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Working with people – interpersonal skills

Interpersonal skills involve inspiring, motivating, leading and controlling

people to achieve goals, which are often poorly defined.

For working relationships to be effective, it is important to recognize people’s

right to be treated with respect, their right to assert themselves and their right
to a fair hearing.

Conflict is caused when something we value is threatened and we react


The type of skills needed to develop effective working relationships include:

• Co-operation - to make contacts and work with others to solve problems
• Enthusiasm - to persuade, negotiate and propose new
• Perseverance – to keep going back to the same people to raise the same
issues if they remain unresolved
• Flexibility – to adjust to fit in with other people’s ideas or constraints

Reddin considers it essential for the job of management to be judged on output

rather than by input, and by achievements rather than by activities. He argues
that we tend to confuse efficiency with effectiveness. Efficient managers seek
to solve problems and reduce costs; effective managers seek to produce creative
alternatives and increase profits.

Mintzberg identified 3 interpersonal roles for managers. These enable the

information and decision-making roles to be carried out.

Interpersonal Information Decision-making

Roles Roles Roles

Figurehead Monitor Entrepreneur

Leader Disseminator Disturbance handler
Liason Spokesperson Resource allocator
Interpersonal Roles
• Figurehead – symbolic role, carries out social, inspirational, legal and
ceremonial duties, e.g. making presentations.
• Leader – allocate tasks, hiring, training, and motivating staff.
• Liaison – develops a network of contacts outside the chain of command,
e.g. lunch with suppliers or customers

Fleishman and colleagues carried out leadership studies. They defined

leadership behaviour is the achievement of objectives by influencing people
through communication processes.

The ultimate idea is to influence people towards the attainment of goals or

objectives. Almost any interpersonal interaction has got some leadership
component as one person tries somehow to influence another person.

Fleishman’s analysis resulted in two factors of management practice:

consideration and initiating structure. These categories are not mutually
interdependent – having both leads to effective leadership.

Consideration: reflects the extent to which the leader is likely to have job
relationships characterized by mutual trust, respect for subordinates’ views and
consideration for their feelings

Initiating structure: is the extent to which leaders are likely to define and
structure their roles and those of their staff towards goal attainment.

A leader could be high on consideration and low on structure or vice-versa - or

high on both. They also discovered that people saw leaders as those individuals
who were high on both consideration and structure. If the leader was high on
both, the group tended to be more cohesive.

Control versus commitment

Tying the needs of the employee to the goals of the organization engenders
commitment, reducing the need for staff control.
Subject Commitment Strategy Control Strategy
Job design Emphasis on whole task, De-skilled, fragmented
use of teams and flexible and fixed

Performance Emphasis on developing Minimum standards

expectations via ‘stretch’ objectives defined

Rewards Group incentives linked Individual incentives,

to skills linked to job evaluation

Employee participation Encouraged with shared Narrow with information

information on business given on a ‘need to know’

Verbal and non-verbal communication

Communication is used to inform, motivate and educate.

Communication can consist of

• Factual information – deals with the past and present, not the future. It is
• Opinions – include forecasts, interpretations and value judgements
• Ideas – are thoughts about what might be done to achieve certain
• Feelings – are personal and may be communicated either as info or as an
emotional outburst, tears, laughter etc. More non-verbal than verbal.

Communication has 3 important components – words, tone of voice, and body


Experiments have shown that in face-to-face encounters the words are relatively
unimportant. They create less than 10% of impact, compared with about 40%
from the tone of voice and about 50% from the body language.

Non-verbal communication suffers 2 disadvantages; they are largely out of

control and open to misinterpretation.

Aggression and Assertive behaviour

Aggressive behaviour is standing up for yourself at the expense of other people

Assertive behaviour involves standing up for your own rights and needs while
respecting those of others.

Passive behaviour is a self-effacing belief that your rights are less important than
those of others, and is a characteristic of a lack of self-respect.

Appropriate assertive behaviour depends on an understanding of the rights of all



Assertive – ‘Deb, I’d like you to redo this report as there are a few mistakes in it’
Aggressive – ‘Deb, I can’t believe you had the nerve to hand this in, it’s crap’
Passive – ‘Deb, could you just change one or two mistakes in this report when
you’ve got five mins, it’s probably my fault for not explaining properly’

Assertion has the advantage of being influential, because it is consistent while

being respectful.

