Oral Communication Introduction

Communication is of critical importance in construction. Poor communication is the root cause of many problems in the industry. Poor communication can impact safety, production, quality, cost, schedule, and all other aspects of a job. Thus, it is important to work to continuously improve communication skills, both oral and written.

This chapter will begin by and exploring its critical nature. It will then focus on , considering barriers to , and the means to overcome the barriers. Some techniques will be provided to improve . Since listening plays a major part in , active listening will be discussed. Finally, two topics heavily dependent upon will be addressed: customer relations and negotiating.

DEFINING COMMUNICATION

Communication can be defined as:

Communication: The process of passing information and understanding from one person to another.
It is well understood that the process of communication is passing information from one person to another. More importantly, the purpose of communication is

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to pass understanding. Without understanding, the communication process is incomplete. Incorrectly understanding the message is also a cause of breakdown of communication. The focus of the definition of communication is passing understanding, not just information.


Communication is an essential part of construction. Three characteristics of construction communication help in understanding its importance. Communication in construction is critical, time-consuming, and pervasive. Each of these is explored below.

Critical

It has been determined that two-thirds of all errors at the construction job site are due either directly or indirectly to communication. Take a few minutes to think of instances from your experience when a communication breakdown has caused an error. These errors take many forms. Installation might not be correct, because of the fact that directions were not given correctly, not heard correctly, or not understood correctly. Accidents often happen on the construction site because of garbled communication. Production is impeded because a message was not received, resulting in lack of required resources: tools, materials, or workers at the workface. Claims or back charges are assessed because proper notification was not provided. These are just a few examples of how communications problems can affect a job. They illustrate that breakdowns in communication often cause minor irritations, but also can result in major ramifications throughout any construction project.

Time-Consuming

Supervisors generally spend 60% to 90% of their time communicating. As stated in Chapter 2, a major difference between the craft worker and the supervisor is that supervisors work primarily with people rather than the tools of their craft to accomplish their tasks. Instead of producing work directly, with their own hands, supervisors direct the work of others and accomplish their work objectives through others. They coordinate the contributions to the project of many different entities, including subcontractors, suppliers, designers, and even the owner. They design, implement, and monitor construction processes. All of this is accomplished through communication. On the job site, in the context of supervision, most of this communication is oral.

Proper communication requires time. Ideas must be organized and then appropriate words selected to effectively convey the ideas. It takes time to choose the

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proper words to communicate the technical message required, within the context of the other party’s knowledge, culture, and language skills.

Advances in technology have both helped and hindered communication. Communication devices are ubiquitous. If something is needed right now, it can be summoned by telephone (generally a cell phone that is immediately available), by walkie-talkie, by texting, or by many other means. This is convenient but has led to inefficiencies. It tends to minimize the emphasis on pre-planning since, if something is overlooked, it can be solicited immediately. It also tends to be disruptive to the person on the other end of the communication. When I contact someone at my convenience, it is highly likely that they will be distracted from the activity in which they are engaged.

Pervasive

Communication plays a part in virtually everything the supervisor does. Whether the supervisor is directing the work of a crew, evaluating the performance of workers, developing documentation, asking for clarifications, or providing answers to questions, it involves communication.

One of the key functions of the supervisor is to serve as the link between the worker and the rest of the world. Information the worker gets comes primarily through the supervisor. This information could be from the designer, another contractor, or the company office. Information the rest of the world needs about the work is communicated through the supervisor. Such information may be needed by the company office, other contractors involved in the project, material suppliers, or the project owner. All of this information, whether going to the crew or coming from the workface, passes through the supervisor.

Because of the fundamental importance of communication to the work of the construction supervisor, it can be concluded that time and effort spent in honing communication skills is well invested. The rest of this chapter focuses on oral communication. The next chapter deals with written communication and documentation.

IMPROVING ONE-ON-ONE ORAL COMMUNICATION SKILLS

Oral communication, at best, is not very effective. Studies have shown that when people are attentive, they absorb about 50% of what they hear. After a week, people remember only about 20% of what they initially absorbed. So after a week, 90% of what a person hears is lost.

However, oral communication is essential. It is quicker than written communication. In addition, since many people do not have a high level of reading comprehension or a high level of writing skill, oral communication is more efficient. It is simply impractical to write everything out.

