Notes from the Personal Communications Workshop
For The East and West Learning Club on 21 November, 2020
Practical, Helpful, and Useable Skills
We’re here for about something really important. Something that, if you pay
attention, will make a positive difference to how things work for you. I
learned this through experience and it changed the way I approach
Plus, while we’re at it, we can enjoy ourselves. Let’s get started.
Personal Communications means how we speak to each other, humans
speaking to other humans. I know you know how important that is
otherwise, you wouldn’t be here. I know many westerners are not very
good at this and there is a bigger challenge with cultural and language
The purpose of this workshop is to bring a clear understanding of the value
of skillful personal communications at work, at home, and in the
community. For these purposes, most of these examples and stories are
set in the workplace.
We’ve all been on the receiving end of harsh words from others and
perhaps done it ourselves. We all know what it feels like: that it’s hurtful,
harmful to relationships, and damaging to loyalty and productivity. It shows
unskilled personal communications. Why? Because it causes damage
when it isn’t necessary.
There’s a much better way and all it takes is the willingness to polish those
skills. This workshop introduces how to do it. No matter how shy or self-
conscious you are. This is confidence building and who doesn’t need a little extra confidence.
COMMUNICATION IS THE RESPONSE YOU GET.
It tells you if you’ve been skillful, or not.
Here are some examples of communications styles: shy, or confident,
aggressive, clear, confusing, withdrawn, talk too much
Take a moment and think about your own communication style when you
talk with others. Your style might be different and that’s interesting.
There’s no right or wrong answer.
Whether you are speaking or writing, think about how you are
presenting yourself. We all have bad days but in general be
aware that you are respectful, pleasant, and clear. This is what
you are bringing to the exchange. Not everyone will be receptive
to you but this mustn’t be taken personally.
Why might someone not be receptive to a request?
What to do if someone is not receptive?
The idea is to communicate so that it works for you AND the
others involved. You want information, or you want to give
information, or persuade. Think about how you want to do that.
With practice it becomes second nature.
1. The Western culture of asking questions – it’s expected in
Canada that if you want information, you’ll ask.
How to ask – Here are the basics:
– Formulate your question
– Decide who to ask – more detail on this later
– Go to that person or send a note “I have a question about xyz
I’d like to ask. Do you have a minute?
– When you ask for help, say what it’s about. Not just I HAVE
A QUESTION. Why? Because then the person has to ask you
QUESTION IS ABOUT WHAT? Say what the subject is.
– If the person is able to help you (they have knowledge and
time) have the conversation or, set a time and place to do that.
Phone, their office, yours, meeting room, however things are
done in your work place. If its appropriate, take them for
coffee. Good for relationship building too
– If the person says no, you can ask if there’s someone else
they recommend. Repeat the same process until you get your
The important thing to remember is that when you are at work,
everyone is there to do the company’s business. Yes, there’s a
hierarchy, but it’s all the company’s business and if you need
information to do your part, then ask for it.
Unskillful and Skillful Examples
Unskillful example: I’ve seen people advise “ask for 5 mins even if
you know you need more”.
Skillful: I think that’s deceitful and unfair. Say what you need and
don’t play games. Like – It might take 20 minutes or so.
Unskillful Example: Once I went to a colleague’s office to ask a
question and before I’d started talking, she slapped her
wristwatch and said you’ve got two minutes. We had a good
working relationship and I was offended. She was trying to
accommodate me but went about it in the wrong way. I said that
I’d try someone else.
Skillful: IF my colleague said I’m crazy busy, can I come back to
you in 2 hours or tomorrow. Can it wait? Then there is no problem
and no damage done.
Getting comfortable with this builds confidence.
Who to ask
Your boss or manager is a great place to start. Plus, that’s their job.
Or ask a colleague who works with the information you’re after. If
it’s in another department, ask that manager to refer you to
When to ask
If you’re in a big meeting don’t shy away from asking questions.
You wouldn’t ask the CEO about a problem with a printer so use
your judgement. Someone might say that they’ll fill you in after the
You can ask questions almost anywhere or anytime using this
method. I’d avoid asking questions in the bathroom – though it has
happened to me. Questions are never stupid. Just use your
The workplace is more formal than home or the community and it’s
not really a place for personal comments or questions. Unless they
are flattering and not too personal.
Unskilled: That’s a lovely dress. What size is it? How much?
Where’s it from?
Skilled: That’s a lovely dress
The workplace does produce friendships and friendship is a
wonderful thing. Keep in mind that work was the reason you met
and the friendship shouldn’t override that, especially at work
A word about gossip – telling stories about other people which are
not confirmed as true and are damaging or hurtful to the subject.
This is a very shabby thing to do. It is the opposite of respectful and
will earn you a very bad reputation. Yes, lots of people gossip. My
advice is to avoid being one of them.
