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People Skills [Paperback]

Robert Bolton
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 6 1986
Improve your personal and professional relationships instantly with this timeless guide to communication, listening skills, body language, and conflict resolution.

A wall of silent resentment shuts you off from someone you love....You listen to an argument in which neither party seems to hear the other....Your mind drifts to other matters when people talk to you....

People Skills is a communication-skills handbook that can help you eliminate these and other communication problems. Author Robert Bolton describes the twelve most common communication barriers, showing how these “roadblocks” damage relationships by increasing defensiveness, aggressiveness, or dependency. He explains how to acquire the ability to listen, assert yourself, resolve conflicts, and work out problems with others. These are skills that will help you communicate calmly, even in stressful emotionally charged situations.

People Skills will show you:

· How to get your needs met using simple assertion techniques

· How body language often speaks louder than words

· How to use silence as a valuable communication tool

· How to de-escalate family disputes, lovers' quarrels, and other heated arguments

Both thought-provoking and practical, People Skills is filled with workable ideas that you can use to improve your communication in meaningful ways, every day.

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People Skills + Messages: The Communication Skills Book
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Product Description

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


Skills for Bridging the Interpersonal Gap

I wish I had some way to make a bridge from man to man...Man is all we've got.

Cross Daman in Richard Wright's Outsider


When one person communicates to another through the medium of language something takes place between them that is found nowhere else in nature. This ability to turn meaningless grunts into spoken and written words constitutes humanity's most important distinction. Language has made possible the development of those characteristics that differentiate Homo sapiens from all other creatures. No wonder the German philosopher Karl Jaspers claims, "Man's supreme achievement in the world is communication from personality to personality."


Although interpersonal communication is humanity's greatest accomplishment, the average person does not communicate well. One of the ironies of modern civilization is that, though mechanical means of communication have been developed beyond the wildest flight of the imagination, people often find it difficult to communicate face-to-face. In this age of technological marvels we can bounce messages off the moon and land space probes on Mars, but we find it difficult to relate to those we love.

I have become increasingly aware of the inadequacy of most communication. In our society it is rare for persons to share what really matters -- the tender, shy, reluctant feelings, the sensitive, fragile, intense disclosures. It is equally rare for persons to listen intently enough to really understand what another is saying. Sometimes people fix their gaze on a friend who is talking and allow their minds to wander off to other matters. Sometimes, while the friend speaks, they pretend to listen but are merely marking time, formulating what they will say as soon as they discover a way to begin talking. Nathan Miller caustically remarked that "conversation in the United States is a competitive exercise in which the first person to draw a breath is declared the listener."

Ineffective communication causes an interpersonal gap that is experienced in all facets of life and in all sectors of society. Loneliness, family problems, vocational incompetence and dissatisfaction, psychological stress, physical illness, and even death result when communication breaks down. In addition to the personal frustration and the heartache resulting from it, the interpersonal gap is now one of the major social problems of our troubled society.


Many people today yearn for warm, positive, meaningful relatedness to others, but seem unable to experience it. The psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan put it this way:

The deepest problem of people is loneliness, isolation, and difficulty of self-esteem in our society. Whereas the problem in Freud's early decades was sexual repression, and the chief problem in the early thirties, when Karen Homey wrote, was disguised hostility, today it is loneliness.

There are two kinds of aloneness. Solitude can be a creative, joyous, full aloneness. But loneliness is a painful, dead, empty aloneness. Loneliness is being acutely aware of one's isolation and alienation from others. As David Riesman pointed out, when one is not vitally in touch with oneself or others, loneliness can occur even in the midst of a crowd.

"Loneliness" -- the sound of the word conveys some of the heartache associated with it. Try saying the word aloud several times in a sorrowful voice: "Loneliness...loneliness...loneliness..." The very word has a melancholy ring to it. It represents much pain for many people.

Several reasons have been given for the increased ache of loneliness in modern times. Materialism (finding one's solace in things rather than in people), the mobility of people, uprootedness of families and the bureaucratic structure of organizations -- these are just a few. I am convinced that another major cause of this interpersonal gap, and the one that may be easiest to rectify, is inadequate methods of interpersonal communication.


Unfortunately, the most intense loneliness today is often found in the family where communication is breaking down or is in a shambles. Marriage, the most complicated of human relationships, cannot flourish without effective communication. Couples hoping to establish an enriching marriage often lack the needed relational skills and end up living parallel lives in a marriage without intimacy. The often-quoted words of the poet T. S. Eliot describe what may be a typical family:

Two people who know they do not understand each other, Breeding children whom they do not understand And who will never understand them.

Proximity without intimacy is inevitably destructive. When communication is blocked, love's energy turns to resentment and hostility. Frequent bickering, withering sarcasm, repetitious criticism, or an icy retreat into silence and sexual unresponsiveness result. One woman, after describing her family's dysfunctional patterns of communication said, "I live in a psychological slum, not a home."