Aggression often causes defensive responses and can ultimately be

unproductive. Passive behaviour can become stressful, as needs are denied.
The efficient running of organizations requires that all the members of the
organization work together towards the achievement of the organisation’s aims.
This working together requires the adequate understanding of what others are
doing. It requires a high level of co-ordination and control, and fundamentally it
requires communication which is efficient and effective.

Communication is the interchange of information, ideas, facts and emotions by

2 or more persons.

To be effective, the manager needs information to carry out management

function and activities. All organizations have formal, acknowledged, and often
specified communication channels. There will be lists of people who are to attend
briefings, meetings and distribution lists for minutes or memos. There will be
procedures for telling people of decisions or changes, and for circulating
information from outside the organization.

There are 3 formal communication channels in the organization:

• Upward – provides management with feedback from employees on
results achieved and problems encountered
• Downward – instructions relating to the performance of the department
and policies for conducting business are conveyed downward from
managers to employees.
• Lateral or horizontal – refers to communication between people or
groups at the same level in the organization

Katz and Khan identified the general purposes of superior-subordinate

communication to give specific directives, organizational information, and to
provide job rationale, performance feedback and ideological information.

Such information can help clarify operational goals, provide a sense of direction
and give subordinates data related to their performance. It also helps link levels
of the hierarchy by providing a basis for co-ordinated activity.

Too much emphasis on downward communication can create problems. People

will be reluctant to come forward with their suggestions and problems. Also a risk
of management getting out of touch with subordinates.

Lateral communication
• task co-ordination – department heads may meet periodically to discuss
how each department is contributing to organizational objectives
• Problem-solving
• Information sharing
• Conflict resolution
Informal Communication channels

In almost all organizations there will be a number of informal communication

channels, e.g. grapevine, rumor and gossip. They are informal because they
are not consciously structured into a fixed pattern.

The grapevine is an efficient, if selective, channel for spreading news quickly and

Rumor is a message transmitted over the grapevine and is not based on official
information. They can be influential and damaging. An atmosphere of poor
employee communications provides a fertile breeding ground for rumor. Bad
news can lower morale and disrupt work

Gossip is idle talk which can be hurtful and malicious. It can also be a
socializing force.

Communication Models

The communication process involves six basic elements

1. sender (encoder)
2. message
3. channel
4. receiver (decoder)
5. noise
6. feedback

Senders initiate the communication process. When senders have decided on

their meaning, they encode a message, and select a channel for transmitting
their messages to receivers. To encode is to put a message into words or
images. The message is the information that the sender wants to transmit. The
medium is the means of communication, such as print, mass, electrical, and

Noise impedes communication. Noise sources can be physical, or psychological,

such as status differentials, pressure, or emotion.

The importance to the manager of effective communication

Communication is necessary for management decision making; inter-

departmental co—ordination, and individual motivation and effectiveness.

Barnard stressed that communication should be central in the organizations

structure. A formal communication system enables managers to perform their
Communication is a process that links various parts of the systems. Without it,
managers would not be able to
• give instructions
• give or receive information
• exchange ideas
• announce plans or strategies
• compare actual results against a budget
• communicate about the structure of the organization and job descriptions

Reasons for ineffective communication include the sheer amount of

imformation in the modern world, the need to reinforce out beliefs when
decoding messages and our perception of the sender.

Consequences of poor communication

Lack of downward communication can result in poor awareness, understanding

and morale.

Lack of upward communication or feedback can mean that early warning of

problems is not received, creativity and participation is not encouraged, and
change management is problematic.

Lack of leteral communication can lead to management divisions, rivalry lack of

co-ordination and specialist involvement

Rules of communication

The characteristics of good communication are that they should be

• timely
• accurate
• directed to the right people
• understandable

The steps that could ensure effective communication include adopting feedback,
using more than one communication network, reducing the number of ‘links in
the chain’ and ensuring clarity.

