Core Communication Skills and Process

Author: Sherod Miller and Phyllis Miller

Outline prepared by: Mary Anderson
Note: When you buy the book, it comes with an Awareness Wheel floor mat, a Listening Cycle floor mat, an Awareness Wheel pad of paper, and a set of pocket cards that outline the skills.Very cool.


3 Forces involved in issues

  • Content: the subject, information, story
  • Outcome:
    the solution, resolution, results
  • Process: style, awareness, skills (When you attend well to process – recognize its impact and put it to work for everyone involved – you can deal more effectively with complicated and difficult issues.)

An 80/20 rule – look inside first: About 80 percent of the time, the important content for creating satisfying outcomes to the challenging issues you face resides inside yourself and the others involved.

It only takes one person to change an interaction. (Let it Be YOU!)

Chapter 1: Communication Styles Map

Style I

  • Small Talk: helps build rapport (hellos, goodbyes, news, weather, sports)
  • Shop Talk: focuses on task-related information to get a job done, keeps people informed, maintains a system
  • Conventional Listening: show interest in a topic, but expend limited energy (partial attending, varying eye contact) Note that this style of listening can trigger anger if someone wants more responsiveness and involvement from the listener.
Style II
  • Control Talk: focus on using power and control to be efficient and constructive (direct, evaluate, set expectations, selling)
  • Fight Talk: aggressive style that attempts to force change by attacking others and defending self (blaming, labeling, name-calling, arguing, interrogating, moralizing, from a one-up position of power)
  • Spite Talk: passive-aggressive style that resembles guerrilla warfare (uses control from a one-down position, taking pot shots, implying poor me, complaining, pouting, gossiping, keeping score)
  • Reactive Listening: intent is to defend or counter a position by listening selectively and trying to deflect or direct the other person’s disclosures (interrupting, rehearsing internally your next statement).

Style III

  • Search Talk: speculate about causes, brainstorm possibilities, pose solutions without committing yourself
  • Explorative Listening: uses open questions to guide the conversation, probe for information. Goal is to gain perspective, expand knowledge, clarify misunderstandings.

Style IV

  • Straight Talk: gets to the heart of an issue by focusing on your own experience, owning your own contributions and responses to an issue, acting on new awareness (Awareness Wheel is a form of Straight Talk)
  • Attentive Listening: lets the other person express his/her awareness – wherever that leads you (typically doesn’t involve many questions; rather encouragement and an invitation to “say more about that.”)

Note: Fight Talk and Spite Talk should be seen as cues to shift to Search Talk or Straight Talk

Chapter 2: Interactive Principles

SOS – we operate in relationship networks comprised of

  • Self: Yourself
  • Other(s): people who are immediately and
    centrally involved
  • Stakeholders: people who are peripherally involved
    yet still affected

Differences between and among people in the SOS System increase the potential for conflict; poor solutions discount someone in the SOS System


Issue: anything (situation, event, experience, awareness, opportunity) that concerns you or any other person in your SOS network and requires resolution.Issues indicate something is changing or must change.


Chapter 3:The Awareness Wheel Map

Issues are made up of 5 types of information

  • Sensory Data: what you see, hear, smell, taste, touch (examples: facial expressions, words, tone)
  • Thoughts: the meanings you make out of the sensory data you receive often in the form of beliefs (past oriented),
    interpretations (present), or expectations (future oriented).Note that others may hear and see the same data and come to very different conclusions.
  • Feelings: spontaneous physiological responses to your interpretation of sensory data (happiness,
    sadness, anger, fear, disgust, and surprise are the 6 basic feelings)
  • Wants: your desires for yourself and for others; wants typically fall into 3 groups – to be, to do, to have Wants for others and stakeholders builds bridges. Wanting for others means wanting for them what they want for
    themselves (not to be confused with what you want from others)
  • Actions: what you say and do – your verbal and non-verbal behaviors – in the past, present, and future


The above talking skills can be used in any sequence.

Speaking for SELF is key to using the Wheel – I, me, my, or mine


Self-Talk is the intrapersonal process of connecting with all parts of yourself in order to resolve an issue. The
Awareness Wheel can be used as a tool for self-talk.


Chapter 4:Interactive Principle and Guides

Use your self awareness to identify early warning cues of pressure in yourself.Pay attention to muscle tension, thinking
you are stuck, feeling fear or distrust, experiencing thwarted desires, using Spite talk . . . when this happens, Breathe
and Go to Center
(see page 71)

Chapter 5:Interactive Principle and Guides

Every Body Speaks Its Mind: non-verbal language is more powerful than verbal language; people are often unaware of the non-verbal cues they are sending; non-verbals are easy to misinterpret; when you do not understand something that you see non verbally, ask for clarification; pay attention when verbals and non-verbals don’t seem to match up with each other and check it out further

Establish Rapport: Being in sync with another builds rapport; look for ways to signal sameness and reduce difference by literally matching another person’s behavior such as speech rate or posture.(Note: don’t do this when they are upset)

Play Hot or Cold: Other people’s non verbals are the hot and cold feedback that gives us clues as to whether what we are doing is working or not working.

Chapter 6: The Listening Cycle Map

Ask yourself these questions about your listening behavior:
“To what extent do I inhibit, contaminate, or encourage the other’s information?
“Is my intent to control or connect?
“Do I push for agreement or pursue understanding (on which to build agreement)?

Conventional Listening is appropriate for non-issue situations.

