Describe potential opportunities for developing interpersonal skills on the job.

Chapter A Framework for Interpersonal Skill Development


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Learning Objectives

After reading and studying this chapter and completing the exercises, you should be able to

Explain how interpersonal skills are learned.

Explain the model for interpersonal skills improvement, including how to set goals effectively.

Pinpoint your needs for improvement in interpersonal relations.

Describe potential opportunities for developing interpersonal skills on the job.

When Marissa Mayer was 24 years old, she joined Google as employee number 20. While at Google, she ran the company’s search group and worked on successful products such as Gmail. Her last position with the company was vice president, local, maps, and location services, placing her just below Google’s top-executives suite. At age 37, Mayer joined Yahoo! as chief executive and president, the company’s seventh CEO. Her mission was to turn around a company that had lost ground as perhaps the best-known search and content company on the Internet.

At once, the vivacious, glamorous, and super-intelligent Mayer became a celebrity CEO, receiving worldwide publicity. At Stanford University, Mayer majored in symbolic systems, a course of studies that includes psychology, linguistics, philosophy, and computer science. The aim of the program is to understand how people learn and reason, and to endow computers with human-like behavior. A dorm-mate of Mayer’s who later became an information technology executive said that although Mayer was shy, she was not a loner. He claims that Mayer stood out because she had unusual balance along with a deep understanding of people and how to relate to them effectively.

Mayer was a standout at high school, too being captain of the debate club and the pom-pom team. She was known for scheduling long pom-pom practices to make sure that everyone was synchronized. She was also recognized for her exceptional talent in choreography as well as her fairness; she made sure the best dancers made the team.

At Google, Mayer was obsessively driven, working 90 hours per week when necessary to complete a key project. She developed a reputation for being brusque with people and quick to criticize team members when she disagreed with their ideas. Yet at the same time, Mayer respected others‘ talents and had many positive personal qualities that helped her attain popularity. At Google, Mayer became a leader who motivated individuals because she nurtured talent.

Part of Mayer’s leadership style is to empower employees and urge them to make constructive changes. In her first few months at Yahoo!, she personally approved every new hire to help assure that talented and well-motivated people were joining the company. One of her first moves at the company to please employees was to provide free food in the company cafeteria and free smartphones for all employees.

Mayer’s interest in employees also includes establishing a connection with Yahoo!’s programmers by engaging them in regular e-mail exchanges with software engineers who report to other managers in the company. She also initiated weekly “FYI” meetings every Friday in which employees are able to ask her questions, and new hires are announced.[1]

One of the several themes in this story about the famous Internet executive is that even at the highest level in an organization, skill in human relations facilitates success. Mayer may be work-obsessed and technology-obsessed, but at the same time she relates well to many people and has a deep concern for the welfare and development of others. The Dale Carnegie organization explains that because the workplace today emphasizes collaboration, motivation, and leadership, outstanding interpersonal skills are quite important.[2]

Effective interpersonal relations must be combined with technical knowledge and good work habits to achieve success in any job involving interaction with people. Workers at all levels are expected not only to solve problems and improve processes (how work is performed), but also to interact effectively with other employees.[3] Two employment specialists found that being enjoyable to work with is the most important indicator of employability. Joyce Hogan and Kimberly Brinkmeyer analyzed the content of employment ads across the United States. Of the total positions advertised, 47 percent required strong interpersonal skills. The same skills were identified as essential for 71 percent of the positions involving client contact and 78 percent of the positions requiring coworker interaction.[4]

The viewpoint of Bob McJury, the vice president for sales of a graphics company, places the importance of interpersonal skills on a more personal and less statistical basis. He observes that the basics of being courteous to people are very important for the success of his company.[5]

Furthermore, the lack of good interpersonal skills can adversely affect a person’s career. A study found that 90 percent of firings result from poor attitudes, inappropriate behavior, and problems in interpersonal relationships, rather than substandard technical skills.[6] An example of poor interpersonal relations that led to job loss was a receptionist at a boat dealer who told several potential customers something to this effect: “Are you just here to look? You don’t look like you could afford one of our speedboats.”

Another way of looking at the importance of interpersonal skills is that they enable you to connect with others, thereby being more successful in business. Author Susan Scott observes that the next frontier for growth in business lies in the area of human connectivity.[7]

This chapter explains how people develop interpersonal skills and presents a model that can serve as a foundation for improving your interpersonal skills. In addition, the chapter explains how the workplace can be a natural setting for developing interpersonal skills.

Plan of The Book

Learning Objective 1

This entire book is devoted to many different ways of improving interpersonal relations in organizations. A three-part strategy is presented for achieving the high level of effectiveness in interpersonal relations required in today’s workplace.

First, each chapter presents key concepts required for understanding a particular aspect of interpersonal relations, such as resolving conflict. Second, the chapter provides specific suggestions or behavioral guidelines for improvement in the aspect of interpersonal relations under consideration. Third, a variety of exercises give you the opportunity to work on and improve your skills. Among these exercises are self-assessment quizzes, skill-building exercises, and cases for analysis. In addition, the questions at the end of each chapter give you an opportunity to think through and apply the key ideas in the chapter. Figure 1-1 illustrates the plan of the book.

Much of this book is concerned with interpersonal skills training, the teaching of skills for dealing with others so they can be put into practice.

interpersonal skills training

The teaching of skills for dealing with others so that they can be put into practice.

Interpersonal skills training is referred to as soft-skills training to differentiate it from technical training. (Technical skill training is referred to as hard-skills training.) Soft-skills training builds interpersonal skills, including communication, listening, group problem solving, cross-cultural relations, and customer service. In recent years, business schools have pushed the teaching of soft skills such as accepting feedback with grace and speaking


Figure 1-1 Plan for Achieving Effectiveness in Interpersonal Relations

with respect to subordinates. The reason is that many corporate executives think that these skills are essential for future business leaders.[8] Several other specific competencies related to soft skills are as follows:

Effectively translating and conveying information

Being able to accurately interpret other people’s emotions

Being sensitive to other people’s feelings

Calmly arriving at resolutions to conflicts

Avoiding negative gossip

Being polite [9]

Being able to cooperate with others to meet objectives (teamwork)

Providing leadership to others in terms of the relationship aspects of leadership

Soft-skills training is more important than ever as organizations realize that a combination of human effort and technology is needed to produce results. Multiple studies have shown that soft skills can compensate somewhat for not having superior cognitive (or analytical) intelligence. For example, a supervisor with good interpersonal skills might perform well even if he or she is not outstandingly intelligent.

