Interpersonal Skills

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Assignment 2—Interpersonal Skills (40%)
Complete the series of interpersonal skills task and submit as a set of tasks.
Note: all three sections are compulsory and submitted as one assignment.
This assignment consists of three tasks:
A. Barriers and gateways
B. Interview approaches
C. Conflict resolution
A. Barriers to consultation (15%)
It is vital that school personnel, parents, therapists and community support workers and volunteers consult regularly to ensure an effective coordination of resources. There are, however, many potential barriers to such consultation in a school setting.
Part one: Identifying barriers
First, list the important barriers to communication that you perceive in your working environment. Barriers can be physical things, or people’s behaviour styles or attitudes.
Next, consider the barriers you have listed in terms of how much control you have over them. Designate each barrier as:
H—Highly controllable
OR
S—Somewhat controllable
OR
N—Not controllable
Part two: Identifying gateways
Now, look at any opportunities available to improve communication in your working environment which are not currently being used. Some of these may reduce the impact of the barriers identified above.
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Finally, consider the control or influence that you have in being able to capitalise on these opportunities, and designate each opportunity as:
H—Highly controllable
OR
S—Somewhat controllable
OR
N—Not controllable
Part three: Action plan
Identify the barrier which you feel most hinders communication and develop an action plan which states how this barrier will be removed or how this opportunity will be utilised over time.
This action plan should include specific actions in an appropriate sequence as outlined below.
Barrier or Opportunity (brief description)
PLAN
Step 1
Step 2
Step 3
Step 4
Step 5
Step 6
B. Assessing interview approaches (15%)
A difficult and important skill in any interview situation is that of assessing what types of approach you need to use at any given moment—whether to probe or to support, to push for answers or to back off. A great deal depends on the context and the flow of the interview. Some cues will also emerge from the ways people express themselves and whether they seem to be trying to tell you something without the courage to come right out with it, or whether they are obviously trying to avoid an issue. Depending on the relevance of the point concerned you will have to decide whether to pursue it and, if so, how.
Look at four of the following statements which might have been made by a parent about their child and discuss what they might mean about the parent’s attitude, state of mind and desire to reveal information. Then briefly discuss what sort of approach would be most likely to succeed in leading the interview to a positive conclusion and work out what you might say next to the parent.
• I don’t know where to turn.
• My kids don’t get along with each other.
• John always shows me the good work he does at school.
• At last things are improving at home.
• I just don’t know what to decide.
• I always got good marks at school
• But he’s so good at home.
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• Of course she’s pretty and popular. Everyone likes her.
• We’ve been through this before.
C. Conflict resolution (10%)
Identify a recent conflict and discuss which of the following barriers may have been present. Outline the conflict (avoid real names and places) and then address each of the following in brief paragraphs.
• Did both parties try to make the channels of communication ineffective?
• Were the number of communication channels limited?
• Did either party try to empathise with the other?
• Was the position of one person ever restated by the other person, to the other person’s satisfaction?
• Did both of you induce feelings of hostility to the other?
• Was any kind of cooperation discouraged?
• Was the concept of decision by joint effort rejected—even considered?
• Did both parties try to impose their solution on the other?
• Was strategy involved?—each party trying to outwit the other?
• Was there deception (dishonesty) involved?

Here is the information on this topic from the study guide:

UNIT 3.1: COLLABORATION AND CONSULTATION
Introduction
To be successful in collaboration and consultation, you need to have a good understanding of yourself and how you are likely to react to difficult situations which might involve disagreement, conflict and criticism. It is not easy to “teach” people how to cope with such situations. You may be able to “teach” a person various methods of implementing behaviour control, or “teach” a person how to develop effective programs for basic literacy, but it is hard to “teach” a person how to control their own emotions and reactions when conflict occurs or when being personally criticised.
The most a collaboration/consultation topic can do is to make you aware of the main factors that cause conflict, and the main barriers to communication, as well as the ways in which other people have suggested these difficulties can be overcome. It is up to you to relate this information to your own personal experience. You need to look at your own behaviour and decide whether you need to change some aspects of how you cope with situations. A topic like this is really more one of personal reflection; helping you to understand how you behave and providing information which may help you to react in a more appropriate fashion. The topic is not merely aimed at providing you with knowledge, but on making you think about your attitudes, values and behaviour in difficult situations and considering whether you need to change. Self analysis and behaviour change is not easy and unlikely to occur overnight. Ideally it should involve some form of group interaction and discussion of various personal attitudes and values. It is not possible to do this by distance mode. We can, however, provide you with information about various aspects of consultation and collaboration and provide some assignments/activities which give you the opportunity to do some personal reflecting.