Oral communication is a skill, and as a skill, it can be improved with training and practice. One way to improve oral communication is to recognize barriers to

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effective oral communication and to develop the means to overcome those barriers. The barriers can be overcome by removing them or by mitigating their effects so that they do not negatively impact the communication.

Barriers to Effective Oral Communication

It is the responsibility of the sender of a message to identify any barriers and to deal with those barriers. The sender knows when a message is being sent. The sender knows the intent of the message. So, only the sender can recognize when a message has not been properly received. Thus, when communicating, the sender must check to make sure that the message was received and that the message received was the message intended to be received.

When there is a barrier that could potentially obstruct the communication, the sender must identify the barrier, then evaluate the barrier to determine if the communication can take place. If it is determined that the communication may be impaired, action must be taken to remove the barrier or mitigate its effects. After the communication is complete, the sender must ensure that the correct message was received and understood.

Three types of barriers to effective communication will be addressed:

Physical barriers

Sender barriers

Listener barriers

Physical Barriers

Physical barriers occur when something in the physical environment obstructs the message. There are many ways theenvironment can keep the message from getting through. Three examples are:

Noise

A hearing impairment

Distractions

Construction, by nature, is noisy. There are many tools that cause noise. There is often noisy equipment operating in the vicinity. Construction activities, such as hammering or shoveling, cause noise. If these are going on in the vicinity of the communication, the first remedy might be to mitigate the problem by speaking more loudly and clearly. The next remedy might be to relocate to a quieter place, thus removing noise as a barrier. A third alternative is to write out the message. Although it is effective, writing is time-consuming and cumbersome and may not be an appropriate remedy.

A consequence of the noisy nature of construction is that hearing in construction workers is often impaired. This is especially true of older workers who began their careers at a time when noise abatement was not practiced in construction and whose hearing tends to be deteriorating with age. If a hearing impairment is

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identified, the mitigations identified above for a noisy environment might be considered. A quiet place might be sought for the communication or a written message may be used.

A longer-term mitigation for a person who is hard of hearing might be to procure a hearing aid. Hearing aids are very effective, but carry with them their own set of problems, such as amplifying background noise.

For those with hearing impairments, it is particularly important to speak directly to the listener. Comprehension of an oral message is often enhanced if the listener can see the speaker’s lips, facial expressions, and gestures. People with a severe hearing impairment might have developed lip-reading skills, and whereas a noisy environment might cause a problem for an oral communicator with good hearing, it may cause no problem at all for a skilled lip reader.

Distractions are abundant on construction sites. Most construction workers enjoy being on a work site and can be distracted by interesting operations taking place nearby. Distractions could also come from off the job site, such as when an interesting person walks by or a fancy car passes by. Simple distractions can often be overcome by maintaining eye contact, which will generally draw a similar response from the listener. Another simple mitigation might be to reorient the position of the speaker and the listener so that the distraction is behind the listener. If this is not enough to keep the listener’s attention, then perhaps the conversation needs to be relocated into a less distracting environment.

Sender Barriers

With a sender barrier, either the content of the message is flawed or the means of transmission is flawed. Content problems could be the result of missing content or inappropriate language. Transmission barriers could be the result of physical impairments or the sender’s level of capability in oral communication.

An incomplete message may be the result of the speaker assuming more knowledge of the subject than the listener has, or it may be the result of careless preparation of the message, resulting in something being left out. This problem of missing information can often be eliminated by better preparation, more thoroughly thinking about the message prior to sending it, and formulating a more complete message.

The problem of inappropriate language might be the result of the words that are employed being unfamiliar. This could be a language problem arising between communicators from different regions, in which case, the speaker or the listener might need to learn some of the other’s familiar language structure and words. It could also be a problem with the use of technical language or jargon. This is not often a problem when people from the same technical discipline are talking, but as the technical background of those engaged in the conversation diverges, it becomes more of a problem. The speaker should always watch the listener to try to identify when terminology may be puzzling. If the speaker anticipates that a problem in technical comprehension might arise, the speaker could request that the listener ask about any terms not understood. Speakers should also work to avoid technical jargon, especially when talking with someone from outside the technical area.

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Problems with words might also arise with the use of culturally inappropriate or offensive language. Supervisors should always conduct themselves in a professional manner, working to avoid inflammatory or inappropriate language. Much more will be said of this in Chapter 6, but suffice it to say that there are appropriate ways to get a strong message across and inappropriate ways. Inappropriate ways are counterproductive and should be avoided. Sometimes inappropriate language creeps into a conversation. When that occurs, the speaker should apologize, move on, and learn from the experience, and the listener should accept the apology and also move on.