Soft skills are often the differentiating factor between adequate and outstanding performance because dealing with people is part of so many jobs.[10] Assume that a company establishes an elaborate social networking site to enable employees to exchange work-related information with each other. The system will not achieve its potential unless employees are motivated to use it properly and develop a spirit of cooperation. The employees must also be willing to share some of their best ideas with each other. Consider this example:

Sonya, a newly hired intake receptionist in a cardiac clinic, notices that too often the patients present incomplete or inaccurate information, such as omitting data about their next of kin. Sonya spends considerable amounts of time reworking forms with the patients, until she begins using soft skills more effectively. With coaching from her supervisor, Sonya learns that if she attempts to calm down a patient first, the patient is more likely to complete the intake form accurately.

Well-known executive coach Marshall Goldsmith reminds us that building relationships with people is important for workers at every level in the organization, including the CEO. An example of an interpersonal skill that can help build relationships is demanding good results from others and showing them respect at the same time.[11]

The following Job-Oriented Interpersonal Skills in Action box can jumpstart a person’s career.

A Model for Improving Interpersonal Skills

Learning Objective 2

Acquiring and improving interpersonal skills is facilitated by following a basic model of learning as it applies to changing your behavior. Learning is a complex subject, yet its fundamentals follow a five-part sequence, as shown in Figure 1-2. To change your behavior,


Figure 1-2 A Model for Improving Interpersonal Skills

Job-Oriented Interpersonal Skills in Action Jeremy Gets Rewarded for His Interpersonal Skills

Jeremy works as an electronics technician for Event Planners, a company that specializes in setting up exhibits for companies and trade associations at business meetings and conventions. Jeremy’s work is highly specialized and requires installing and uninstalling electronics in compressed periods of time. All of the electronics have to work well, including panel displays, television sets, and computers. The planned events usually take place over a three-day to one-week time period, leaving little time to make repairs if the displays are set up incorrectly.

While returning home from a convention in Chicago, Jeremy received a text message from Katie, his manager: “Can you make a Monday 9 a.m. meeting in my cubicle? Have good news for you.” Jeremy thought, “If Pamela wants to meet with me in person rather than virtually, this must be big.” Jeremy sent back a text message immediately that he would make the meeting.

At the meeting, Pamela offered Jeremy a promotion to the position of team leader. The present team leader was moving to another position in the company, creating the vacancy. Jeremy would still have some responsibility for installing the electronic parts of exhibit booths, but his primary role would be as a team leader (also known as a crew supervisor). Jeremy’s salary would be immediately increased by 10 percent.

With a big smile on his face, Jeremy said, “Wow, Pamela, that’s a great offer, and I accept immediately. I love Event Planners, and I really want more responsibility. But why did you choose me? A few of the other members of the team have more experience than me, and they are very good workers.”

Pamela replied, “My boss and I both chose you for the same reason. In addition to your good technical qualifications, you work great with people. You are polite and friendly, and from what I hear, you give your coworkers encouragement when they need it the most. When the pressure is enormous, you help others stay calm.”

“Thank you for your encouragement, Pamela,” said Jeremy. “I can’t wait for our next exhibit installation.”


To what extent is Pamela justified in promoting Jeremy to team leader over other, more experienced workers just because he has good people skills?

From the few statements made by Jeremy above, which good interpersonal skills are you able to detect?

and therefore improve, you need a goal and a way to measure your current reality against this goal. You also need a way to assess that reality and a way to obtain feedback on the impact of your new actions.[12]

Goal or Desired State of Affairs

Changing your behavior, including enhancing your interpersonal relations, requires a clear goal or desired state of affairs. Your goal can also be regarded as what you want to accomplish as a result of your effort. A major reason having a specific goal is important is that it improves performance and increases personal satisfaction. With a goal in mind, you keep plugging away until you attain it, thereby increasing personal satisfaction and improving your performance. Goals are also important because if people perceive that they have not attained their goal, they typically increase their effort or modify their strategy for reaching the goal.[13]

Having a goal helps provide motivation and makes it possible to exercise the self-discipline necessary to follow through on your plans. In short, the goal focuses your effort on acquiring the improvements in behavior you seek.

Here we turn to Sean, a credit analyst who is being blocked from promotion because his manager perceives him as having poor interpersonal skills. After a discussion with his manager, Sean recognizes that he must improve his interpersonal relations if he wants to become a team leader.

Sean’s goal is to be considered worthy of promotion to a leadership position. To achieve his goal, he will have to achieve the general goal of improving his interpersonal relations. By conferring with the human resources director, Sean learns that his broad goal of “improving my interpersonal relations” will have to be supported by more specific goals. Having poor interpersonal relations or “rubbing people the wrong way” is reflected in many different behaviors. To begin, Sean selects one counterproductive behavior to improve: He is exceptionally intolerant of others and does not hide his intolerance. Sean’s goal is to become less intolerant and more patient in his dealings with others on the job.

State each goal as a positive statement.

Formulate specific goals.

Formulate concise goals.

Set realistic goals as well as stretch goals.

Set goals for different time periods.

Figure 1-3 Guidelines for Goal Setting

Fine Points about Goal Setting

So far, we have made goal setting seem easy. A truer description of goal setting is that it involves several fine points to increase the probability that the goal will be achieved. Key points about setting effective goals are outlined in Figure 1-3 and described next.

State Each Goal as a Positive Statement: To express your goals in positive statements is likely to be more energizing than focusing on the negative. [14]  An example of a positive statement would be, “During the next year when I am attending networking events, I will create a positive, professional impression with everybody I meet.” The negative counterpart would be, “During the next year, I will avoid making a fool of myself when I am attending networking events.” Despite this suggestion, there are times when a negative goal is useful, such as in reducing errors.

Formulate Specific Goals: A goal such as “attain success” is too vague to serve as a guide to daily action. A more useful goal would be to state specifically what you mean by success and when you expect to achieve it. For example, “I want to be the manager of patient services at a large medical clinic by January 1, 2018, and receive above-average performance reviews.”

Formulate Concise Goals: A useful goal can usually be expressed in a short, punchy statement; for example: “Decrease input errors in bank statements so that customer complaints are decreased by 25 percent by September 30 of this year.” People new to goal setting typically commit the error of formulating lengthy, rambling goal statements. These lengthy goals involve so many different activities that they fail to serve as specific guides to action.

Set Realistic as Well as Stretch Goals: A realistic goal is one that represents the right amount of challenge for the person pursuing the goal. On the one hand, easy goals are not very motivational; they may not spring you into action. On the other hand, goals that are too far beyond your capabilities may lead to frustration and despair because there is a good chance you will fail to reach them. The extent to which a goal is realistic depends on a person’s capabilities.

An easy goal for an experienced person might be a realistic goal for a beginner. Self-efficacy is also a factor in deciding whether a goal is realistic. (The term refers to the confidence in your ability to carry out a specific task.) The higher your self-efficacy, the more likely you are to think that a particular goal is realistic. A person with high self-efficacy for learning Chinese might say, “I think learning two new Chinese words a day is realistic.”