As most parents can attest, it is no easy thing to raise children today. Virginia Satir, a leader in the family therapy field, writes:

Parents teach in the toughest school in the world -- The School for Making People. You are the board of education, the principal, the classroom teacher, and the janitor....You are expected to be experts on all subjects pertaining to life and living....There are few schools to train you for your job, and there is no general agreement on the curriculum. You have to make it up yourself. Your school has no holidays, no vacations, no unions, no automatic promotions or pay raises. You are on duty or at least on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for at least 18 years for each child you have. Besides that, you have to contend with an administration that has two leaders or bosses, whichever the case may be -- and you know the traps two bosses can get into with each other. Within this context you carry on your people-making. I regard this as the hardest, most complicated, anxiety-ridden, sweat and blood producing job in the world.

Healthy communication is vitally important in raising a family. For couples who have competence in communication skills, parenthood can be one of the most rewarding and joyous experiences of their lifetime. When parents have not mastered skills for accurate, congruent communication, the resulting anguish, alienation, and loneliness for parents and children alike can be devastating.

Readers of Ann Landers's advice column were shocked when they read that 70 percent of the people responding to her survey said they were sorry they had children. Though her sample was not a true cross-section of the population, and though Landers admitted that readers with negative feelings had a stronger compulsion to respond than those with positive feelings, there was considerable evidence to support her survey's general results. Dr. Harcharan Sehdev, Director of the Children's Division of the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas, said, "The Landers letters appear to reflect the general changing trends and opinions of family systems and the place of children in our homes and society."

Communication is the lifeblood of every relationship. When open, clear, sensitive communication takes place, the relationship is nurtured. When communication is guarded, hostile, or ineffective, the relationship falters. When the communication flow is largely obstructed, the relationship quickly deteriorates and ultimately dies. Where communication skills are lacking, there is so much lost love -- between spouses, lovers, friends, parents and children. For satisfying relationships, it is essential to discover methods that will help us to at least partially bridge the interpersonal gaps that separate us from others.


Eighty percent of the people who fail at work do so for one reason: they do not relate well to other people. One's productivity as a supervisor or manager, nurse or secretary, mental health worker or janitor, laborer, attorney, physician, clerk, or minister is greatly enhanced by the ability to communicate well. In fact, it is difficult to think of a single job in which communication is unimportant.

A mechanical engineer mused, "I thought my engineering training was all I would need. But I spend most of my time on people problems." A teacher commented, "I was educated to be a physics teacher. Since I've been in the classroom, I discovered I teach people. I spend most of my energy trying to restore order. Why didn't my graduate program help me with this?" Communication skills are clearly keys to on-the-job success.


Most human interaction is for better or for worse. Each moment with another person can be an opportunity for discovery and growth or for the erosion of identity and the destruction of one's personhood. Our personality development and mental and physical health are linked to the caliber of our communication. One does not become fully human without interaction with other human beings. Indeed, the philosopher Martin Heidegger refers to language as "the dwelling place of being."

People need people. As the title of one book had it, "You can't be human alone." Each person matures through enhancing dialogues with others. In The Mystery of Being, Gabriel Marcel observes, "When somebody's presence does really make itself felt, it can refresh my inner being; it reveals me to myself, it makes me feel more fully myself than I should be if I were not exposed to its impact."

Conversely, lack of communication or frequent exposure to poor communication diminishes one's selfhood both emotionally and physically. Many believe that mental illness is primarily a problem of inadequate communication. The psychologically sick individual has not achieved good human rel...