Problems with the means of transmission could result from the speaker having a physical impediment or simply never learning how to speak effectively. Physical impediments can often be treated either medically or with speech therapy. Not knowing how to speak effectively can be overcome through training and practice. Effective speaking techniques, such as proper formulation of a message and the use of gestures, facial expressions, and voice inflections, can be learned through classes. Since oral communication plays such a key part in the supervisor’s role, improvements in speaking are always to be encouraged.

Sender barriers are often difficult to detect, since they originate with the speaker. A speaker should always scrutinize his or her own oral communications to try to identify when a problem arises and what that problem is. Once identified, sender barriers are generally not difficult to correct because the problem originates from the speaker, and the speaker controls the situation. The key to eliminating sender barriers is timely detection of a problem.

Listener Barriers

Listener barriers are often the most difficult to identify and to correct. With a listener barrier, the listener’s ability to receive the message is impaired because of something that resides within him or her.

The listener may be inattentive. This may be the result of a distraction for which the remedies are similar to those described for a noisy environment. The inattention may come from a lack of interest, in which case it is important that the sender determine how to regain or enhance the interest of the listener. The listener may have a physical or emotional problem. Inattention may be the result of not sleeping at night or the listener may have problems outside the context of the work site. Such difficulties as family problems or financial problems can often distract workers while at their job. If the supervisor detects such physical or emotional problems in a worker for whom he or she has responsibility, the worker should be referred to an appropriate counselor. These types of problems imperil important areas such as safety, quality, and productivity and need to be addressed by a professional.

On the other hand, the listener’s mind may just be wandering back to an entertaining event the previous evening, or to the approach of lunch, or any of a myriad of other distractions. When this situation is detected, the speaker could simply pause until the listener’s attention returns, or ask the listener to be more attentive.

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Another type of listener barrier occurs when the listener tends to jump to conclusions. Often the conclusion to which the listener jumps is not the correct one. If this is the barrier, the listener has to be asked to withhold conclusions until the communication is complete.

Sometimes listeners simply reject the message as contrary to experience or their beliefs. The listener’s response might be, “That is not the way we did it at my last job,” or, “That is not the way I was taught to do it.” Supervisors should encourage workers to think creatively and come up with alternatives, where appropriate, but they also need to be able to stop the discussion at some point, make a decision, and move forward with the support of the workers.

Listener barriers are often the most difficult to deal with. They are usually easier to detect than sender barriers but more tricky for the supervisor to mitigate or remove because they often become personal. The objective is to overcome listener barriers without offending or alienating the worker. Initiative and creativity are very important, and every effort must be made not to discourage these valuable contributions.

Other Barriers

There are many other barriers to oral communication. With an increasingly diverse construction workforce, speakers with different native tongues or accents can often present a problem. In this case, the speaker must speak more slowly and clearly, must use simple, common words, and perhaps learn key words and expressions in the listener’s language.

Culture may cause distractions. The physical distance between speaker and listener varies greatly from culture to culture. How forceful or how direct the message can be varies significantly in different cultures. The amount of eye contact allowable can vary from culture to culture, and even touching may be acceptable in some cultures and totally wrong in other cultures. When workers from a different culture become the responsibility of a supervisor, it is wise for that supervisor to learn a bit about the culture, especially in terms of acceptable and unacceptable characteristics of communication.

TECHNIQUES FOR IMPROVING THE EFFECTIVENESS OF ORAL COMMUNICATION

Four techniques have been demonstrated to be particularly useful in improving oral communication. These techniques are:

Repetition

Tell-back

Feedback

Follow-up

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Repetition

Repetition differs a bit depending on whether the speaker is speaking to a group in a formal setting or speaking to an individual or a small group in an informal situation. For a formal presentation, a speech should be organized with an introduction that tells the audience what is going to be presented, then the body of the presentation in which the speaker relates the message with as much detail as appropriate, and finally a conclusion with a summary that reviews the key points of what was presented. This process prepares the audience, then provides the information, then repeats important points to help improve retention.

In a one-on-one situation, repetition is used to reinforce the message in such a way that the important elements are less likely to be forgotten. The speaker should present the message. He or she should then repeat it, if possible in a somewhat different form. The speaker should highlight important points. He or she might ask questions to determine how well the message was received, and might repeat points again to correct, clarify, or emphasize the message even more.

