacting to criticism without becoming defensive, and making others feel valued in the workplace.

Any of these social skills can be improved if people are willing to put in the necessary time and effort.

Improving the problematic habits of a lifetime, such as not listening carefully to people, will not change easily. Such habits can be as strong as those that lead to overeating, smoking, the avoidance of exercise and the misuse of alcohol.

Formal programs for social skills development offered by counselors and professional trainers often have five components. These are information on the rationale for skill improvement, modeling, practice of new behaviors, feedback from others and transfer of training from the practice site to people's actual lives.

Even if people don't have access to formal programs, they can borrow aspects of these five components and can apply them in self-directed efforts for skill improvement.

We'll examine the social skill of listening carefully to others and showing respect when others contribute to workplace discussions.

If people want to improve their social skills, they usually are aware of good rationales for their efforts. Socially skilled people are sought out for interactions in the workplace. Because of these interactions, they find out important information about developments that can help them contribute to company goals. Promotions and salary increases can follow.

For the second component-- modeling -- people can try to identify individuals who seem to possess the desired skills and then make efforts to identify exactly what these others do. For example, these socially skilled models might direct all their attention at people who speak up at meetings. They have facial expressions that demonstrate interest. They do not engage in behaviors such as slouching in their seats, staring out the window, or looking at their watches.

Then, people interested in skill development should practice the behaviors they have identified. They can practice at meetings associated with their church membership, youth sports, if they help with their children's teams, and volunteer work in their communities.

The fourth component may be the hardest: seeking feedback. They have to tell friends that they want to make certain changes and need to be told whether they are being successful or not. They might tell friends, "I want to be seen as paying careful attention when others speak during meetings. I'll admit that in the past I would show boredom if a speaker was saying things that everyone already knew. If you think my mind is wandering at this meeting, please give me a kick under the table!"

In the final component, people bring the new skills they have been practicing back into the workplace. They show enthusiasm at their organizations meetings and listen carefully when others make contributions. Occasionally, they should compliment people who make especially good points. If people are conscientious about their new behavior, these will eventually become their well-practiced habits. In the past, people may have had the habit of looking out the window during meetings. Now, their new socially skilled habit is to give their full attention to others when they speak and make contributions.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

The purpose of this column is to increase understanding of human behavior as it has an impact on the workplace. Given the amount of time people spend at work, job satisfaction should ideally be high and it should contribute to general life happiness. Enjoyment can increase as people learn more about workplace psychology, communication, and group influences.

Richard Brislin is a professor in the College of Business Administration, University of Hawaii. He can be reached through the College Relations Office: cro@cba.hawaii.edu

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