Barriers to communication

• Omission or distortion of the information by the sender

• Misunderstanding due to lack of clarity of the jargon and abbreviations
• Non-verbal signals that contradict the verbal message, so that the
sender’s message is doubted
• Overload of information
• Social, ethnic and educational background differences can create barriers
to understanding
• Selective hearing
• Poor communication skills
• Lack of respect for upward communication by subordinates
• Different departments having different priorities and ideas which creates
potential misunderstanding
• Different specialists using different jargon
• Hoarding information and not passing it on (Shirley – knowledge is power)
• People avoiding being messengers of bad news
• Information with no immediate use tends to get overlooked or undervalued
• Conflict and competition leading to a reduction in the willingness to
• Worrying about confidentiality and competitive advantage – restricting
open communication

Improving communication
• Encourage more downward communication
• Encourage more open lateral communication
• Improve communication skills of managers and employees
• Create and reinforce a culture of communication
• Address specific communication blockages/barriers

Communication patterns

Methods of communication can be grouped into 4 classes

1. oral
2. written
3. visual
4. electronic

Electronic communications now have high speed transmission at low cost. Many
employees are now enabled to work at home for part of the time.

Paterns of communication

An important relationship between positions in a group is in terms of the nature

and frequency of interaction. To discover which communication method was
effective Shaw constructed an experiment to test whether certain communication
patterns in a group had structural characteristics that limited the performance of
the group in its task.

Shaw noted that in the centralized networks (chain, wheel and ‘Y’) group
members had to go through a person located in the central position in the
network in order to communicate with others. This led to unequal access to
information in the group. In decentralised networks (circle and all-channels)
information could flow freely between members without having to go through a
central person.

Wheel Circle All-channels

Chain ‘Y’

Shaw concluded that the wheel is the quickest system and the circle the slowest,
but the all-channel is the best in complex situations. Satisfaction is lowest in the
circle. Under time pressure, the all-channels system restructures to form a wheel.

Consultation is where one party seeks the views of another party before either
party takes a decision. It is not the same as negotiation. Negotiation implies
acceptance by both parties that agreement between them is required before a
decision is made. Consultation implies a willingness to listen to the views of
another while reserving the right to take the final decision, with or without
agreement from both sides.

Consultation can help to improve the quality of decisions, lead to better co-
operation, serve as a preliminary to negotiation, increase organizational
efficiency, and help industrial relations.

For a process of consultation to be genuine, it must not be used when managers

have already reached a decision.

If consultation is synthetic, then the exercise may be counter-productive. If the

result of consultation does not include any of the ideas put forward, subordinates
may not feel involved.
The role of Counselling

Counselling is helping people to help themselves (client-centred). It is different

to telling, advising and manipulating.

Telling is where the person giving help by telling the client what to do is problem-
centred and excludes the client from the problem-solving process.

Advising is where the person giving help excludes the client in problem-solving.
Advisor identifies options and gets client to select one that the advisor favours.

Manipulating is when the client is excluded from the problem solving process
and the person doing the manipulating is satisfying his or her own words.

Effective counselling shows an organisation’s commitment to and concern for its

staff and is likely to improve employee loyalty and enthusiasm.

Managers who are ideal counsellors will

• display an interest in staff
• consult their staff
• create a climate of mutual confidence
• be impartial
• set an example

Kaplan and Cowen found that American foremen spent about 7% of their time
dealing with subordinates’ problems. The most difficult issues concerned money,
marriage, and other employees. Their prime technique was the ‘sympathetic


Counselling is a specialist activity based on professional values and skills. The

values include
• a non judge-mental attitude - to create the openness and trust on which
a true counseling relationship depends
• respect for the client – regardless of age, colour, education, status or
social conditions
• confidentiality – without the client’s agreement no information given
should be divulged to any other person
• acceptance of the whole person – with their strengths and weaknesses,
destructive and constructive attitudes and behaviour, positive and
negative feelings.

Even when no problem has been identified, some organizations still provide a
counseling service, e.g. career counseling. It aims to improve performance,
efficiency and effectiveness by a joint problem-solving process, which can be
similar to the appraisal interview.

The problems of retirement and redundancy are increasingly recognized, and

constructive counseling programmes have addressed these issues. These are
normally dealt with by the HR department.

In large organizations, links with external services such as marriage guidance

counselors, Samaritans and Alcoholics Anonymous, may be effective.