Tell-Back

The purpose of tell-back is to ensure that the message was received as intended. With this technique, the message is delivered, then the speaker asks the listener to repeat the message back to the sender. The sender can then correct erroneous parts or repeat forgotten parts and ask for the listener to tell it back again. This cycle is repeated until the response is the same as the message, thus ensuring that the message was received and understood as intended.

Tell-back can be used not only to ensure that the correct message has been received but also to reinforce the message so that it will not easily be forgotten.

Feedback

Feedback has a different focus than the other techniques. The purpose of feedback is to find out what the sender or receiver thinks about the message. From the standpoint of the receiver, is the message accepted, embraced, or rejected? From the standpoint of the sender, is the message strongly felt, is it debatable, or is it inflexible?

When giving feedback, focus needs to be placed on specific facts. The participants should be as objective as possible and avoid getting personal. The responder should make a clear statement in a positive and instructive manner about how he or she feels about the message. Responders should limit their feedback to key issues instead of trying to cover every point. The feedback is finished with an invitation to the other party to respond to the feedback.

Feedback has many uses. In addition to the stated objective of determining how the message is perceived, it is useful for drawing a person into a discussion. It is also useful for gaining the attention of an inattentive listener. The feedback process can be used as a means to solicit creative ideas and also to get buy-in from the listener.

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The feedback process can help a supervisor move from a dictatorial leadership style to a more interactive and positive style. Leadership styles are addressed in detail in Chapter 7.

Follow-Up

Since oral communication is very ineffective and fleeting, it is important to follow up oral messages in one or more ways.

Follow-up should be carried out any time oral instructions are given to ensure that they are followed and to ensure that the action resulting from the instructions produced the anticipated outcome. After giving instructions, the listener should be informed that verification will follow. If verification is indicated, then it needs to be done. If the message is given that verification will be done, but it is not done, doubt is cast on future communications and particularly on follow-up to future communications.

Important oral communications need to be followed up in writing. If the supervisor is the recipient of an oral notification or instruction, they should ask for follow-up in writing. If written verification is not received from the sender, the supervisor should follow up by writing out the message they received orally and sending it to the person who gave the oral message to verify that the message was correctly understood. It also documents that the message was given, and it puts the message into a form that will not change over time. Follow-up in writing can eliminate the possibility of the message being incorrectly received. It can also prove invaluable later should a dispute over the oral message arise because it will document the message, the sender and the timing of the message. Written follow-up is an important part of documentation, which will be further discussed in Chapter 4.

ACTIVE LISTENING

The process of communication is based upon passing information from one person to another. A critical part of communication is receiving the information. Listening is of fundamental importance in the communication process.

At least one third of one’s communication process should be on the listening end. Communication typically requires give and take. The responsive part of communication requires that the message sent be received and understood. Without that understanding, the message cannot be acted upon or responded to appropriately. With faulty hearing of the message, the response will likely be incorrect, inappropriate, or irrelevant. Or, there may be no response, at all.

Active listening is the conscious process of securing all the information relative to the message through hearing and observation. Active listening is a skill, which means that it can be learned, or improved through training and practice. Active listening should become a habit for the supervisor. It should become an involuntary and unconscious action any time the supervisor detects that a message is being sent. With practice, active listening will improve over time.

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Different types of information are conveyed in communication. A fact is a piece of information presented as having objective reality. Facts are conveyed by words and are typically presented with assurance in such a way as to dispel questioning. That is, the speaker uses supporting tones, gestures, facial expressions and general body posture that conveys the confidence that what he or she is saying is correct and true. Skilled observers can look at the face, eyes, and posture and determine with great accuracy whether the speaker feels that what they are expressing is the truth or if they are trying to mislead by stating as a fact something that is not, or might not, be true.

Thoughts, theories, and conjectures are conveyed in such a way that they elicit consideration and evaluation. Often the intent is that the listener participates actively to consider the validity of the statement. The intent may also be to engage in a discussion or it may be to place a question in the mind of the listener so that the listener can ponder the statement at his or her leisure.

Emotions are conveyed primarily by nonverbal means. The words must be supported with, or confirmed by, tone, expressions, and general body language. A person can say “I love you” without communicating the message if the message lacks the requisite expressions from the sender. On the other hand, the message “I love you” can be expressed very well without the words. Not only is the existence and validity of the message expressed in an emotional communication, but the intensity of the feeling is also a fundamental part of the communication.