The confidence in your ability to carry out a specific task.

Several goals that stretch your capability might be included in your list of goals. An extreme stretch goal might be for a store manager trainee to become the vice president of merchandising for Target within four years. Another type of stretch goal is striving for a noble cause. A Home Depot supervisor might not get excited about having the store associates load lumber onto the steel shelves, but she might get excited about the lumber being used to build homes, schools, and hospitals.

Set Goals for Different Time Periods: Goals are best set for different time periods, such as daily, short range, medium range, and long range. Daily goals are essentially a to-do list. Short-range goals cover the period from approximately one week to one year into the future. Finding a new job, for example, is typically a short-range goal. Medium-range goals relate to events that will take place within approximately two to five years. They concern such things as the type of education or training you plan to undertake and the next step in your career.

Long-range goals refer to events taking place five years into the future and beyond. As such, they relate to the overall lifestyle you wish to achieve, including the type of work and family situation you hope to have. Although every person should have a general idea of a desirable lifestyle, long-range goals should be flexible. You might, for example, plan to stay single until age 40. But while on vacation next summer, you might just happen to meet the right partner for you.

Short-range goals make an important contribution to attaining goals of longer duration. If a one-year career goal is to add 25 worthwhile contacts to your social network, a good way to motivate yourself is to search for two contacts per month for 11 months, and search for three in the remaining month. Progress toward a larger goal is self-rewarding.

Assessing Reality

The second major requirement for a method of changing behavior is to assess reality. Sean needs a way to assess how far he is from his goal of being eligible for promotion and how intolerant he is perceived to be. Sean has already heard from his manager, Alison, that he is not eligible for promotion right now. Sean might want to dig for more information by finding answers to the following questions:

“If I were more tolerant, would I be promoted now?”

“How bad are my interpersonal relations in the office?”

“How many people in the office think I rub them the wrong way?”

“How many deficiencies do my manager and coworkers perceive me to have?”

A starting point in answering these questions might be for Sean to confer with Alison about his behavior. To be more thorough, however, Sean might ask a friend in the office to help him answer the questions. A coworker is sometimes in an excellent position to provide feedback on how one is perceived by others in the office. Sean could also ask a confidant outside the office about his intolerance. Sean could ask a parent, a significant other, or both about the extent of his intolerance.

An Action Plan

The learning model needs some mechanism to change the relationship between the person and the environment. An action plan is a series of steps to achieve a goal. Without an action plan, a personal goal will be elusive. The person who sets the goal may not initiate steps to make his or her dream (a high-level goal) come true. If your goal is to someday become a self-employed business owner, your action plan should include saving money, establishing a good credit rating, and developing dozens of contacts.

action plan

A series of steps to achieve a goal.

Sean has to take some actions to improve his interpersonal relations, especially by reducing his intolerance. The change should ultimately lead to the promotion he desires. Sean’s action plan for becoming more tolerant includes the following:

Pausing to attempt to understand why a person is acting the way he or she does. An example is attempting to understand why a sales representative wants to extend credit to a customer with a poor credit rating.

Learning to control his own behavior so that he does not make intolerant statements just because he is experiencing pressure.

Taking a course in interpersonal skills or human relations.

Asking Alison to give him a quick reminder whenever she directly observes or hears of him being intolerant toward customers or workmates.

A fundamental reason that action plans often lead to constructive changes is the “do good, be good” method. It capitalizes on the well-established principle that our attitudes and beliefs often stem from our behaviors rather than precede them.[15] If Sean, or anybody else, starts being tolerant of and accepting toward people, he will soon believe that tolerance is important.

In addition to formulating these action plans, Sean must have the self-discipline to implement them. For example, he should keep a log of situations in which he was intolerant and those in which he was tolerant. He might also make a mental note to attempt to be cooperative and flexible in most of his dealings at work. When a customer does not provide all of the information that Sean needs to assess his or her creditworthiness, Sean should remind himself to say, “I want to process your credit application as quickly as possible. To do this, I need some important additional information.” Sean’s previous reflex in the same situation had been to snap, “I can’t read your mind. If you want to do business with us, you’ve got to stop hiding the truth.”


Ryan McVay/Getty Images

Feedback on Actions

The fourth step in the learning model is to measure the effects of one’s actions against reality. You obtain feedback on the consequences of your actions. When your skill-improvement goal is complex, such as becoming more effective at resolving conflict, you will usually have to measure your progress in several ways. You will also need both short- and long-term measures of the effectiveness of your actions. Long-term measures are important because skill-development activities of major consequence have long-range implications.

To obtain short-range feedback, Sean can consult with Alison to see whether she has observed any changes in his tolerance. Alison can also collect any feedback she hears from others in the office. Furthermore, Sean will profit from feedback over a prolonged period of time, perhaps one or two years. He will be looking to see whether his image has changed from an intolerant person who rubs people the wrong way to a tolerant person who has cordial interactions with others.

You will often need to be persistent and encouraging to obtain useful feedback from others. Many people are hesitant to give negative feedback because of a conscious or preconsicious recognition that the recipient of the negative feedback might become hostile and retaliate.[16] The recipient of the negative feedback might appear hurt and respond with a statement such as, “I’m not perfect, and neither are you.”

Frequent Practice

The final step in the learning model makes true skill development possible. Implementing the new behavior and using feedback for fine-tuning is an excellent start in acquiring a new interpersonal skill. For the skill to be long lasting, however, it must be integrated into your usual way of conducting yourself.

In Sean’s case, he will have to practice being tolerant regularly until it becomes a positive habit. After a skill is programmed into your repertoire, it becomes a habit. This is important because a skill involves many habits. For example, good customer service skills include the habits of smiling and listening carefully. After you attempt the new interpersonal skills described in this book, you will need to practice them frequently to make a noticeable difference in your behavior. Changes may appear unnnatural at first, but with practice they become ingrained behavioral tendencies and a means of relating to other people.[17]

A sports analogy is appropriate here. Assume that Ashley, a tennis player, takes a lesson to learn how to hit the ball with greater force. The instructor points out that the reason she is not hitting with much force is that she is relying too much on her arm and not enough on her leg and body strength. To hit the ball with more force, Ashley is told that she must put one foot out in front of her when she strikes the ball (she must “step into” the ball).

Skill-Building Exercise 1-1


Applying the Model for Improving Interpersonal Skills

The model for improving interpersonal skills is aimed at developing skills. At the same time, becoming effective in applying the model is a valuable skill in itself. You will need to apply the model perhaps a few times before you can become effective at developing an interpersonal skill when you want to. To get started with the model, attempt to develop an important, yet basic, interpersonal skill. For illustrative purposes, begin with enhancing your ability to give recognition to others for actions and words you consider meritorious. If you are already good at giving recognition, you can enhance your skill even further. For additional information, you might want to refer to the discussion about giving recognition in Chapter 11. The exercise under discussion should take a few minutes here and there to spread out over several weeks.

