Speech professor provides tips to improve interpersonal skills

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Jeff Hunt, speech professor and fine arts chair, demonstrates the challenges of negotiation in a speech workshop on conflict resloution to an audience of communication students Dec. 2 in Room 203 of McAllister. Photo by Ryan A. Flournoy

Jeff Hunt, speech professor and fine arts chair, demonstrates the challenges of negotiation in a speech workshop on conflict resloution to an audience of communication students Dec. 2 in Room 203 of McAllister. Photo by Ryan A. Flournoy

Assertive communication handles confrontation without pointing any fingers.

Ryan A. Flournoy

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

Emergency management sophomore Ricardo Guerra acts as a liasion on behalf of his group in hopes of agreeing on a selling price of a painting in a negotitaion excerise at a speech workshop Dec. 2 in McAllister. Photo by Ryan A. Flournoy

Emergency management sophomore Ricardo Guerra acts as a liasion on behalf of his group in hopes of agreeing on a selling price of a painting in a negotitaion excerise at a speech workshop Dec. 2 in McAllister. Photo by Ryan A. Flournoy

Instead of people walking out on a conversation and regretting things unsaid, they can address the conflict with assertion, a speech professor said Dec. 2 at this college.

Almost 30 communication and speech students filled Room 203 of McAllister Fine Arts Center to attend “Conflict Resolution,” a speech workshop conducted by Jeff Hunt, fine arts chair and speech professor.

“Most of us grow up believing conflict is a negative thing,” Hunt said. “However, conflict can be healthy in a relationship.”

The public workshop was the last of a series this semester and served as extra credit for students in Speech 1318, Interpersonal Communication.

Hunt described four common styles of handling conflict by simulating real-world scenarios.

“It allows students to hear different perspectives.” Hunt said.

The first of the four common approaches to handling conflict is non-assertion, he said.

This method includes avoiding conflicts at any cost. People often use it in work environments or when someone is directly attacking them.

However, the conflict builds if not addressed properly, and this approach could backfire, Hunt said.

The second style — direct aggression — is the exact opposite.

Considered one of the unhealthiest ways to handle conflict, direct aggression involves an inability to control intense emotions and usually results in attacking someone both verbally or physically, Hunt said.

“In an emergency where it’s about ‘hurry up,’ direct aggression could be appropriate,” Hunt said.

The third style of handling confrontation is indirect aggression, which is also not a healthy solution to resolving conflict.

“This is what we also call being passive aggressive,” Hunt said. “Indirect aggression could be just as simple as talking bad about someone behind their back.”

There is no good time to act with this approach, and it will not present any productive solutions, he said.

The forth — and best — style is assertion.

Being assertive means addressing the conflict within a certain amount of time and using proper terminology with the other party.

“You want to try and use ‘I’ language and not ‘you’ language, which is often the go-to language,” Hunt said.

When ‘I’ language is used, someone describes how they feel about the conflict without blaming the other person for all the problems.

“What ‘I’ language does is put you at a level of equality and it uses your feelings,” Hunt said. “Someone practicing the assertive approach would say, ‘this is how I feel’ instead of ‘this is what you are doing wrong.’”

This approach leads the four in productive results by providing clear communication, he said.

“I really like what was said about the ‘I versus you’ language,” speech sophomore Diana Blanco said of the assertion approach. “I will be using this with my sister.”

Hunt also performed a negotiation exercise and divided the students into two groups on opposite sides of the room.

To demonstrate the difficulties of real-world negotiation, Hunt passed out a sheet of paper to each group containing information for negotiating with the opposite side.

One group played an art collector with a maximum and minimum price they would pay for a painting.

The other group portrayed a local artist who knows how much their painting is worth.

Hunt asked each group to propose a dollar amount to the other and agree on a selling price.

But there was a catch. The artist did not know the maximum price to expect, and the art collector did not know the exact worth of the painting.

It soon unraveled into a bidding war of uncompromising pride, where neither the artist nor the collector was willing to budge.

In the end, the groups could not agree on a price, and the deal between the artist and the art collector was not made.

The exercise illustrated the complexity of arriving at an agreement and how most unresolved agreements stem from petty differences.

“This was the best student response in the six years since doing these workshops.” Hunt said.

For more information about interpersonal speaking skills, visit the speech department in Room 105 of McAllister Fine Arts Center.

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