People Skills Book Summary - People Skills Book explained in key points
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People Skills summary

Robert Bolton

How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts

4.4 (423 ratings)
24 mins

Brief summary

People Skills by Robert Bolton is a guidebook for improving communication and relationships. It explores the essential skills required for effective communication and offers practical strategies for developing empathy and resolving conflicts.

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    People Skills
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    Before learning new communication skills, correct poor conversational habits.

    From an early age, most of us are taught flawed ways of relating to those around us – things like being superficial, hiding our feelings, and manipulating others to get what we want. These tendencies are habitual and learned, usually from well-intentioned people who were also given inadequate communication tools. And that means they can be unlearned and replaced – once we identify them.

    Think about a time you’ve entered into an interpersonal exchange, determined to make it a successful one – and then found yourself disappointed afterward. Maybe you told yourself you’d be kind and gentle with your parents before a holiday visit. But as soon as they started criticizing you, you took the bait and argued for an hour.

    If you’ve had an experience like this, you’re not alone. Most people yearn for better communication than they typically achieve. Yet, an estimated 90 percent of the time, they spoil conversations with 12 common communication roadblocks. These tend to make people either more compliant or argumentative; they also undermine the self-esteem of all parties involved and thwart the self-determination of the person who’s sharing their problem. 

    There are three major roadblock categories. First up? Judging. You judge when you criticize, name-call, or diagnose the person you’re talking to – in other words, when you play armchair psychologist and analyze their behavior. Judging others also includes praising. Praise may seem innocent, but it can be used to control, manipulate, outmaneuver, or sweet-talk. 

    The second category is sending solutions. There are various ways you send solutions to other people. One is by ordering – that means calling the other person’s judgment into question. Another is by threatening, which emphasizes the punishment that will result if the solution you want isn’t implemented. Both can diminish your self-esteem when you employ them. 

    Another way of sending solutions is excessive or inappropriate questioning, which is impersonal and tends to invite a defensive response. Then, there’s advising – which may seem innocuous but can be insulting, as it calls the other person’s intelligence into question. Plus, although it’s tempting to offer advice, the truth is that only the person expressing their problem can truly understand the full emotional and logistical scope of it, no matter how much they explain to the other person. The goal when someone has a problem is to help them solve it themselves.

    The third major roadblock category is avoiding the other’s concern. You do this when you divert the conversation to what you want to talk about, keep the other person at an emotional distance with logical responses, or offer reassurance. That last one, reassurance, may come as a surprise – but reassuring someone can be a way to emotionally withdraw from the other person while appearing to be helpful. 

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    What is People Skills about?

    People Skills (1979) is a guidebook to learning effective communication skills. It illuminates the conversational roadblocks that impede good communication and damage relationships – and offers alternative methods for listening, asserting, and handling conflict.

    Who should read People Skills?

    • Anyone interested in improving communication at home or at work
    • People who aspire to become better listeners
    • Those striving to be assertive rather than submissive or aggressive

    About the Author

    Robert Bolton, PhD, is the founder of Ridge Training, a firm that specializes in improving relationships and performance in business, health care, and education.

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