Step 1.Goal or Desired State of Affairs

Your goal here is to learn how to give recognition or to enhance further your skill in giving recognition. You want to recognize others in such a way that they are encouraged to keep up the good work. (Or perhaps you have another related goal.)

Step 2.Assessing Reality

Ask a few confidants how good you already are in giving recognition. Ask questions such as, “How good have I been in saying thank you?” “When you have done something nice for me, how did I react to you?” “How many thank-you e-mails and text messages have I sent you since you’ve known me?” Also, reflect on your own behavior in such matters as giving a server a big tip for exceptional service or explaining to a tech specialist how much he or she has helped you. Ask yourself whether you have ever thanked a teacher for an outstanding course or explained to a coach how much his or her advice helped you.

Step 3.Action Plan

What are you going to do in the next few weeks to recognize the meritorious behavior of others? Will you be sending thank-you e-mails, text messages, and warmly worded postal cards; offering smiles and handshakes to people who help you; or giving larger-than-usual tips for excellent service with an explanation of why the tip is so large? Part of the action plan will be who are you going to recognize, where you are going to recognize them, when you will be giving recognition, and how (what form of recognition) you will be giving it.

Step 4.Feedback on Actions

Observe carefully how people react to your recognition. Do they smile? Do they shrug off your form of recognition? It is especially important to observe how the person reacts to you during your next interaction. For example, does the server who you tipped so generously give you a big welcome? Does the bank teller who you thanked so sincerely seem eager to cash your next check? If you do not get the intended result from your recognition efforts, you might need to fine-tune your sincerity. Maybe when you sent a recognition e-mail or text message, you did not mention the person’s name, and just wrote “Hey.” Maybe you did not combine a thank you with a smile. Analyze carefully the feedback you receive.

Step 5.Frequent Practice

For this exercise, perhaps you can only practice giving recognition in one or two settings. Yet if this exercise appears promising, you might continue to practice in the future. Should you continue to practice, you will be taking a personal step to make the world a better place.

Under the watchful eye of the coach, Ashley does put a foot out in front when she strikes the ball. Ashley is excited about the good results. But if Ashley fails to make the same maneuver with her feet during her tennis matches, she will persist in hitting weakly. If Ashley makes the effort to use her legs more effectively on almost every shot, she will soon integrate the new movement into her game.

In summary, the basics of a model for learning skills comprise five steps: goal or desired state of affairs → assessing reality → an action plan → feedback on actions → frequent practice. You must exercise self-discipline to complete each step. If you skip a step, you will be disappointed with the results of your interpersonal skill-development program.

Identification of Developmental Needs

Learning Objective 3

An important concept in skill development is that people are most likely to develop new skills when they feel the need for change. A person might reflect, “Hardly anybody ever takes my suggestions seriously, in either face-to-face or electronic meetings. I wonder what I’m doing wrong?” This person is probably ready to learn how to become a more persuasive communicator.

As you read this book and complete the experiential exercises, you will probably be more highly motivated to follow through with skill development in areas in which you think you need development. A specific area in which a person needs to change is referred to as a developmental need. For instance, some people may be too shy, too abrasive, or too intolerant, and some may not give others the encouragement they need.

developmental need

A specific area in which a person needs to change or improve.

To improve interpersonal skills, we must be aware of how we are perceived by people who interact with us. Developmental needs related to interpersonal skills can be identified in several ways. First, if you are candid with yourself you can probably point to areas in which you recognize that change is needed. You might reflect on your experiences and realize that you have had repeated difficulty in resolving conflict. Second, a related approach is to think of feedback you have received. If there has been consistency in asking you to improve in a particular area, you could hypothesize that the feedback has merit. Perhaps five different people have told you that you are not a good team player. “Becoming a better team player” might therefore be one of your developmental needs.

A third approach to assessing developmental needs is to solicit feedback. Ask the opinion of people who know you well to help you identify needs for improvement with respect to interpersonal skills. Present and previous managers are a valuable source of this type of feedback. (As mentioned earlier, you may have to be persistent to obtain feedback because many people are hesistant to provide negative feedback.)

A fourth approach to pinpointing developmental needs is closely related to the previous three: feedback from performance evaluations. If you have worked for a firm that uses performance evaluations to help people develop, you may have received constructive suggestions during the evaluation. For example, one manager told his assistant, “You need to project more self-confidence when you answer the phone. You sound so unsure and vague when you talk on the telephone. I have noticed this, and several customers have joked about it.” The recipient of this feedback was prompted to participate in assertiveness training in which she learned how to express herself more positively.

Self-Assessment Quiz 1-1 gives you the opportunity to identify your developmental needs. The same exercise is a first step in improving your interpersonal relations on the job because identification of a problem is the first–and most important–step toward change. For example, if you cite improving your relationships with people from cultures different from your own, you have planted the seeds for change. You are then more likely to seek out people from other cultures in the workplace or at school and cultivate their friendship.

Now that you (and perhaps another person) have identified specific behaviors that may require change, you need to draw up an action plan. Proceed with your action plan even though you have just begun studying this text, but peek ahead to relevant chapters if you wish. Describe briefly a plan of attack for bringing about the change you hope to achieve for each statement that is checked. Ideas for your action plan can come from information presented anywhere in this text, from outside reading, or from talking to a person experienced in dealing with people. A basic example would be to study materials about customer service and observe an effective model if you checked “I feel awkward dealing with a customer.”

Universal Needs for Improving Interpersonal Relations

We have just described how understanding your unique developmental needs facilitates improving your interpersonal skills. There are also areas for skill improvement in interpersonal relationships that are shared by most managerial, professional, technical, and sales personnel. These common areas for improvement are referred to as universal training needs. Almost any professional person, for example, could profit from enhancing his or her negotiation and listening skills.

universal training need

An area for improvement common to most people.

This book provides the opportunity for skill development in a number of universal training needs. In working through these universal training needs, be aware that many of them will also fit your specific developmental needs. A given universal training need can be an individual’s developmental need at the same time. It is reasonable to expect that you will be more strongly motivated to improve skills that relate closely to your developmental needs.

Self-Assessment Quiz 1-1


What Are Your Developmental Needs?

This exercise is designed to heighten your self-awareness of areas in which you could profit from personal improvement. It is not a test, and there is no score; yet your answers to the checklist may prove helpful to you in mapping out a program of improvement in your interpersonal relations.


Following are many specific aspects of behavior that suggest a person needs improvement in interpersonal skills. Check each statement that is generally true for you. You can add to the validity of this exercise by having one or two other people who know you well answer this form as they think it describes you. Then compare your self-analyses with their analyses of you.