The Complexity of Communication
Each of us interprets what is being communicated in the context of our own personal experiences and background. We all have our own very unique experiences which are associated with various words, music, specific situations, etc., and when these words/situations are brought up, they evoke your unique personal experience. When you are communicating to a person, you use words/situations which convey a certain meaning to you, but they may not necessarily evoke the same meaning in the person with whom you are trying to communicate. The more you get to know a person, the more likely you will understand their unique attitudes/values and the more likely you will learn to use words which will have the same meaning for them as for you. On first meeting we are usually being very careful to make sure we say the “right thing” as we do not know what areas of conversation the person might be sensitive to. As we gain a better understanding of the person’s attitudes or values we become more relaxed and confident in the conversation. This complexity of factors which may influence a communication situation are well illustrated by the diagram below.
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(Adapted from Verderber, K., & Verderber, K. (1985). Inter-Act (5th ed.). Belmont, Cal.: Wadsworth).
Study the diagram and think of aspects in your own experience which may influence what you would say or how you would interpret what was said. They could include cultural differences, socioeconomic differences, personal experiences, etc., as outlined in the diagram. Words in particular have different “emotional baggage” attached to them. Using the word “boy”, for example, in addressing an adult African American is likely to bring a negative response, and the word “gay” tends to have a different meaning now than it did 30 years ago. The word “black stump” has a different meaning to Australians, while the word “joint” has a number of different meanings, depending on the situation and the people you are talking to.
Likely Barriers to Consultation
The highly personalised nature of interpreting any communication means that consultation/collaboration activities are likely to have a high risk of breaking down in the initial stages. When a person’s background is not fully known, or their attitude to the consultation situation not clear, there is a risk that attitudes or opinions put forward with positive intentions, will be considered negative by the listener or misinterpreted.
A good example could be a parent who has been asked to talk to a teacher about their child’s lack of achievement and poor concentration at school. Certain specific learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are highly familial, so there is a good probability that one of the parents may have had a similar problem. If this is the case, the parent may come to the meeting with a sense of anger, fear or reluctance, as school to them may well have been associated with personal difficulty and failure. They may come to the meeting in a negative frame of mind and suggestions from the teacher that they should make their child work harder or do homework, may remind them of their own negative school experiences. They may feel that teachers and schools are not sympathetic, and interpret anything said as punitive. This is likely to lead to a defensive reaction on their part, which the teacher may interpret as denial, or a lack of interest in their child. In reality, however, the parent’s defensive reaction is more related to their own uncomfortable school experiences and the fear that what happened to them is happening to their child. The teacher may use “trigger” a personal experience of fear and denigration leading to a defensive reaction on their part.
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The high risk nature of such initial meetings between parents and professionals, or between professionals from different disciplines, has led to much discussion of likely barriers to communication. Listed below are firstly barriers which have been identified in professional collaboration, followed by barriers likely to occur in any communication.
(a) Barriers in Professional Collaboration
Territorial Issues of People’s Roles
• Class teacher may feel that educating students with disabilities is the special educator’s role not that of a regular teacher.
• Parents may feel it is the school’s job to teach their child and they do not need to be involved.
• Teachers may see parents as peripheral/trivial to the role of education.
Pragmatic/Practical Barriers
• Class teachers complain there is a lack of time for collaboration – due to regular class commitments.
• Large case loads of special educators and consultants could restrict the time they have to collaborate with regular teachers and parents.
• Scheduling problems – no specific time set aside in the school day when all parties can meet.
• Competing responsibilities – the regular class teacher has to provide for the rest of the class and has limited time for special programs.
• Although collaboration may be endorsed and encouraged by the school, it is unlikely to be carried out unless adequate time and resources are available. School organisational structures are usually not adequately developed to allow regular consultation.
Attitude Barriers
• There may be unrealistic expectations of an immediate cure – especially on the part of parents.
• Not only should change be immediate, but flawless – free from stress and effort.
• Fear of the unknown by regular class teachers can make it preferable for them to consider that the “old way” will be adequate – yet conceptual changes are usually incompatible with the “old way”.
