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People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts Paperback – June 6, 1986

ISBN-13: 978-0671622480 ISBN-10: 067162248X

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (June 6, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067162248X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671622480
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,190 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Robert Bolton, Ph.D., is president of Ridge Consultants in Cazenovia, New York, a firm that specializes in improving human performance in industry, health care, education, and government. His staff has taught communication skills to thousands of managers, salespersons, first-line supervisors, secretaries, customer-relations personnel, teachers, members of the clergy, health-care workers, couples, and others.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

CHAPTER ONE

Skills for Bridging the Interpersonal Gap

I wish I had some way to make a bridge from man to man...Man is all we've got.

Cross Daman in Richard Wright's Outsider

COMMUNICATION: HUMANITY'S SUPREME ACHIEVEMENT

When one person communicates to another through the medium of language something takes place between them that is found nowhere else in nature. This ability to turn meaningless grunts into spoken and written words constitutes humanity's most important distinction. Language has made possible the development of those characteristics that differentiate Homo sapiens from all other creatures. No wonder the German philosopher Karl Jaspers claims, "Man's supreme achievement in the world is communication from personality to personality."

THE INEFFECTIVENESS OF MOST COMMUNICATION

Although interpersonal communication is humanity's greatest accomplishment, the average person does not communicate well. One of the ironies of modern civilization is that, though mechanical means of communication have been developed beyond the wildest flight of the imagination, people often find it difficult to communicate face-to-face. In this age of technological marvels we can bounce messages off the moon and land space probes on Mars, but we find it difficult to relate to those we love.

I have become increasingly aware of the inadequacy of most communication. In our society it is rare for persons to share what really matters -- the tender, shy, reluctant feelings, the sensitive, fragile, intense disclosures. It is equally rare for persons to listen intently enough to really understand what another is saying. Sometimes people fix their gaze on a friend who is talking and allow their minds to wander off to other matters. Sometimes, while the friend speaks, they pretend to listen but are merely marking time, formulating what they will say as soon as they discover a way to begin talking. Nathan Miller caustically remarked that "conversation in the United States is a competitive exercise in which the first person to draw a breath is declared the listener."

Ineffective communication causes an interpersonal gap that is experienced in all facets of life and in all sectors of society. Loneliness, family problems, vocational incompetence and dissatisfaction, psychological stress, physical illness, and even death result when communication breaks down. In addition to the personal frustration and the heartache resulting from it, the interpersonal gap is now one of the major social problems of our troubled society.

THE ACHE OF LONELINESS

Many people today yearn for warm, positive, meaningful relatedness to others, but seem unable to experience it. The psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan put it this way:

The deepest problem of people is loneliness, isolation, and difficulty of self-esteem in our society. Whereas the problem in Freud's early decades was sexual repression, and the chief problem in the early thirties, when Karen Homey wrote, was disguised hostility, today it is loneliness.

There are two kinds of aloneness. Solitude can be a creative, joyous, full aloneness. But loneliness is a painful, dead, empty aloneness. Loneliness is being acutely aware of one's isolation and alienation from others. As David Riesman pointed out, when one is not vitally in touch with oneself or others, loneliness can occur even in the midst of a crowd.

"Loneliness" -- the sound of the word conveys some of the heartache associated with it. Try saying the word aloud several times in a sorrowful voice: "Loneliness...loneliness...loneliness..." The very word has a melancholy ring to it. It represents much pain for many people.

Several reasons have been given for the increased ache of loneliness in modern times. Materialism (finding one's solace in things rather than in people), the mobility of people, uprootedness of families and the bureaucratic structure of organizations -- these are just a few. I am convinced that another major cause of this interpersonal gap, and the one that may be easiest to rectify, is inadequate methods of interpersonal communication.

SO MUCH LOST LOVE

Unfortunately, the most intense loneliness today is often found in the family where communication is breaking down or is in a shambles. Marriage, the most complicated of human relationships, cannot flourish without effective communication. Couples hoping to establish an enriching marriage often lack the needed relational skills and end up living parallel lives in a marriage without intimacy. The often-quoted words of the poet T. S. Eliot describe what may be a typical family:

Two people who know they do not understand each other, Breeding children whom they do not understand And who will never understand them.