  Place check mark in this column.
1. I’m too shy.         
2. I’m too overbearing and obnoxious.         
3. I intimidate too many people.         
4. I have trouble expressing my feelings.         
5. I make negative comments about people too readily.         
6. I have a difficult time solving problems when working in a group.         
7. I’m a poor team player.         
8. Very few people listen to me.         
9. It is difficult for me to relate well to people from different cultures.         
10. When I’m in conflict with another person, I usually lose.         
11. I hog too much time in meetings or in class.         
12. I’m very poor at office politics.         
13. People find me boring.         
14. It is difficult for me to criticize others.         
15. I’m too serious most of the time.         
16. My temper is too often out of control.         
17. I avoid controversy in dealing with others.         
18. It is difficult for me to find things to talk about with others.         
19. I don’t get my point across well.         
20. I feel awkward dealing with a customer.         
21. I am a poor listener.         
22. I don’t get the importance of ethics in business.         
23. My attempts to lead others have failed.         
24. I rarely smile when I am with other people.         
25. I don’t get along well with people who are from a different ethnic or racial group than mine.         
26. I multitask when people are talking to me.         
27. I insult too many people on social networking sites.         
28.                               (Fill in your own statement.)         


The major universal training needs covered in this text are as follows:

Understanding individual differences: To deal effectively with others in the workplace, it is necessary to recognize that people have different capabilities, needs, and interests.

Self-esteem and self-confidence: To function effectively with people in most work and personal situations, people need to feel good about themselves and believe that they can accomplish important tasks. Although self-esteem and self-confidence are essentially attitudes about the self, they also involve skills such as attaining legitimate accomplishments and using positive self-talk.

Interpersonal communication: Effective communication with people is essential for carrying out more than 50 percent of the work conducted by most professional and managerial workers.

Behaving appropriately when using digital devices: Digital devices are integrated into most facets of our work and personal lives. Knowing how to use various electronic devices and systems, including e-mail, cell phones, and smartphones, in a positive and constructive way instead of being uncivil and unproductive can be a major contributor to building your interpersonal relationships.

Developing teamwork skills: The most sweeping change in the organization of work in the last 40 years has been a shift to teams and away from traditional departments. Knowing how to be an effective team player therefore enhances your chances for success in the modern organization.

Group problem solving and decision making: As part of the same movement that emphasizes work teams, organizations now rely heavily on group problem solving. As a consequence, being an above-average contributor to group problem solving is a key part of effective interpersonal relations on the job. In addition to solving the problem, a decision must be made.

Cross-cultural relations: The modern workplace has greater cultural diversity than ever before. Being able to deal effectively with people from different cultures, from within and outside your own country, is therefore an important requirement for success.

Resolving conflicts with others: Conflict in the workplace is almost inevitable as people compete for limited resources. Effective interpersonal relations are therefore dependent upon knowing how to resolve conflict successfully.

Becoming an effective leader: In today’s organizations, a large number of people have the opportunity to practice leadership, even if on temporary assignment. Enhancing one’s leadership skills is therefore almost a universal requirement.

Motivating others: Whether you have the title of manager or leader or are working alone, you have to know how to motivate the people who you depend on to get your work accomplished. Given that few people are gifted motivators, most people can profit from skill development in motivation.

Helping others develop and grow: As power is shared in organizations among managers and individual contributors (nonmanagers) alike, more people are required to help each other develop and grow. To carry out this role, most of us need skill development in coaching and mentoring.

Positive political skills: Whether you work in a small or large firm, part of having effective interpersonal relationships is being able to influence others in such a way that your interests are satisfied. Positive political skills help you satisfy your interests without being unethical or devious.

Customer service skills: The current emphasis on customer satisfaction dictates that every worker should know how to provide good service to customers. Most people can benefit from strengthening their skills in serving both external



and internal customers. (Internal customers are the people with whom you interact on the job.)

Enhancing ethical behavior: Although most workers know right from wrong in their hearts, we can all sharpen our ability to make ethical decisions. By consistently making highly ethical decisions, people can improve their interpersonal relations.

Stress management and personal productivity: Having your stress under control and having good work habits and time-management skills contributes to relating well to others, even though they are not interpersonal skills themselves. By having your stress under control and being efficient and productive, you are in a better position to relate comfortably to others. Coworkers enjoy relating to a person who is not visibly stressed and who does not procrastinate.

Job search and career-management skills: Finding an outstanding job for yourself, holding onto the job, and moving ahead are not specifically interpersonal skills. However, both finding the right job for yourself and managing your career rely heavily on good interpersonal skills. Two basic examples are conducting yourself well in an interview and developing a network of contacts that can help you advance.

Developing Interpersonal Skills on the Job

Learning Objective 4

The primary thrust of this book is to teach interpersonal skills that can be applied to the job. As part of enhancing your skills, it is essential to recognize that opportunities also exist in the workplace for developing interpersonal skills. This dual opportunity for learning soft skills is similar to the way hard skills are learned both inside and outside the classroom. Studying a text and doing laboratory exercises, for example, will help you learn useful information technology skills. On the job, one day you might be asked to optimize your company’s presence on the Internet. (“Optimize” in this sense means that your company’s Web site appears higher on Internet searches.) Having never performed this task before, you may search appropriate Web sites, ask questions of coworkers, telephone tech support, and use trial and error. Within a few days, you have acquired a valuable new skill. The information technology skills you learned in the course facilitated learning new computer tasks, yet the actual work of learning how to optimize your company’s URL in Web site searches was done on the job.

Here we look at two related aspects of learning interpersonal skills on the job: informal learning and specific developmental experiences.

Informal Learning

Business firms, as well as nonprofit organizations, invest an enormous amount of money and time into teaching interpersonal skills. Teaching methods include paying for employees to take outside courses, conducting training on company premises, using videoconferencing or Web-based courses, and reimbursing for distance learning courses on the Internet. Workers also develop interpersonal skills by interacting with work associates and observing how other people deal with interpersonal challenges.

Informal learning is the acquisition of knowledge and skills that takes place naturally outside a structured learning environment. In the context of the workplace, informal learning takes place without being designed by the organization. Learning can take place informally in ways such as speaking to the person in the next cubicle, asking a question of a coworker while in the hall, or calling the tech support center.

informal learning

The acquisition of knowledge and skills that takes place naturally outside of a structured learning environment.

A study conducted by the American Society for Training Directors found that informal learning is part of how employees learn. Nearly one-half of the 1,104 respondents said that informal learning is occurring to a high or very high extent in their organizations. E-mail emerged as the top-ranked informal learning tool, with accessing information from an Intranet a close second.[18]

Learning interpersonal skills informally can take place through such means as observing a coworker, manager, or team leader deal with a situation. A newly hired assistant store manager couldn’t help seeing and overhearing a customer screaming at the store manager about a defective space heater. The manager said calmly, “It appears you are pretty upset about your heater that caused a short circuit in your house. What can I do to help you?” The customer calmed down as quickly as air is released from a balloon. The assistant store manager thought to herself, “Now I know how to handle a customer who has gone ballistic. I’ll state what the customer is probably feeling, and then offer to help.”