• Educational systems are resistant to change.
• Change can be anxiety producing.
• Most educators are not adequately prepared for change.
• Change needs to be planned carefully, implemented systematically and evaluated objectively.
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Professional Barriers
Differences in professional training lead to big differences in problem solving skill among educators. There is not much training in collaboration/consultation for general teachers and this lack of knowledge/skills in interpersonal communication may limit their ability to participate effectively in collaboration situations. Teachers need training in the basics of problem solving and also need to have good interpersonal skills.
One consultant of children who are behaviourally disturbed suggested that for collaboration to be successful, there needs to be:
• voluntary involvement;
• sufficient time available at the school for the consultant to:
− be accepted as a normal part of the school community;
− allow skills transfer to the regular class teacher;
− effectively support the teacher in the class;
have role swaps, with the special teacher taking the regular class to allow time for the regular teacher to specifically program for the targeted child.
Reading 3.1.1: Lake, J.F., & Billingsley, B.S. (2000). An analysis of factors that contribute to parent-school conflict in special education. Remedial and Special Education, 21(4), 240-258.
This reading by Lake and Billingsley (2000) is one of the few investigations of factors likely increase conflict between parents and educators. The authors found factors such as discrepant views of the child and the child’s needs, lack of knowledge of methods of problem solving, lack of options for service delivery and lack of communication to be important factors. They also identified constraints, such as lack of time, money, personnel and materials as important variables. This article should help “fill out” some of the issues raised.
(b) General Barriers
In addition to the specific professional barriers listed above, there have also been a number of more general barriers identified and discussed. These are often called “communication spoilers” as they are high risk responses, which may diminish self-esteem, block conversation, trigger defensiveness, increase emotional distance, and hinder problem solving. One list of these barriers as identified by Robert Bolton in “People Skills” is outlined below. While most of these barriers are fairly “self evident”, it is surprising how often we use them, despite knowing they may be potentially damaging. Listing them, and encouraging you to think about how frequently you may have been guilty of using them when placed in a difficult personal situation, may lead to a more considered reaction the next time such a situation arises. The responses listed below may not always be potentially negative, but they are high risk.
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• Criticising: Making a negative evaluation of the other person, her actions, or attitudes. “You brought it on yourself – you’ve got nobody else to blame for the mess you are in.”
• Name-calling: “Putting down” or stereotyping the other person. “What a dope!” “Just like a woman…” “You are just another insensitive male.”
• Diagnosing: Analysing why a person is behaving as he is; playing amateur psychiatrist. “I can read you like a book – you are just doing that to irritate me.” “Just because you went to university, you think you are better than me.”
• Ordering: Commanding the other person to do what you want to have done. “Do your homework right now.” “Why?! Because I said so…”
• Threatening: Trying to control the other’s actions by warning of negative consequences that you will instigate. “You’ll do it or else…” “Stop that noise right now or I will keep the whole class after school.”
• Moralising: telling another person what she should do. “Preaching” at the other person. “You shouldn’t get a divorce; think of what will happen to the children.” “You ought to tell him you are sorry.”
• Excessive/Inappropriate Questioning: Excessive questioning may put the person on the defensive. “When did it happen?” “Are you sorry that you did it?”
• Advising: Giving the other person a solution to their problems. “If I were you, I’d sure tell him off.” “That’s an easy one to solve. First…”
• Diverting: Pushing the other’s problems aside through distraction. “Don’t dwell on it, Sarah. Let’s talk about something more pleasant.” Or, “Think you’ve got it bad?! Let me tell you what happened to me.”
• Logical Argument: Attempting to convince the other person with an appeal to facts or logic, usually without consideration of the emotional variables involved. “Look at the facts; if you hadn’t bought that new car, we could have made the down payment on the house.”
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Awareness Exercise: Listed below are some responses used by teachers when talking to parents. Suggest some alternate responses and why, then look at the alternates provided on the next page.
Talking with parents
Say
Instead of saying…
Why
“I don’t know why you are worried. He is doing as well as expected.”
“She’ll grow out of it!”
She tends to be lazy.”
“He can be quite disruptive.”
“There’s a lot worse than him – so we can’t give him extra help.”
“She is not dyspraxic/dyslexic/ADD, etc.”
“He is just not motivated.”