Skills of effective counseling

A counselor
• does not advise or make specific suggestions, but uses a non-directive
• encourages reflection and talking around issues
• allows others to lead and determine the direction
• uses open questions to help others explore ideas, feelings and thoughts
• has a more passive role, listens very actively and carefully
• speaks only to clarify and probe

Skills of counseling

The ability to
• establish rapport
• clarify and summarise
• ask unspecific questions
• listen with ‘a third ear’ – be able to tell the difference between what is said
and what is meant
• permit silence
• go at the speed of the client
• forsee the client’s own intuition into the causes of and solutions to

Interviewing skills

Counselling being a one-to-one technique to help people achieve a goal, requires

good interviewing skills. The counseling approach may be alien to managers
used to finding directive solutions to problems

Listening skills

Counselling requires active listening. The problem needs to be reviewed before

it is discussed in some detail. It is unlikely that the problem will be fully discussed
at the first meeting.
Counselling at work

There are 3 areas where counseling may be required at work:

• problems arising within the individual
• problems in the organization
• external sources

Individual problems may be psychological or due to uncontrollable events, e.g.

illness. Psychological problems can be caused by
• frustration
• lack of job satisfaction
• arrogance
• self-pity
• failure to succeed

Uncontrollable problems include the effects of age or disability, where the client
slows down or has feelings of stigma, or addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Problems with the organization

• technical incompetence
• underwork
• overwork
• relationships with colleagues and superiors
• uncertain future, e.g. threat of redundancy

Problems arising outside both the individual and the work organization
• money
• marital or sexual relationships
• family: behaviour of children, illness and bereavement

Establish the main problem

The key factor in a successful counseling interview is establishing the main

problem. This may be found by exploring the emotions involved and their

A ‘formula’ for an emotional counseling interview is

• presenting the problem
• finding the ‘main’ problem
• asking why there is a problem
• exploring the emotions involved
• discussion of alternative solutions
• recognition of the results of these solutions
• agreeing a course of action
Counselling could be described as a mutual exploration. Criticism in either
direction in the early stages will be fatal to reaching a mutually acceptable
decision. Successful councellors will have a deep understanding, not only of the
problems which they are trying to solve, but also of the range of human feelings
and emotions.
Controlling conflict, grievance and discipline

It is now generally believed that conflict is both valuable and necessary. Without
it there would be few new challenges, there would be no stimulation to think
through new ideas, and organizations would become stagnant and apathetic.

Mary Parker Follett distinguished between the two types of extreme conflict –
constructive and destructive.

Constructive conflict is beneficial to the organization because it can

• challenge accepted ‘old fashioned’ ideas
• stimulate the development of a climate of change and innovation
• define responsibility and authority limits more closely
• provide an opportunity for anxieties or personality challenges to be
brought out into the open.

Destructive conflict is usually damaging to personal working relationships.

Detrimental to both organization and individuals involved. Often personality-
influenced and creates bad will.

Signs of conflict
• official or unofficial strikes
• restriction or reduction of output, or activity which jepordises income
• demarcation disputes
• lock-outs
• absenteeism
• sabotage
• high labour turnover
• poor time keeping
• refusal to obey instructions
• working to rule
• unwillingness to accept more efficient methods of production
• racial prejudice
• unhealthy rivalry between groups and between individuals
• closed-shop restrictions

Causes of conflict

May include misunderstandings; insensitive or non-supportive relationships;

failure to communicate; and unreasonable, competitive or distrustful climates.

Types of inter-group conflict

• institutionalized conflict – e.g. trade unions and management

• hierarchy-based conflict – those based on inequalities of power built into
the organizational hierarchy
• functional conflicts – interdepartmental conflicts of a lateral, not
hierarchical, nature where departments conflict over goals and resources,
e.g between production and sales
• line/staff conflicts – professional staff employed in a staff capacity often
regard line management as unimaginative, dull and inflexible, while line
management sees the staff group as abstract, impractical, over-educated,
inexperienced and too young
• formal/informal conflict – the existence of two sorts of group, one
determined by the formal structure and rules of the organization and the
one resulting from social interaction can often result in conflict, custom
and practice may well be at variance with formal procedures and the two
can easily come into conflict
• status conflict – where groups compete for status and prestige conflict
often follows
• political conflicts – these can take many forms; political processes, such
as the formation of cliques and conspiracies, are commonplace features of
organizational life.