Informal learning can also occur when another person coaches you about how to handle a situation. The store manager might have said to the new assistant manager, “Let me tell you what to do in case you encounter a customer who goes ballistic. Summarize in a few words what he or she is probably feeling, and then offer to help. The effect can be remarkable.” (This incident is classified as informal learning because it takes place outside a classroom.)

Formal and informal learning of interpersonal skills are useful supplements to each other. If you are formally learning interpersonal skills, your level of awareness for enhancing your interpersonal skills will increase. By formally studying interpersonal skills, you are likely to develop the attitude, “What hints about dealing more effectively with people can I pick up on the job?” You may have noticed that if you are taking lessons in a sport, you become much more observant about watching the techniques of outstanding athletes in person or on television.

Specific Developmental Experiences

Another perspective on developing interpersonal skills in the workplace is that certain experiences are particularly suited to such development. Coping with a difficult customer, as previously suggested, would be one such scenario. Morgan W. McCall Jr. has for many years studied ways in which leaders develop on the job. Contending with certain challenges is at the heart of these key learning experiences. Several of the powerful learning experiences McCall has identified are particularly geared toward developing better interpersonal skills.[19]

Unfamiliar responsibilities: The person has to handle responsibilities that are new, very different, or much broader than previous ones. Dealing with these unfamiliar responsibilities necessitates asking others for help and gaining their cooperation. For example, being assigned to supervise a group doing work unfamiliar to you would put you in a position of gaining the cooperation of group members who knew more about the work than you.

Proving yourself: If you feel added pressure to show others that you can deal effectively with responsibilities, you are likely to develop skills in projecting self-confidence and persuading others.

Problems with employees: If you supervise employees or have coworkers who lack adequate experience, are incompetent, or are poorly motivated, you need to practice skills such as effective listening and conflict resolution in order to work smoothly with them.

Influencing without authority: An excellent opportunity for practicing influence skills is being forced to influence coworkers, higher management, company outsiders, and other key people over whom you have no formal control. Team leaders typically face the challenge of needing to influence workers over whom they lack the authority to discipline or grant raises. (The reason is that a team leader usually does not have as much formal authority as a traditional manager.)

Difficult manager: If you and your manager have different opinions on how to approach problems, or if your manager has serious shortcomings, you will have to use your best human relations skills to survive. You will need to develop subtle skills such as using diplomacy to explain to your manager that his or her suggestion is completely unworkable.

The general point to be derived from these scenarios is that certain on-the-job challenges require a high level of interpersonal skill. Faced with such challenges, you will be prompted to use the best interpersonal skills you have. Formal training can be a big help because you might remember a skill that should be effective in a particular situation. Assume that you are faced with an overbearing manager who belittles you in front of others. You might be prompted to try a conflict-resolution technique you acquired in class.

Concept Review and Reinforcement

Key Terms

interpersonal skill training   4

self-efficacy   7

action plan   8

developmental need   10

universal training need   11

informal learning   14


Effective interpersonal relations must be combined with technical knowledge to achieve success in any job involving interactions with people. This book presents a three-part strategy for achieving a high level of interpersonal skill. Each chapter presents concepts related to an area of interpersonal skill, behavioral guidelines, and experiential exercises. Interpersonal skill training is also referred to as soft-skills training to differentiate it from technical training.

A five-part model of learning can be applied to improving interpersonal skills. First, state a goal or desired state of affairs. Second, assess the reality of how far you are from your goal. Third, develop an action plan to change the relationship between the person and the environment. Self-discipline is required to implement the action plan. Fourth, solicit feedback on actions to measure the effects of your actions against reality. Fifth, continue to practice your newly learned skill.

To use the learning model effectively, it is useful to understand the goal-setting process. The guidelines offered here for goal setting are to (1) state each goal as a positive statement, (2) formulate specific goals, (3) formulate concise goals, (4) set realistic as well as stretch goals, and (5) set goals for different time periods.

People are most likely to develop new skills when they feel the need for change. A developmental need is the specific area in which a person needs to change. Identifying your developmental needs in relation to interpersonal relations can be achieved through self-analysis and feedback from others. You can also solicit feedback and make use of the feedback you have received in performance appraisals.

Universal training needs are those areas for improvement that are common to most people. The major topics in this text reflect universal training needs because they are necessary for success in most positions involving interaction with people.

Opportunities exist in the workplace to develop interpersonal skills. A general approach to developing these skills is informal learning, whereby you acquire skills naturally outside of a structured work environment. Informal learning of interpersonal skills often takes place through means such as observing a coworker, manager, or team leader cope with a situation. Certain workplace experiences are particularly well suited to developing interpersonal skills. These include unfamiliar responsibilities, proving yourself, having problems with employees, influencing without authority, and having a difficult manager.

Questions for Discussion and Review

Your friend says, “I’m such a great techie that I don’t have to worry about interpersonal skills.” What advice do you have for your techie friend?

In your opinion, do supervisors of entry-level workers rely more on soft skills or hard skills to accomplish their work?

Identify a developmental need related to interpersonal relations of the current president of the United States. How did you reach this conclusion about the president?

Why are interpersonal skills very important for job seekers when there is a shortage of good jobs open in their field?

How does a person know whether or not the feedback he or she receives from another person is accurate?

How could doing a thorough job on Self-Assessment Quiz 1-1 have a major impact on a person’s career?

A statement frequently made in business is, “If you are obnoxious, you need to be very talented to succeed.” How does this conclusion relate to the learning of interpersonal skills?

Based on what you have learned so far in this book, and your own intuition, how would you respond to the statement, “You can’t learn how to get along with people from reading a book”?

Give an example of a skill you might have learned informally at any point in your life.

Give an example of how a small-business owner needs good interpersonal skills to survive.

The Web Corner

(Interpersonal skill development)

(Informal learning)

Internet Skill Builder: The Importance of Interpersonal Skills

One of the themes of this chapter and the entire book is that interpersonal skills are important for success in business. But what do employers really think? To find out, visit the Web sites of five of your favorite companies, such as or Go to the employment section, and search for a job that you might qualify for now or in the future. Investigate which interpersonal or human relations skills the employer mentions as a requirement, such as, “Must have superior spoken communication skills.” Make up a list of the interpersonal skills you find mentioned. What conclusion or conclusions do you reach from this exercise?

