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Managing interpersonal skills


“We know from daily life that we exist for other people first of all, on whose smiles and well-being our own happiness depends.”
– Albert Einstein

• “How can I manage my company when two of my directors on the Board have not spoken to each other for years?” laments the chairman of a large government sector steel company.

• “The management is locked up in various courts for the last two decades over personnel issues. There appears to be no end to litigation. Every second employee is in the habit of moving the courts against the management or peer group. All senior posts are lying vacant and people are retiring. No new recruitments are being made. The morale of officers and the organisation is at a nadir,” confesses the CEO of a power generation company.

• “Please ask the MD to meet us at least once to hear our grievances,” the workers’ union of a public sector bank pleaded with the chairman on his inspection visit. Enquiry revealed that the MD had taken a policy decision not to interact with the workers, terming it a waste of time. Resentment among the employees was escalating as their grievances were not being addressed.

• In a large ministry of the Government of India, senior officers enjoy their lunch together every day. The ‘lunch club’, as it is popularly known, involves sharing a variety of food delicacies in a thoroughly informal atmosphere. Subliminally, official matters are also discussed. Several jokes are cracked and enjoyed. The meal culminates with a cup of black coffee. The improved interpersonal relations result in effective performance at the workplace due to improved trust and mutual respect among the officers.

The best-managedorganisations understandthat work is done through relationships and thattechnical competencies arenot sufficient for success.

Interpersonal relations matter in personal life as well as in professional life. We are never alone in the world. Wherever we are—whether in the family or in the office—we are surrounded by people. Management experts believe that very few people work by themselves and achieve results by themselves—most people work with other people and are effective through other people. To manage oneself, therefore, requires taking responsibility for relationships with other people. This is called managing interpersonal relationships. Interpersonal relationship is the skill or ability to work effectively through and with other people. It includes a desire to understand others, their needs and weaknesses, and their talents and abilities. It is the study of why beliefs, attitudes, perceptions, prejudices and behaviours can cause problems in personal and professional relationships. In a workplace setting, interpersonal relations also involve an understanding of how people work together in groups, satisfying both individual needs and group objectives. If an organisation is to succeed, the relationships among the people in that organisation will be a determining factor. No matter what we do, we do it with people. People create technology. People implement the technology. People make it all happen. People ultimately use whatever it is we create. No matter how small or big your organisation or how technical or non-technical its process, it takes people to be successful.

Two decades ago, many forecasters predicted that by this time in history, strong computer skills would be the No. 1 factor in the workplace. However, now perhaps more than ever, administrators and corporate planners are placing greater emphasis on the human factor. This shows that recent trends in the workplace give new importance to human relations. The best-managed organisations understand that work is done through relationships. Technical competencies are not sufficient for success. Interpersonal relationships are key to sustainable competitive advantage.

Let me elaborate further—think about a civil servant who gets along well with others in the workplace, a doctor who empathises with patients, a lawyer who listens carefully to clients —all of these people will most likely be seen by their co-workers, patients and clients as nice, helpful people who are capable of meeting their needs. No doubt such a civil servant would get more willing cooperation from his colleagues and juniors; the doctor would get more patients; and the lawyer would get more clients. In other words, such professionals are likely to be more successful compared to their colleagues who do not show these interpersonal skills. In the United States, research studies have found that doctors who give more time to their patients, listen to them with attention and behave well with them, have far fewer litigations or court cases filed by their patients for incompetence or negligence in treatment compared to their medically more competent colleagues.

IN all aspects of life, you will deal with other people. Workplaces benefit if people working there have good relationships. In other words, in these years when people are said to be the only true competitive advantage, it is evident that interpersonal relations in organisations and processes of nourishing them have become essential for organisational success. You can say that everything at the office depends on good relationships between employees and the management. Interpersonal relationships are absolutely essential, as they help employees to have a mutual understanding between themselves and work in a team. It is a proven fact that if you need to reach a goal or a target in your process, you necessarily have to work together in a team. Even when someone is otherwise only average at a job, good human relations skills can usually make that person seem better to others. Sadly, the opposite is also true: poor interpersonal relations can make an otherwise able person seem like a poor performer. Thus, the importance of interpersonal relations in our personal and professional lives cannot be exaggerated.

Dr Dalip Singh, a 1982-batch IAS officer of the Haryana cadre, has a PhD in psychology from the University of Delhi. He can be contacted at www.eqindia.com

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