“What do you expect from a child with her background?”
“Your child’s difficulties are more to do with his attitude than his learning difficulty.”
“Your child has made little progress so it would be pointless to invest in any more provision.”
From Blamires, M., Robertson, C., & Blamires, J. (1997) Parent-Teacher Partnership. London: David Fulton Publishers.
Talking with parents: possible answers
Say
Instead of saying…
Why
Can you tell me why you are worried?
“I don’t know why you are worried. He is doing as well as expected.”
This avoids invalidating their views.
Let’s see what we can do about it.
“She’ll grow out of it!”
This recognises that the parent has a concern.
She takes quite a bit of motivating. What is she interested in at home?
“She tends to be lazy.”
This avoids the negative label a bit and seeks to explore what can be done.
He can be quite disruptive when he settles down to work if he is unsure of what to do.
“He can be quite disruptive.”
You may well feel you can say this but then you need to explore possible solutions.
We need to be clear about what targets will be most helpful and what we can do together to help.
“There’s a lot worse than him so we can’t give him extra help.”
This again is dismissive of the parents’ view.
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Let’s take a close look at her difficulties and strengths. What have you noticed?
“She is not dyspraxic/dyslexic/ADD, etc.”
The label battle is best avoided by referring to exact needs and strengths.
I’d really like to know what can spark his interest.
“He is just not motivated.”
This is another version of ‘He is just a lazy kid.”
We need to look closely at what she likes doing as well as the difficulties she has at school.
“What do you expect from a child with her background?”
Practically, anything could be said instead of this witting or unwitting slur.
He doesn’t appear to be happy at school. How is he at home? What does he want to do after school?
“Your child’s difficulties are more to do with his attitude than his learning difficulty.”
You are avoiding saying that he is a sulky kid and seeking ways to get him interested.
We need to look again at the support we are providing so that it can be made more effective.
“Your child has made little progress so it would be pointless to invest in any more provision.”
Admit when something is not working and try to change it rather than give up.
From Blamires, M., Robertson, C., & Blamires, J. (1997). Parent -Teacher Partnership. London: David Fulton Publishers.
The Development of Trust
One aim of any initial meeting should be to start to develop a trusting relationship as a basis for further meetings. The first meeting is likely to have many potential barriers or “high risk” situations which could trigger defensiveness, increase emotional distance, lead to miscommunication or hinder the development of collaboration. There is also not sufficient time for full trust and cooperation to be developed. Time is needed for the other person’s point of view to be fully outlined, and for all points of view to be fully explained and appreciated.
One of the primary ways in which educational conferences will be able to establish a safe, trusting, and secure atmosphere will be through a display of warmth for the parents with whom they work. An atmosphere of safety will also be facilitated when educational conferences are comfortable with themselves and when they are willing to enter the relationship without a facade. A mother of a severely emotionally disturbed adolescent revealed to the program staff serving her son that she was only able to put her trust in them after having had an opportunity to “do some testing”. In particular, this involved an assessment of the extent to which the program staff were willing to follow through with requests made by the mother and with what they said they would do. In previous programs, the mother had been promised numerous things, but little follow through was provided. After the program staff had convinced the mother that they were willing to make good on their promises, the mother was more willing to enter into a trusting relationship.
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Conferences must also demonstrate a willingness to make themselves human and to suggest that they may not have all the answers. One mother of an elementary-age behaviourally disordered boy confided that it was only after a teacher acknowledged that she did not have all the solutions to her son’s problems that she felt willing to share information. She noted in particular that she had been exposed to a series of professionals who gave the impression that her child’s behaviour could be easily managed if the right techniques were used, implying that she was not using the right approach. Only after being asked to help develop a cooperative plan was she willing candidly to provide information needed to develop the intervention strategy.
Identified below is a list of suggestions for the development of trust. These are only some possible ways in which this vital ingredient of any successful collaboration can be developed. It is merely a starting point.
The Development of Trust
Do
• maintain a sense of humour;
• be accepting of parents with whom you work;
• be positive;
• be sincere;
• listen;
• be aware of body language;
• use language they can understand;
• demonstrate warmth.
Don’t
• attempt to be a sage who has all answers;
• be overly critical;
• threaten, ridicule or blame;
• argue;
• use very strong expressions of surprise and concern;
• patronise or make moral judgements;
• minimise what parents have to say about their child.

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