Developing Your Human Relations Skills

Interpersonal Relations Case 1.1

Tyler Likes Tyler

Tyler is an inventory control specialist at a company that manufactures fiber-optic cables for the telecommunications industry. Among the users of fiber-optic cables are telephone companies and cable television companies. Tyler enjoys his position within the company and believes that he has a promising future in an industry that will most likely continue to grow.

During his lunch break one day, Tyler sat down next to Isabella, another inventory specialist. “Wow, I have some very exciting news to tell you,” said Tyler. “I dented my SUV a week ago, and I thought I would have about a $700 repair bill not covered by insurance. Instead, I tried one of these paint-free dent specialists. The guy took out the dent for $150, and my SUV looks as good as new.”

Isabella replied, “Oh yes.” Tyler, then said, “Everything is good with you isn’t it?” Before Isabella responded, Tyler continued, “You will be very excited to know that this summer I am going on a four-day hike in the Colorado Rockies. Isn’t that really something?”

Isabella glanced up briefly at Tyler, and said, “See you later. I have an appointment.”

Later that day, Tyler sat down next to Noah, a sales representative during the afternoon break. Noah began the conversation by saying, “Hey, Tyler, you might be interested in knowing about a big sale I have pending with a regional telephone company.”

Tyler said in response, “I have even bigger news. My supervisor Mindy said that I am doing an outstanding job of controlling the inventory and that I might be eligible for an above-average salary increase.”

Noah said, “Tyler, I’ll see you later. I just remembered that I have a couple of important calls to make back at my cubicle.”

Tyler began to wonder what was going on with his coworkers. He thought, “That’s twice today that my coworkers have been acting a little bit uninterested in me. I wonder if they are under too much pressure.”

Case Questions

What developmental needs does Tyler appear to have?

To what extent do you think Isabella and Noah were being rude toward Tyler?

What would you recommend that Tyler do to obtain feedback on his needs for development?

Interpersonal Skills Role-Play

Tyler Wants to Improve His Interpersonal Skills

Tyler, in the case just presented, comes to recognize that perhaps he has some problems in the way he conducts conversations, and that if he focused more on his coworkers and less on himself, he might get along better with his coworkers. This role-play is divided into two parts. In the first part, one student plays the role of Tyler, who meets up with Isabella on another day to engage her in conversation. Isabella thinks that Tyler met with her again for the purpose of talking more about himself. In the second part, one student plays the role of Tyler, who meets up with Noah again. Noah is a little discouraged with Tyler because he thinks that Tyler is looking for another opportunity to brag about his own accomplishments.

Run the role-play for about six minutes, while other class members observe the interactions and later provide feedback about the interpersonal skills displayed by Tyler in relation to his interaction with both Isabella and Noah. Also, rate Isabella and Noah. Observers rate the role players on two dimensions, using a 1-to-5 scale from very poor (1) to very good (5). One dimension is “effective use of human relations techniques.” The second dimension is “acting ability.” A few observers might voluntarily provide feedback to the role players in terms of sharing their ratings and observations. The course instructor might also provide feedback.

Interpersonal Relations Case 1.2

Betty Lou Sets Some Goals

Betty Lou is a marketing specialist at Pasta Mucho, the biggest pasta maker in her region. Over two years in the position, she contributed to the success of the Pasta Mucho product line. Although Betty Lou admits that a recession has contributed to the upswing in pasta sales nationwide, she believes that more than luck is involved. “After all,” she says, “I contributed to the marketing campaign that showed that preparing pasta at home makes you cool.”

Betty Lou’s boss, Garth, is pleased with her job performance; but as part of the performance evaluation process, he has encouraged Betty Lou to prepare a goal sheet, mapping out her plans for the upcoming year. “Make it impressive,” said Garth, “because my boss will be reviewing your goals also.” Three days later, Betty Lou sent Garth an e-mail laying out her goals as follows:

Help make Pasta Mucho one of the great brands on the planet, much like Coca-Cola, Mercedes, and Microsoft.

Become the best marketing executive I can be.

Help the company develop some other wildly successful brands.

Get in good with more buyers at supermarket chains.

Get Pasta Mucho all over Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

After reading the set of goals, Garth thought to himself, “What can I tell Betty Lou without hurting her feelings?”

Case Questions

If you were Garth, what would you tell Betty Lou about her goals without hurting her feelings?

What suggestions can you offer Betty Lou to improve her goal statement?

How might interpersonal skills contribute to Betty Lou attaining her goals?


Original story created from facts and observations in the following sources: Amir Efrati and Jessica E. Vascellaro, “Yahoo’s Profit Lags: New CEO Faces Scores of Problems as Financial Woes Mount,” The Wall Street Journal, July 18, 2012, p. B7; Michelle V. Rafter, “Yahoo’s Recruiter-in-Chief,” Workforce Management, November 2012, pp. 20–22; Amir Efrati and Jon Letzing, “Google’s Mayer Takes Over as Yahoo Chief,” The Wall Street Journal, July 17, 2012, pp. B1, B2; Patricia Sellers, “Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo,” Fortune, October 29, 2012, pp. 118–128; Brad Stone, “Reading the Mind of Marissa Mayer,” Bloomberg Businessweek, July 23–July 29, 2012, pp. 30–31; Gianpiero Petrigilieri, “Marissa Mayer Is Not the Exception—She Is the Norm,” , July 20, 2012, pp. 1–3; Joann S. Lublin and Leslie Kwoh, “For Yahoo CEO, Two New Roles,” The Wall Street Journal, July 18, 2012, pp. B1, B6; Amir Efrati, “A Makeover Made in Google’s Image,” The Wall Street Journal, August 9, 2012, pp. B1, B6.

Dale Carnegie Training Brochure, Spring–Summer 2005, p. 12.

Joanne Lozar Glenn, “Lessons in Human Relations,” Business Education Forum, October 2003, p. 10.

“Unleashing the Power of the New Workforce: Interpersonal Skills in the Modern Workplace,” Hogan Assessment Systems. (Printed in Workforce Management, November 2011, p. S3).

Cited in Diana Louise Carter, “A Picture of Success: Graphics Company Has Shown Steady Growth,” Democrat and Chronicle (Roc Business), July 9, 2012, p. 6B.

Cited in Donna Nebenzahl, “Turning the Page on Corporate Leadership,”  (The Toronto Star), September 19, 2009, p. 2, .

Based on Susan Scott, Fierce ConversationsAchieving Success at Work & In Life, One Conversation at a Time (New York: Random House, 2009).

Melissa Korn and Joe Light, “On the Lesson Plan: Feelings,” The Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2011, p. B6.

George B. Yancey, Chante P. Clarkson, Julie D. Baxa, and Rachel N. Clarkson, “Example of Good and Bad Interpersonal Skills at Work,”, p. 2, accessed February 2, 2004.

Edward Muzio, Deborah J. Fisher, Err R. Thomas, and Valerie Peters, “Soft Skill Quantification (SSQ) for Project Manager Competencies,” Project Management Journal, June 2007, pp. 30–31.