Proximity without intimacy is inevitably destructive. When communication is blocked, love's energy turns to resentment and hostility. Frequent bickering, withering sarcasm, repetitious criticism, or an icy retreat into silence and sexual unresponsiveness result. One woman, after describing her family's dysfunctional patterns of communication said, "I live in a psychological slum, not a home."

As most parents can attest, it is no easy thing to raise children today. Virginia Satir, a leader in the family therapy field, writes:

Parents teach in the toughest school in the world -- The School for Making People. You are the board of education, the principal, the classroom teacher, and the janitor....You are expected to be experts on all subjects pertaining to life and living....There are few schools to train you for your job, and there is no general agreement on the curriculum. You have to make it up yourself. Your school has no holidays, no vacations, no unions, no automatic promotions or pay raises. You are on duty or at least on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for at least 18 years for each child you have. Besides that, you have to contend with an administration that has two leaders or bosses, whichever the case may be -- and you know the traps two bosses can get into with each other. Within this context you carry on your people-making. I regard this as the hardest, most complicated, anxiety-ridden, sweat and blood producing job in the world.

Healthy communication is vitally important in raising a family. For couples who have competence in communication skills, parenthood can be one of the most rewarding and joyous experiences of their lifetime. When parents have not mastered skills for accurate, congruent communication, the resulting anguish, alienation, and loneliness for parents and children alike can be devastating.

Readers of Ann Landers's advice column were shocked when they read that 70 percent of the people responding to her survey said they were sorry they had children. Though her sample was not a true cross-section of the population, and though Landers admitted that readers with negative feelings had a stronger compulsion to respond than those with positive feelings, there was considerable evidence to support her survey's general results. Dr. Harcharan Sehdev, Director of the Children's Division of the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas, said, "The Landers letters appear to reflect the general changing trends and opinions of family systems and the place of children in our homes and society."

Communication is the lifeblood of every relationship. When open, clear, sensitive communication takes place, the relationship is nurtured. When communication is guarded, hostile, or ineffective, the relationship falters. When the communication flow is largely obstructed, the relationship quickly deteriorates and ultimately dies. Where communication skills are lacking, there is so much lost love -- between spouses, lovers, friends, parents and children. For satisfying relationships, it is essential to discover methods that will help us to at least partially bridge the interpersonal gaps that separate us from others.

A KEY TO SUCCESS AT WORK

Eighty percent of the people who fail at work do so for one reason: they do not relate well to other people. One's productivity as a supervisor or manager, nurse or secretary, mental health worker or janitor, laborer, attorney, physician, clerk, or minister is greatly enhanced by the ability to communicate well. In fact, it is difficult to think of a single job in which communication is unimportant.

A mechanical engineer mused, "I thought my engineering training was all I would need. But I spend most of my time on people problems." A teacher commented, "I was educated to be a physics teacher. Since I've been in the classroom, I discovered I teach people. I spend most of my energy trying to restore order. Why didn't my graduate program help me with this?" Communication skills are clearly keys to on-the-job success.

A LIFE-OR-DEATH MATTER

Most human interaction is for better or for worse. Each moment with another person can be an opportunity for discovery and growth or for the erosion of identity and the destruction of one's personhood. Our personality development and mental and physical health are linked to the caliber of our communication. One does not become fully human without interaction with other human beings. Indeed, the philosopher Martin Heidegger refers to language as "the dwelling place of being."

People need people. As the title of one book had it, "You can't be human alone." Each person matures through enhancing dialogues with others. In The Mystery of Being, Gabriel Marcel observes, "When somebody's presence does really make itself felt, it can refresh my inner being; it reveals me to myself, it makes me feel more fully myself than I should be if I were not exposed to its impact."

Conversely, lack of communication or frequent exposure to poor communication diminishes one's selfhood both emotionally and physically. Many believe that mental illness is primarily a problem of inadequate communication. The psychologically sick individual has not achieved good human rel...

More About the Author

Robert Bolton, Ph.D., is president of Ridge Consultants in Cazenovia, New York, a firm that specializes in improving human performance in industry, health care, education, and government. His staff has taught communication skills to thousands of managers, salespersons, first-line supervisors, secretaries, customer-relations personnel, teachers, members of the clergy, health-care workers, couples, and others.