Managing conflict

To avoid or resolve conflict, managers must understand the nature of the

conflict, the behaviour and norms of the group, and their own balance of
leadership style.

The conditions for avoiding conflict include a positive atmosphere with

common recognized goals, a clear understanding of tasks and a steady

There are many different approaches to the management of conflict but there
is no universal ‘right way’ – it depends on the goals and requirements of
management in a specific setting. In some situations it is correct to
compromise, in others nothing less than complete victory is required.

The two main strategies for managing negative conflict are to convert the
conflict into a positive one using team-building approach or to respond to
the conflict by trying to avoid, diffuse or confront it.

Confrontation means that the opposing sides meet and discuss the problem
rather than suppress it. Conflict resolution through confrontation can occur by
negotiation or through the exercise of power. The negotiation strategy has
more chance of a win-win outcome.

A win-lose situation is not satisfactory because there is often resentment on

the part of the losing side that may damage working relations.
The negotiation strategy has more of a positive outcome than the other
choices. You have to establish trust and arrive at middle ground.

If neither party gets what they want then you have a lose-lose situation. This
is common where compromise comes in. Compromises mean that neither
group is satisfied.

To get a win-win situation you need to start identifying what both parties really
want – as opposed to what they think they want.

Handy suggested two sets of strategies for tackling conflict, ‘control of

ecology’, which creates the environment for constructive relationships,
and ‘short-term regulation’.

Control by ecology
• agreement and knowledge of common objectives
• providing meaningful information to the participants
• building communication and trust between the individuals/groups
• ensuring that individuals’ roles do not counteract the organisation’s
• developing suitable co-ordination mechanisms for the departments

Short-term regulation
• the use of an arbitration authority
• the development of detailed rules of conduct
• creating a position to manage the area of conflict, e.g. budget liaison
• using confrontation or inter-group meetings to analyse the conflict openly
• separating the conflicting parties
• ignoring the conflict problem in the belief that it is a temporary situation
that will ‘blow over’.

The generally accepted techniques of coping with conflict are

• co-operative, problem-solving relationships between antagonizing parties
• a search for superior goals but which cannot be achieved by the efforts
or resources of one party alone
• the third party¸or peacemaker role
• improvement of interpersonal skills


Employee’s have a grievance when there is something in the work situation

which they feel is unfair, wrong, unjust or unreasonable.
Left unresolved they can grow until they become a grievance from a complain or
a dispute.

We can distinguish a grievance from a complaint and a dispute.

• A complaint is a non-procedural expression of employee dissatisfaction.

• A dispute is a formal expression of collective employee dissatisfaction at
the organizational level, resulting from either a failure to resolve a
grievance or a failure to agree on a matter of interest within negotiating

Most complaints are settled between individuals or groups and their immediate

Types of grievance

There are both individual and group grievances, At the individual level the
grievance may be due to a dislike or something that a superior has said or done.

The group grievances are often about pay, e.g. where one person feels they are
getting less pay for doing the same job as another or there is felt to be some
inequity in a piecework system.

In times of economic uncertainty there may be grievances about job security.

Dicipline is either a code of acceptable conduct or a system of rules

establishing behavior patterns.

Punishment is disciplinary action which occurs as the result of a breakdown

in the code of conduct (or the breaking of the code as a deliberate action)

Positive discipline relates to procedures, systems, and equipment in the

organization which have been designed in such a way the individual has no
choice but to comply with the rules and regulations in order to complete a task
successfully and safely.

Negative discipline relates to the promise of sanctions if the people choose to

believe in a desirable way.

Generally there are two types of discipline, accepted behavioral codes and
imposed, legally-enforced regulations and rules.