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Decent work, but flawed Dec 18 1999
Bolton's work on people's skills has some good ideas and should be used. I was dismayed though that the other reviews I read all thought this was worthy of 5 stars. Some of Bolton's arguments are flawed and using some of his techniques may lead to greater conflict. On one part of his work he seems to be saying that compromise is bad, and you are weak if you compromise. Not compromising has led to many of the armed conflicts that we have seen, (I will concede that compromising TOO much is weak), but some compromise especially in a marriage faciliates greater harmony, and opens up the possibility for greater communication between spouses. I feel the reader needs to "read between the lines" to really see what Bolton's philosophy is. The reader should take what is good out of this book and use it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good ideas although too verbose Dec 14 2003
"People Skills" is a primer on interacting with others. Bolton's premise is that our communication patterns are inherently faulty and he urges the reader adopt his framework to remedy. He presents - in order - listening skills, assertion skills, conflict-resolution skills, and collaborative problem solving skills, with each building upon the others. He blends keen insight into human nature, concepts of psychology and basic Judeo-Christian values into what appears to be a very effective methodology. The skills seem obvious, but in practice are rarely used, and in fact are rather uncomfortable when trying to start using.
I found Bolton's framework very valuable and thus far see its application can profoundly improve my own people skills in both a business and parental setting. Unfortunately, like most books of this type, the text is extremely verbose. Bolton possesses a style that is much less dry and wordy than many of his peers - in fact, I find it difficult to finish most of these types of books - but the ideas plus examples could have been distilled down to one-half the length of the 300 pages. The text is also very well referenced and footnoted, but - as a lay reader - I think the constant crediting other psychologists and philosophers confuse and muddy the message. This could be a book that one could return to periodically to refresh their skills, but its length will prevent the less diligent. I found myself taking detailed notes on each chapter for later referral; while a testament to the material, I wish the author had made it easier to digest.
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If you are too passive or are too aggressive in your conversations, this book will help you achieve a middle ground of being assertive, while at the same time, being sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. If you have difficulty expressing your feelings or if you have difficulty handling strong feelings that others express towards you, then this book will help you. If your arguments escalate out of control or end in stony silence, then this book will provide you with much-needed guidance. If the decisions you make with friends, partners, coworkers, etc. end up with one person getting his/her way and everyone else losing, then the advice in this book will help you to bring about situations in which everyone wins.
In short, "People Skills" is a really good book for interpersonal communication and collaborative problem-solving, and I recommend it highly to everyone.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Mastering Communication March 17 2002
By Miriam
Bolton does a good job of teaching communication strategies. He identifies "high risk" responses -- words that put up barriers between people and lead to resentment and anger. He also discusses the art of reflective listening, reading body language, and, finally, assertiveness. He correctly states that being assertive will, on occasion, bring you into conflict with others. The book instructs you on how to deftly handle conflict and defensiveness. This is where the tough skills of listening and communicating come into play.
Bolton's writing style is steady and clear, but not especially lively. That makes the book somewhat of a chore to read, despite the good information contained therein. I would give it 5 stars for content alone, but 3 stars for presentation. Odd, in fact, that a book on communication fails to maintain an interesting tone.
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5.0 out of 5 stars One for the bookshelf! Aug. 4 1998
By A Customer
This book is one of the best books on skills on human relationships that I have ever read. It is easy to understand and gives indepth advice on how to improve. The barriers in communication which are brought up in the book are so common to people which can only help by being aware of them. The style is easy going rather than academic! I do suggest doing some kind of counselling course before reading the book because some of the concepts are related to that area; the book has made me appreciate what really happens in human communication. The areas are well researched with quotes and personal experinces which give the book substance. Unlike some information that is recieved this book will deliver if the contents are properly practiced. It is a book that anyone can read time and time again with something to learn each reading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant work May 13 2000
By A Customer
I have gone through the other reviews and I disagree with the criticism a few of them show. I have so far read over 30 books on people-communications skills and relationships, and I believe this is one of the best. It is unique in its approach, ethical, very easy to read and, more importantly, it works. It absolutely works. I was pleasantly surprised for the results when applying the techniques. It is one of those books you read and re-read. Interacting with others successfully is one of the most difficult, yet rewarding aspects of life. I honestly think this book, if taken seriously, can dramatically improve that interaction. I have only endorsed five books in (Being an avid reader, I have bought and read about 120 during the last three years), and this is one of them.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Changed My Way of Communicating
Not many books live up to the hype of being life-changing, but this one did. I bought copies for all my family members. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Robert H. Du Broy
2.0 out of 5 stars Author lacks communication skills
The techniques presented in this book are obvious and poorly covered. Each chapter feels like an introduction, a summary of what's to come. Read more
Published on April 9 2011 by Dusty Phillips
5.0 out of 5 stars Pleased with Service
I ordered a book and am well pleased the service I received. Within a short period of time I received my product...Thank you. Any more books I need I will be using your business.
Published on March 24 2009 by G. J. Yost
4.0 out of 5 stars INSIDE RADHIKA's MIND
The book "People Skills", by Robert Bolton, Ph.D is one of those self help books that is suppose to help you improve your skills in listening, resolving problems, and asserting... Read more
Published on May 31 2004 by radhika
5.0 out of 5 stars This book has made a difference to me.
I have read the book "People Skills" by Jim Bolton again, to further improve my ability to communicate with people, and be more of a support to them. Read more
Published on Oct. 21 2003 by Peter Pullar
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be a mandatory read for everyone...period!
I have more books than I can count on all of my appendages regarding communication & relationships. Read more
Published on Aug. 18 2002 by D. Grendahl
5.0 out of 5 stars A reference I use again and again
This is one of those really practical books that I return to again and again. It is direct in its advice and practical in what it recommends to the reader. Read more
Published on April 24 2002 by Kevin Raum
5.0 out of 5 stars a great tool!
this was required reading for my instructors training and it had some really awesome ideas and talks a lot about assertive techniques... Read more
Published on Oct. 15 2001 by pdxbeautiful
5.0 out of 5 stars required reading
This book should be in every high school in America. The skills discussed in this book are invaluable tools to interacting with anyone. Read more
Published on Dec 18 2000
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