Reactive Listening fits when you want to gain selective information, to formulate a quick reaction.

Explorative Listening uses questions to gather important information about issues.

Attentive Listening encourages others to lead you to their core information.

Explorative Listening is a semi-open style
that revolves around asking different types of questions.The structure of the question limits or expands the degree of openness in the conversation and the kind of information gained.Whether
knowingly or unknowingly, the listener pursues his/her own agenda more than the talker’s agenda to discover information.

Some people think listening means solving problems so their job as a listener is to guide the talker to a solution, or come up with the answer.As a result, they start asking questions prematurely.

Positive Impacts of Explorative Listening: fill in missing information, clarify unclear parts, keep a conversation going Negative Impacts of Explorative Listening: disrupting the flow of the talker’s story, directing the conversation away from critical information, influencing and possibly contaminating information

Attentive Listening is an open style where the listener’s goal is to discover information by encouraging the talker to speak freely about his or her full awareness.The listening cycle includes the following steps:

  1. Attend – look, listen, track: give your full attention, observe talker’s nonverbals, track the zones disclosed of the Awareness Wheel, let the talker set the pace, set aside your own concerns temporarily
  2. Acknowledge – other’s experience: small fragments of words, phrases, or brief sentences that attempt to note accurately what the talker is experiencing.Examples:“Bummer,”“Scary,”nodding your head
  3. Invite – more information: saying or doing something that encourages the talker to continue spontaneously talking about whatever it is he or she wants to tell you. “Say more,” “What else?” or “This is hard for me to hear, but I’d like you to continue.”Keep inviting – two, three, or more times – this is like peeling an onion a layer at a time as each invitation takes you deeper into the core of a person’s experience.Inviting lets the talker lead you to the critical information.Until the talker has no more to add, questions are premature and mainly distract and sidetrack.
  4. Summarize – to ensure accuracy: summarizing demonstrates to the talker that you have accurately
    understood what he or she has said. “Let me see if I’ve got what you just said.”Recycle a summary more than once until both of you are satisfied that the message sent equals the message received.
  5. Ask – open questions: after you have helped a person tell his/her story as completely as possible using the Attentive Listening Skills #1 through #4 above, then ask open questions.Ask questions least and last.

Chapter 7 contains interesting, but non-essential information

Chapter 8:Interactive Principle & Guide

If what you are doing in an interaction isn’t working, Recognize, Stop, and Shift.Try focusing on a different part of the
Awareness Wheel, Breathe and Center, change posture, lower your voice, slow down the pace, etc.

Watch for resistance. When you are talking (leading) and get 2 cold responses in a row, that
is resistance and it is time to Recognize, Stop, and Shift.

 Do not run from resistance.Engage it; explore it; follow it.Like a reliable road sign, resistance tells you where you must go next.

Chapter 9:Conflict Patterns Map

Ways of Dealing with Conflict:

  1. Avoid: ignore it, deny its significance, claim to be too busy.Results in outcomes that happen by chance or default, critical decisions go unaddressed, people in SOS are usually dissatisfied.
  2. Persuade: talk yourself or someone else into a course of action, regardless of other parts of your Wheel; sell the other on your own thoughts, feelings, wants through Control Talk or comply without counting yourself to keep the peace.Results in “false agreement”
  3. Float: skim the surface of an issue, yet leave out critical parts (feelings, wants) or never commit to take action.Results in endless talk, indecision
  4. Compromise: give up one thing to gain another. Results in resolutions that are often conditional and fragile.
  5. Collaborate: creating best-fit solutions to benefit everyone in the SOS system. Solutions often take more time initially; trust grows; usually yields highest possible levels of satisfaction for everyone in SOS

Chapter 10:Collaborative Process

Mapping an Issue

  1. Identify and Define the Issue
  2. Contract to Work Through the Issue
  3. Understand the Issue Completely
  4. Identify Wants
  5. Generate and Consider Options
  6. Choose Actions
  7. Test the Action Plan
  8. Evaluate the Outcome


Chapter 11:Responding to Fight Talk, Spite Talk, and Mixed Messages

Responding to Fight Talk

Note: If you sense any physical danger, get out of
harm’s way

  • Breathe and Center
  • Attend – look, listen, track (but do NOT mirror negative behavior)
  • Relate first to the person’s emotion
  • Invite, encourage, summarize

Responding to Spite Talk

  • Breathe and Center
  • Describe what you see and hear, and ask what is wrong
  • If you get a positive response, map the issue together
  • Consider having a Straight Talk conversation about the other person’s pattern of Spite Talk, asking for a change in the behavior

Responding to Mixed Messages

  • Mixed messages occur when people combine small talk, shop talk, search talk, or straight talk with control talk, fight talk, or spite talk
  • Tone and non-verbals may not match words, may be sarcastic
  • Respond by commenting on both parts of the contradictory message and ask what the talker really means

Chapter 12: Planning a Process

This chapter takes a workbook approach and helps you analyze a situation, plan your process, figure contingencies, and take action


Ordering Information: This book, and the cool floor mats, can be ordered from
Interpersonal Communication Programs in Colorado at 800-328-5099.


Primary Goals sits at the intersection of three core ideas about communication:
  • Leaders create vision by communicating a compelling future to their teams.
  • Teams create success based on how effectively the communicate and coordinate with each other.
  • Entrepreneurial ventures are successful only when they communicate value to people with a concern that the business can take care of
In all cases, it’s about Conversations for Committed Results.  That’s our Primary Goal.  



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