2. How to ask and choose words for your questions
The big picture – be respectful, polite and clear. If you’re
unsure, you can say so.
Skillful: I need some advice about xyz – say what it’s about,
Or, may I ask you about xyz?
I stress again the importance of practice.
Unskilled: If you say: tell me what you think about xyz, you
might get a negative response. The question has set them up
to say NO. Why?
Because you’ve demanded rather than asked and people
don’t like that. Your tone is really important. Use a moderate
tone, not loud or harsh or barking. Repeat question, new tone.
Other examples. Imagine the response each will bring:
Unskilled: What’s the matter with you?
Skilled: Is everything alright?
Unskilled: Give me directions to the bank
Skilled: Could you help me please? I’m lost and looking for the
Unskilled: Do this and make sure it’s done by 5:00.
Skilled: Could you do this ready for 5:00?
Avoid accusatory language
Unskilled: This is the worst work I’ve ever seen. Do you have
brains or straw up there?
Skilled: This seems to have got off track. Will you get your
notes and we’ll take a look at it.
3. Small talk
The best thing about small talk is that it’s friendly. Most
Canadians are friendly but not all, it’s true.
It holds the possibility of finding something in common,
building a relationship, and it’s the basis of networking which
opens doors and can add success to life and work. I think it’s
Unskilled: Don’t barge in or stand there saying nothing. That
usually gets you ignored – like who are you? and what do you
want? we don’t know you.
Skilled: Approach people and introduce yourself. If it’s a group
– ask may I join you? “May” is asking (more formal and polite).
“Can” means able and it’s more casual, Can I join you?
Comment on the day, the place you are in, ask what brings
them to this gathering, ask about hobbies, languages spoken.
And pick up on one of those things. Like – What’s your
favourite language to speak & why etc. Listen with interest,
pay attention to what’s being said and not looking around “for
someone better”. Be respectful and you can’t lose. Applies to
women and men.
Be open with body language, relax, look people in the eye,
stand straight, make effort to enjoy the conversation. Use
humour if you can. You can stay as long as you & the other
people are talking and enjoying. If it slows down you can say:
nice to meet you and thank you for the conversation, or
excuse me, I’ve just seen the person I’ve been waiting for.
Shopping is a great opportunity for small talk practice.
4. People and relationships – formal and casual and the link
between them. If you are casual in a formal relationship it can
be problematic. If you are formal in a casual situation it’s not
so bad. Why is that?
Formal relationships are formal, require respectful and polite
conversation. You can talk about most subjects and better to
be interested rather than opinionated until you know the
person/people. Ask questions, don’t be vulgar, be worth
talking too. The same with casual relationships though you
can be more relaxed.
None of this means you have to be NICE to everybody all the
time, and let people walk all over you and weaken your
authority. Not at all. We can be assertive and respectful. Say
what you need to say without causing damage and making
the situation worse. This is what it’s all about.
We’ve focused on how you speak to others and now we’ll
focus on what to do when others aren’t skillful with you.
Sometimes I decide to ignore something because it’s not
worth it, or not that interesting, or annoying.
Racism is a different, potentially terrifying thing. What to do
when a complete stranger comes up to you and says
something racist? In that split second, acknowledge how it
makes you feel. Hurt, frightened, angry – all awful and
understandable. You have to do some self-management and
don’t act on those feelings. This gets easier with practice too.
I suggest that through a nod or gesture you let that person
know you heard them. Then walk away. This is for your safety
– because a person who would treat a stranger like that is
already not playing by the rules. It doesn’t mean that what
happened is okay. It’s not okay, it’s unacceptable.
This is sticking up for yourself by not engaging. It’s skillful.
Even though you might think it’ll make you feel better to let
them have it, that could just escalate things instead of being a
teachable moment – with an aggressive stranger. If the threat
continues ask a passerby for help, or shout for police.
We are living in a time of some difficulties. Think about what
you want from a situation and then choose how to present
yourself and your request. We all create an atmosphere
whether we are aware of it or not.
It takes some self-management and some practice – do that
and it becomes 2nd nature. Remember …
COMMUNICATION IS THE RESPONSE YOU GET.
© Eleanor M. James November 19, 2020
Special Program for East and West Learning Club Members
Three private thirty minute sessions for $100.00 via Zoom or phone
Explore your own thoughts and interests, use your real experiences
Identify your individual areas of interest, to focus our efforts.
Naming and expanding your strengths and areas for polishing
Why listening is such a powerful tool, eye contact
How words affect your tone, reveal your feelings and why this matters.
How to make it serve you.
Navigate potentially explosive situations and avoid the landmines
Side stepping anger, the biggest sinkhole
Rapid recovery once damage is done
Critique – the basics of how to deliver productive critique, where to
start and how to finish
How to receive a critique, advice, recommendations, being told no, or
Saying no, or saying goodbye with a minimum of damage
Why flexing this muscle builds the confidence to manage any situation.