Working with others
Much of university study is organised on an individual basis. This is mainly because tutors have to be sure that the work for which you receive your degree grade is your own work. However, 'people skills' are very prized by employers. For this reason, some universities are building more team and group project work into their programmes. Whether this is happening on your programme or not, it is well worth you creating opportunities to develop your inter-personal skills.
There is a very wide range of people skills. It is worth identifying which of these are most relevant to the careers that interest you. Some that are worth developing are:
- building a good rapport with others
- listening skills
- speaking skills
- communicating to different audiences
- being a good team member
- setting up and running groups
- giving and receiving criticism more effectively
- assertiveness skills
- dealing with difficult people
- negotiation skills
- leadership skills
Good listening skills are invaluable when working with others. There is an art to being able to discover what another person is trying to communicate, and this can take many years to perfect. However, the following are good starting places.
1. Demonstrate clearly that you are listening, using appropriate body language and facial expressions.
2. Let people complete the point they are making without interruption.
3. Make some reference, however brief, to what they have been saying before you change the subject.
4. Listen for the underlying message: what does the person really mean? What do they really want you to hear or to know?
5. Check for meaning - ask questions to check you have heard and understood correctly.
6. Clarify details: ask for more details, ask questions to clarify points and to show your interest.
7. Leave silences - this enables other people to enter the dialogue or to work out their own position.
A good team:
- has a shared vision - it knows what it wants to achieve
- puts the desired team outcome first: individual interests take a secondary place
- is clear about targets and priorities - and agrees these together
- can make decisions
- has members with different strengths, who can make different contributions
- includes all members, everybody counts, efforts are made to ensure that nobody feels left out or undervalued
Good team members:
- respect the time of all members
- are punctual for meetings
- turn up
- complete their own targets to deadline so that other people are not kept waiting
- respect the opinions of others in the team
- take turns
- share responsibilities
- keep each other informed about developments
Setting up a support group is a good opportunity to develop people skills whilst also gaining and offering support.
Tasks that may need to be shared and managed are:
- organising the room
- phoning members to remind them of the next meeting and of the action that they were to undertake
- developing an agenda
- time-keeping in meetings
- keeping the group strictly to the agenda, and to the item under discussion
- maintaining a supportive atmosphere
- ensuring everyone contributes
- ensuring everybody gets an equal share of time for their own issue, and that different people go first or last each time
Whenever you set up a group, ensure that the group brainstorms, discusses and agrees a set of ground rules.
Everybody should have a copy of the ground-rules.
The ground rules need to include what will be done if ground-rules are broken.
For further information please see Chapter 10 of The Study Skills Handbook by Stella Cottrell.