There are four categories or organizational rule, to protect the organizations

image, to set out basic standards for its well-being, to prevent loss, and to
outline behavioral codes.
Disciplinary problems within the workplace

Problems within the organization include:

• Excessive lateness in arriving at work, which delays any tasks done on a

team basis or in the provision of a service for a client.
• Poor work performance due to a lack of care, with shoddy work or a
large number of rejects.
• Violation of safety rules with potential danger either to the employee or
to the employee’s colleagues.
• Insubordinate attitude, which may affect the motivation of a group and
which may create unnecessary stress or tension in the workplace.
• Failure to wear correct clothing for reasons of hygiene, with potential
damage to output
• Failure to wear appropriate standard of dress, which may affect the
public image of the organization.
• Abuse of “time off” provisions, which may affect the management
attitude for all employee’s.
• Absence for no good reason or without warning, with consequent adverse
effect on work planning within the organization
• General non-compliance with the rules, regulations and procedures
negotiated for the well-being and safety of all employees.

Disciplinary problems that take place outside the workplace and involve the
company include personal abuse or alcohol or drugs, law-breaking activities
or undertaking private work to the detriment of the employer.

Procedural agreements aim to “keep the peace” and avoid “war” between
different parties, and may cover grievances, disciplinary action, disputes,
promotion and redundancy.

The Employment Protection Act requires a named person to whom

grievances can be addressed to be included in the terms and conditions of

Grievance policies should be:

• Simple
• Fair
• Provide for rapid settlement with prescribed time for each stage
• Provide for settlement as near as possible to the point of grievance.

Ideally, discipline should be based on co-operation, which will ensure rules and
conditions are obeyed willingly.
Discipline may be obtained by rewards or punishment, but the latter is generally
expected if accepted norms of behavior are not upheld.

If Disciplinary action is to be administered fairly and consistently the concept of

progressive application might be considered appropriate, particularly for less
serious misconduct:

• An informal chat with employee to clear up a relatively minor breach of

• A formal oral warning with the supervisor, stressing the possibility of
more serious action if the misconduct is continued.
• A formal written warning which becomes part of the employee’s record
• Disciplinary action, such as suspension, demotion or layoff, to
reinforce the formal written warning
• Dismissal – the final drastic action – which should only be applied if all
other previous action fails.

Because of the serious implications of disciplinary action, there should be clear

guidelines as to the level of management that might be permitted to carry out
suspensions, demotions or dismissals. However, all management including
supervisors, have an important role to play. Thus, it is vital that there should be
clearly stated procedures in writing, communicated to all concerned and
administered fairly and consistently within an environment that allows both sides
to state their cases properly.

An organization should have a model disciplinary procedure based on ACAS


The Stages of a grievance procedure

Stage 1 – Grievances should be raised with the employee’s immediate

supervisor, failing settlement

Stage 2 – The employee’s immediate superior will arrange for a discussion with
an appropriate senior manager, The official line here is that:

- this second meeting will be held within five days of the initial discussion
- a brief resume of the grievance and notice of the time, date and place
of the meeting should be given, in writing, by the senior manager to
both the employee and the immediate superior who must attend.

Both parties may be accompanied by a friend, the senior manager may request
that someone from the personnel department be present in an advisory capacity.
Failing settlement at this meeting the grievance proceeds to stage 3.
Stage 3 – Without delay the senior manager will arrange for the grievance to be
reffered to ACAS where the decision of the arbitrators will be final and binding on
both parties.

Stage 4 – If conciliation does not take place at stage 3 and the trade union is
involved, the grievance may be considered to have escalated into a dispute and
will proceed along the lines of the agreed negotiating procedure.

The Role of management

Whatever the issue warrants a correction or reprimand must be clarified by the

manager or supervisor before dealing with the issue.

Reprimands, employees must be blameworthy, If they have done something

wrong, but were not to blame, e.g. mistakes due to poor training or
unforeseeable circumstances, correction should be the outcome,

Disciplinary action causes resentment both to managers and subordinates and

is often avoided. To minimize resentment, action should be taken quickly and
consistently, and should be impersonal by removing the personality element
from it. Try to keep the disciplinary action private to avoid the spread of conflict
and the humiliation (or martyrdom) of the employee concerned.

Disciplinary Interviews can be planned in advanced to establish the facts and

to conform the offence. The aim is to prevent further misconduct. The employee
has the right to bring a friend or colleague as a witness to the interview.

Employees have the right to appeal against disciplinary action. It is a

management obligation to provide an appeal procedure. At this appeal the
disciplinary penalty given by the supervisor may be upheld, set aside or reduced.
It is the senior manager’s right to query the supervisors verdict as this ensures
justice for the employee.