Being able to link words with tones, expressions, and body language is a powerful component of oral communication that can produce strong positive or disastrous negative outcomes. This is one of the key differences between oral and written communication.

Factors Affecting Listening

A number of factors affect the ability to listen effectively.

The topic is important. It can be simple or complex. It can be within the listener’s sphere of experience, or it can be far outside that experience. The nature of the topic has a significant impact on a listener’s ability to listen.

The listener’s context is very important as well. Does the listener consider this topic to be important or unimportant? Is it interesting or uninteresting? Why is the listener listening to the message? Is it for entertainment, as an assignment, or for self-improvement? Each of these will make it easier or more difficult to listen.

The way in which the message is delivered also influences the listener’s ability to listen. Is the message sender a skilled communicator? Is the message delivered with the use of gestures and other body language? Does the sender provide examples or illustrations of the message? Is the message presented in a logical fashion, or is it disjointed?

The physical environment affects the listener’s ability to take in the message. Is it delivered in an open space or in a congested environment? Is there noise or are there other distractions? Is there clean air, or is the atmosphere oxygen depleted, or does it have a high level of contaminants?

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Finally, there are personal factors. How wide awake is the listener? Is the listener alert? Is the listener having trouble focusing? The listener’s receptivity will again have a significant impact on his or her ability to hear, digest, and understand the message.

Enhancing Active Listening

Prior to the communication encounter, the listener needs to prepare to be an active listener. The listener should not come in with assumptions about the message she is about to hear. Also, she should not allow the sender to bring assumptions, such as what she knows or how she feels about the message.

The listener should be prepared to interact with the message’s sender but restrain herself from interrupting. Let the sender complete the message. This guideline may need to be modified somewhat should the sender not be a skilled communicator. If the sender displays a rambling style of communication, the listener may need to lead the sender toward a conclusion of the message.

An active listener works to eliminate prejudice and preconceptions. The message should be separated from the sender. The listener should recognize that valuable understanding can be achieved from any type of person, and it is the responsibility of the listener to get past stereotypes to focus on reception of the message.

The listener should be prepared to seek the understanding in the message in spite of the possibility that the means of conveying the message, and even the message itself, might be flawed. Supervisors often work with people who do not have strong communication skills. It is the supervisor’s responsibility to pull the message out of a poorly skilled communicator.

An active listener is patient and prepared to not react quickly to strong messages. Emotion and prejudices in the sender and in the sender’s message are filtered out to enable focus on deciphering the content of the message. If no clear positive message is found, the active listener must be prepared to disregard the flawed message and draw out the sender’s intended message.

Finally, in preparation for oral communication, the previously discussed physical barriers to communication must be eliminated. The listener should seek a good listening environment and needs to ensure that she is receptive.

During the delivery of the message, full attention should be given to the speaker. The listener should maintain eye contact and observe gestures, expressions, and other body language. The listener should maintain an alert posture. If possible, the listener should enter into a dialogue with the message’s sender, and maintain an active mind, evaluating the message and preparing to respond with questions or another appropriate response. However, preparation of a response should not distract the listener from hearing the message.

After the exchange of understanding, the active listener needs to follow up by summarizing the important points, in writing, if possible. The listener should seek clarification if needed. Complex topics should be synthesized into a few key

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points that can be retained. The listener should thank the other participant in the communication and arrange for the next communication, if appropriate.
CUSTOMER RELATIONS

Customer relations is included within this chapter because construction supervisors have a major impact on customer relations, and most of the contact between the customer and the supervisor is oral. As the representative of the contractor at the job site, both legally and in practice, the supervisor will have ongoing interaction with customers throughout the project. It is very important that the supervisor understand who the customer is and how to enhance relations with the customer.

Who Is the Customer?

The customer can be defined as:

Customer: A person with whom a merchant or business-person must deal.

This might be paraphrased as one with whom I have (my company has) a business relationship. A customer might also be considered as one with whom value is exchanged on behalf of the business. This can be a useful way in which to consider a customer because it enables consideration of who adds value to the job and, hence, who is a customer.

There are many customers associated with a construction job, the most obvious being the project owner. The owner brings the job in the first place. The owner also funds the job and makes decisions throughout the job that are important to it.