Marshall Goldsmith, “How Not to Lose the Top Job,” Harvard Business Review, January 2009, p. 77.

The model presented here is an extension and modernization of the one presented in Thomas V. Bonoma and Gerald Zaltman, Psychology for Management (Boston: Kent, 1981), pp. 88–92.

Gary P. Latham, “The Motivational Benefits of Goal-Setting,” Academy of Management Executive, November 2004, pp. 126–127.

Susan B. Wilson and Michael S. Dobson, Goal Setting: How to Create an Action Plan and Achieve Your Goals, 2nd ed. (New York: American Management Association, 2008).

Kirsten Weir, “Revising Your Story,” Monitor on Psychology, March 2012, p. 28.

Karen Wright, “A Chic Critique,” Psychology Today, March/April 2011, p. 56.

“Unleashing the Power of the New Workforce,” p. S3.

Andrew Paradise, “Informal Learning Overlooked or Overhyped?”, July 1, 2002, pp. 1–2.

Morgan W. McCall Jr., High Flyers: Developing the Next Generation of Leaders (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1998).














Chapter Understanding Individual Differences



Learning Objectives

After reading and studying this chapter and completing the exercises, you should be able to

Make adjustments for the individual differences among people in dealing with them on the job.

Develop insight into how your personality, mental ability, emotional intelligence, and values differ from others.

Respond to personality differences among people.

Respond to mental ability differences among people.

Respond to differences in values among people.

US Airways Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III, the hero of the January 2009 airline ditching in the Hudson River, told investigators that he determined in a matter of seconds that only the river was “long enough, wide enough, and smooth enough” to put down the crippled jetliner. Testifying before the National Transformation Safety Board, Sullenberger said that when both engines of his Airbus 320 lost power at about 2,700 feet after sucking in birds, he quickly decided that the plane was losing speed and altitude, and that returning to New York’s LaGuardia Airport was “problematic.” After spotting a flock of birds that were very large and filled the entire windscreen of the jet, Sullenberger noticed a dramatic drop in thrust. Disregarding air traffic controller suggestions to return to LaGuardia or try to swoop into another nearby airport, he set his sights on the surface of the Hudson. With the plane’s flaps out, speed dwindling fast, and splashdown barely seconds away, Sullenberger asked his first officer, “Got any ideas?” Copilot Jeff Skiles instantly replied, “Actually not.”

Once the plane settled in the water, and the crew realized the fuselage remained intact, Sullenberger turned to his first officer and both instinctively blurted out at the same instant, “That wasn’t as bad as I thought.” Responding to questions about the lessons to be learned from the landing, Capt. Sullenberger mentioned training to help pilots work together as a team and additional efforts to improve emergency evacuations. His comments repeatedly swung back to the notion of an airline culture that stresses safety and respects the judgment of experienced pilots. “The captain’s authority is a precious commodity that cannot be denigrated,” he said. The captain’s testimony also highlighted the importance of relying on experience and memory, rather than rigidly using checklists to deal with unexpected emergencies. With both pilots in the cockpit clocking an impressive 20,000 hours of total flight time, Captain Sullenberger said, “Teamwork and experience allowed us to focus on the high priorities without referring to written checklists.”[1]

The story about the hero pilot “Sully” illustrates several of the key topics about differences among people that will be described in this chapter. Native intelligence, including the capacity to memorize details, practical intelligence (wisdom and common sense), and emotional control all play an important role in job performance. The major theme of this chapter deals with how people vary in a wide range of personal factors. Individual differences exert a profound effect on job performance and behavior. Such differences refer to variations in how people respond to the same situation based on personal characteristics. One of hundreds of possible examples is that some people can concentrate longer and harder on their work, thereby producing more and higher quality work, than others.

individual differences

Variations in how people respond to the same situation based on personal characteristics. Mental processes used to perceive and make judgments from situations.

This chapter describes several of the major sources of individual differences on the job. It also gives you the chance to measure your standing on several key dimensions of behavior and helps you develop skills in responding to individual differences. Knowing how to respond to such differences is the cornerstone of effective interpersonal relations. To be effective in human relations, you cannot treat everybody the same.


Learning Objective 1

Learning Objective 2

“We’re not going to promote you to department head,” said the manager to the analyst. “Although you are a great troubleshooter, you’ve alienated too many people in the company. You’re too blunt and insensitive.” As just implied, most successes and failures in people-contact jobs are attributed largely to interpersonal skills. And personality traits are major contributors to interpersonal, or human relations, skills.

Personality refers to those persistent and enduring behavior patterns that tend to be expressed in a wide variety of situations. A person who is brash and insensitive in one situation is likely to behave similarly in many other situations. Your personality is what makes you unique. Your walk, your talk, your appearance, your speech, and your inner values and conflicts all contribute to your personality.


Persistent and enduring behavior patterns that tend to be expressed in a wide variety of situations.

Here, we illustrate the importance of personality to interpersonal relations in organizations by describing eight key personality traits and personality types related to cognitive styles. In addition, you will be given guidelines for dealing effectively with different personality types.

Eight Major Personality Factors and Traits

Many psychologists believe that the basic structure of human personality is represented by five broad factors, known as the Big Five: neuroticism, extraversion (the scientific spelling of extroversion), openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Three more key personality factors—self-monitoring of behavior, risk taking and thrill seeking, and optimism—are also so important for human relations that they are considered here.

All eight factors have a substantial impact on interpersonal relations and job performance. The interpretations and meanings of these factors provide useful information because they help you pinpoint important areas for personal development. Although these


Figure 2-1 Eight Personality Factors Related to Interpersonal Skills

factors are partially inherited, most people can improve them provided they exert much conscious effort over a period of time. For example, it usually takes at least three months of effort before a person is perceived to be more agreeable. The eight factors, shown in Figure 2-1, are described in the following list.

Neuroticism reflects emotional instability and identifies people who are prone to psychological distress and to coping with problems in unproductive ways. Traits associated with this personality factor include being anxious, insecure, angry, embarrassed, emotional, and worried. A person of low neuroticism—or high emotional stability—is calm and confident, and usually in control.

Extraversion reflects the quantity or intensity of social interactions, the need for social stimulation, self-confidence, and competition. Traits associated with extraversion include being sociable, gregarious, assertive, talkative, and active. An outgoing person is often described as extraverted, whereas introverted persons are described as reserved, timid, and quiet. Introverts tend to prefer the inner world of their own mind, whereas extraverts tend to prefer the outer world of sociability. [2]  A study conducted with more than 4,700 people found a positive relationship between extraversion and the tendency to be an entrepreneur. [3]  This finding makes sense, because being an entrepreneur requires considerable reaching out to people to start the business, including fund raising.

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