Customer Reviews

A very well written and interesting book!
Clyde Said It
I have read the book "People Skills" by Jim Bolton again, to further improve my ability to communicate with people, and be more of a support to them.
Peter Pullar
This book is a great reference and is still on my book shelf.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

156 of 163 people found the following review helpful By Shannon Gaw on December 14, 2003
Format: Paperback
"People Skills" is a primer on interacting with others. Bolton's premise is that our communication patterns are inherently faulty and he urges the reader adopt his framework to remedy. He presents - in order - listening skills, assertion skills, conflict-resolution skills, and collaborative problem solving skills, with each building upon the others. He blends keen insight into human nature, concepts of psychology and basic Judeo-Christian values into what appears to be a very effective methodology. The skills seem obvious, but in practice are rarely used, and in fact are rather uncomfortable when trying to start using.
I found Bolton's framework very valuable and thus far see its application can profoundly improve my own people skills in both a business and parental setting. Unfortunately, like most books of this type, the text is extremely verbose. Bolton possesses a style that is much less dry and wordy than many of his peers - in fact, I find it difficult to finish most of these types of books - but the ideas plus examples could have been distilled down to one-half the length of the 300 pages. The text is also very well referenced and footnoted, but - as a lay reader - I think the constant crediting other psychologists and philosophers confuse and muddy the message. This could be a book that one could return to periodically to refresh their skills, but its length will prevent the less diligent. I found myself taking detailed notes on each chapter for later referral; while a testament to the material, I wish the author had made it easier to digest.
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137 of 145 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
I have gone through the other reviews and I disagree with the criticism a few of them show. I have so far read over 30 books on people-communications skills and relationships, and I believe this is one of the best. It is unique in its approach, ethical, very easy to read and, more importantly, it works. It absolutely works. I was pleasantly surprised for the results when applying the techniques. It is one of those books you read and re-read. Interacting with others successfully is one of the most difficult, yet rewarding aspects of life. I honestly think this book, if taken seriously, can dramatically improve that interaction. I have only endorsed five books in Amazon.com (Being an avid reader, I have bought and read about 120 during the last three years), and this is one of them.
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96 of 102 people found the following review helpful By Easy Writer on July 31, 2006
Format: Paperback
Most books give you 2-3 really good nuggets of insight, hidden in a dry prairie of "heard-it-all-before." Such is the case with People Skills. Most of the content is obvious - have a pleasant demeanor when listening, reflect what you've heard, and so on. Not very insightful.

However I did walk away with a few insights. For instance, as you're reading this review, you may be thinking "Do I agree with this reviewer?" That's the first barrier to effective communication. We all have biases, we all filter what we hear to fit our biases, and we need to learn to turn off that filter - at least momentarily - and truly listen to what others are saying, without judging it too quickly. That insight alone made this book a worthwhile read.

There are other insights, supported by interesting research, especially in the early parts of the book. Later parts of the book begin to feel cumbersome, especially the entire section on negotiating conflict, which is based on a multi-step process that can easily be capsized if the person you're confronting is uncooperative.

Overall - good book, a couple good insights, but over-long and toward the end becomes less practical.
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64 of 70 people found the following review helpful By D. Grendahl on August 18, 2002
Format: Paperback
I have more books than I can count on all of my appendages regarding communication & relationships. I use them all, but this one book has pulled it all togther for me showing me that my problem really boils down to my not being 'assertive.' I grew up in a religous family and was taught that I must always take care of others before myself...that anger was bad, etc. I now 'see' it clearly for what it is and health is now coming back to my being. I've purchased two of these books and use one to loan out to others. If I thought it would do any good, I'd get one for each member of my family, but the saying holds true, "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink." Too bad.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 28, 1999
Format: Paperback
If the skills described in the book were truly applied in life, the world would be a much better place to live! What amazes me the most, is the author's ability to convey techniques as to how to handle difficult people and manage difficult situations: no manipulations are implied; only an earnest approach to ascertain the other person's feelings in order to overcome differencies and difficulties while establishing a positive relationship.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Beatrice Parker on May 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
People Skills is a book that I wish I had read as a young person starting out in life. The concepts and skills that are taught in this book have made a big difference in my life, even though I did not learn the skills until later in my career. (People Skills is the basis for a wonderful workshop - Leadership Communication Skills - that I attended as a mid-career adult.) I highly recommend this excellent book to anyone who is interested in improving relationships and increasing job performance.
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