The design team also adds value to the job. The design team provides the design that is the basis for the job. They provide ongoing clarifications and answers to questions. They are responsible for approvals necessary for getting paid and authorizations for changes to the contract. Thus, the design team members are customers and need to be respected as strong contributors to the success of the project.

For subcontractors, the contractor with whom they have a contract is a very important customer. The contractor is the communication link with all other project participants. The contractor also participates in the approval process for payment applications and for changes to the contract. The contractor takes the lead in planning and scheduling the project and has the responsibility for coordinating the work of all participants on the project.

There is another important group of customers with whom the supervisor deals, and that is those who work for the supervisor, either directly or indirectly. Craft laborers add significant value to the job through the work they do. Suppliers of materials and equipment also add value that can significantly affect the project’s outcomes. Those in this group are not generally considered customers, but treating

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them as customers can help maintain good relations with people and entities that are key contributors to the success of the project.

Within the company, there are other customers away from the job site. The project manager facilitates much of the work off the job site and provides significant support to the ongoing operations on the site. Other people in the company office, including the cost estimator, the purchasing agent, and the payroll and accounting people support field operations in many ways and hence should be respected as customers.

In short, most people with whom the supervisor interacts can be considered customers and should be treated with the respect of a customer. An attitude of customer service can significantly improve the various relationships throughout the job and have a very positive impact on the job’s outcomes.

Respecting the Customer

The proper way to treat a customer is with strong professional respect. Supervisors should seek opportunities to interact with their customers as often as possible. Interactions should demonstrate an appreciation for the value the customer adds to the job. Customers’ needs and expectations should be identified. To the extent possible, the needs should be satisfied while the customers’ expectations are exceeded.

Exceeding expectations does not mean providing more expensive solutions to customers’ needs. It does mean providing what is due the customer at a higher level of service than expected. Construction is a commodity. Many companies can provide the same product, and a high-quality product is a minimal expectation. However, the way in which the product is provided will distinguish one construction company from another. Providing a high-quality product with the highest level of service and responsiveness to the customer is what will distinguish one contractor from another in a highly competitive market.

THE ART OF NEGOTIATION

Negotiation is a high-level skill of great value to a supervisor. Supervisors are in almost constant negotiations, whether it is negotiating with workers to make work assignments, negotiating with suppliers for delivery of materials or equipment, negotiating with other contractors for working space, negotiating with designers for changes, or even negotiating with owners for payments.

There are many approaches to negotiating and entire books have been written on the art of negotiating. This book will introduce a few basic concepts, but skilled supervisors will want to get additional education and training in negotiating skills.

Negotiating can take place in teams, as two individuals, or on a one-to-many basis. Since supervisors will be primarily negotiating one on one, the focus of this section will be on one-on-one negotiations.

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Negotiation has been defined as:
Negotiation: A problem-solving process in which two or more people voluntarily discuss their differences and attempt to reach a joint decision on their common concerns.

This definition and the process outlined below come from training materials developed by Collaborative Decision Resources, Boulder, Colorado.

You can learn a lot from this definition. First, the objective of a negotiating process is to resolve problems. Note that it is important to reach a solution, not just to continue endlessly in discussion. Second, it is a voluntary process. Coercion is not a legitimate part of negotiation. Third, it is based upon a discussion of differences. Education and mutual understanding is the basis of resolving the differences. Finally, the solution is reached jointly. It should be a mutual agreement, not one side imposing a dissatisfactory solution upon the other.

The process of negotiation can be broken into a relatively simple four-step progression:

1.  Identify the issues. The more clearly the issues are identified and the more narrowly they are defined, the better the chance for a successfully negotiated solution. The chances of a good solution will improve if complex issues can be broken into a series of simple issues, each issue being negotiated in turn.

2.  Educate each other about needs and interests. Notice the emphasis on education, not persuasion. The focus of this educational phase is to identify what is important to each side. Often, issues are resolved at this stage when each side recognizes that what is important to one side is not important to the other, so each can give up something of little importance to themselves in order to gain their primary objective.

3.  Generate possible settlement options. No commitments are made at this stage. In a nonthreatening environment, each side is working to put on the table solutions that they could live with. It is all hypothetical at this point and, hence, nonthreatening.

4.  Bargain over the details of a final agreement. When a solution is identified that might be acceptable to each side, the focus becomes nailing down the details in a manner acceptable to both sides. When that is done, the negotiation process is successfully completed and what is left is to implement the negotiated agreement.

The outcome of a successful negotiation will have certain characteristics. It will resolve conflicts, so that the two sides have agreement on the issue. It should leave both parties something of value. It will build a basis for future negations. Once the sides have experienced success in one negotiation, this builds a model for future negotiations on what might be more complex issues. Finally, it should bring closure

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to a cycle of negotiations. When completed, the agreement needs to stand and not be reopened at a later date.

For a successful negotiation, certain prior conditions need to be met.

Interdependence: Each participant must have something that the other values. Interdependence is one of the most important preconditions. If one party can determine what is of value to the other party, they then have something to exchange. Asking the other party directly what they would value most in the negotiated solution might be the easiest and most effective way to determine what each party values. Often, what one party wants is easy for the other party to give, and the negotiation is off to a good start!

Readiness to negotiate: If the other person will not negotiate, the first step is to get them into the mood to negotiate. Otherwise, negotiations will go nowhere.

Means of influence or leverage: There must be an incentive for each party to participate. The cause for a negotiation is generally that one party has something the other party needs or wants. The party without some leverage is in a weak position to achieve a positive outcome. One party’s leverage might be what they have that is of value to the other party. On the other hand, one party may actually be in a position of power but would rather negotiate than dictate a solution, which provides some negotiating leverage to the other side.

Initial agreement: Some common basis is needed to start the process. There must be some common ground for agreement, and this needs to be established before moving forward into a successful negotiation.

Will to settle: Some people prefer the contest rather than the solution. The more people love conflict, the less likely they are to push for a resolution.

Potential for success: There must be a reasonable chance of achieving a positive outcome. In a low-stakes game, the potential for success needs to be high enough to make the effort of negotiating worthwhile. As the stakes get higher, more investment of effort is justified to try to negotiate in a situation with a lower likelihood of success. However, in any case, there must be some likelihood of success or parties will not start the process.

A sense of urgency and deadline: Without a deadline, the negotiations become simply an intellectual discussion that can go on and on without the need to come to a conclusion. In the construction environment, there is always a deadline and it is generally nearer, rather than farther off.

Willingness to compromise: Reaching a solution requires give and take on both sides. If both parties are not willing to give and take, a positive outcome is highly unlikely.

External factors favorable to settlement: The solution negotiated by each party must be authoritative. If it can be overridden by higher authority on one side or the other, then a true resolution by the parties in the negotiation has not been achieved. A construction project involves many parties, both on the job site and external to the site. Any bilateral agreement must not cause problems elsewhere, or further negotiation is needed.

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SUMMARY

In this chapter, the following key points have been presented.

Communication is the process of passing information and understanding from one person to another.

Communication is critical, time-consuming, and pervasive.

Improving communication skills is important to the supervisor.

Improving oral communication begins with identifying and removing or mitigating barriers.

Various techniques can be used to improve the effectiveness of oral communication.

Active listening is an essential part of oral communication.

The supervisor is in as particularly advantageous position to maintain good customer relations on behalf of the company.

Negotiation is a critical skill for any supervisor.

Learning Activities

1.  Practicing active listening

Active listening is a critical element in oral communication.

Develop a simple checklist of means you can use to improve your active listening skills. This checklist might be subdivided into:

Tasks to prepare for a communication event

Tasks to improve the listening experience

Tasks to follow up on an oral communication

In a classroom setting, divide into pairs and have one participant relate an event or story while the other practices listening. The listener should follow the checklist and then complete the practice session by relating to the speaker what was heard. Participants should then reverse roles. Finally, the pair should work together to develop a consensus checklist based on their experience in the exercise.

For an individual, take advantage of the next opportunity for oral communication to use your checklist. After the encounter, revise the checklist to improve it, and continue the process whenever the opportunity arises for oral communication.

2.  Improving customer relations

Identify a customer with whom you would like an improved relationship. Develop a plan of action for the improvement. This should start by either identifying the next anticipated encounter with this customer or by determining how an encounter can be created. Next, determine in what way(s) you would like to improve the relationship.

ORAL COMMUNICATION 45

Examples might include determining a new or enhanced service you can provide the customer, or establishing a more regular and open channel of communication. Then write out specific steps that you can take to achieve the improvement(s).

After the encounter, review your plan and how well it was achieved. Modify the plan and repeat the process until you are satisfied with the relationship with this customer. Chose another customer with whom you would like to improve relations and initiate the process with this new customer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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