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Disagree and Get Along, Too

Interpersonal Skills are a combination of affective and cognitive skills. They are a content type that doesn’t always make the lists of content types.

At a big meeting of training, organizational development, and various other flavors of performance improvement professionals at a large Fortune 500 company, we had a little incident.

07-11 Cactus

Barry (not his real name) piped up and said that performance consultants are all arrogant because they think they know more about a manager’s business than the actual business manager does.

Given that there were more than a few people in the room who were or who wanted to be performance consultants, this particular statement, phrased the way it was, raised more than a few hackles.

Enter a few thoughts about interpersonal skills—what people should know about interacting with each other.

In the 1982 edition of Instructional Media and the New Technologies of Instruction, Heinich, Molenda, and Russell included levels of the interpersonal domain. These are not exactly hierarchical, but they are skills to consider if we were helping people to get along and work together:

  • Seeking or Giving Information
    Could you tell me about… Or Let me tell you about…
  • Proposing an Idea or Suggestion
Here’s a thought… Or How about this…?
  • Building and Supporting
    I think I know what you mean, here’s another example of that…
  • Shutting Out and Bringing In
Jane, what are you thinking about this? Or We’re going to have to move on from this topic now…
  • Disagreeing
    I see how it’s easy to think that, and here’s something else to consider…
  • Summarizing
    Here’s what we seem to be saying, and what it sounds like we want to do… Is that what you are hearing, too?

Although I was resisting an impulse to shut Barry down in a fairly firm manner, Leah (not her real name) came to my rescue. She said,

I see that a little differently…. and she proceeded to say how.

And there it was. Six small words that took the tension out of the air. She said what she thought was true without making Barry wrong, bad or stupid. It was perfect.

Thankfully, she did not say:

  • I can’t believe you said that…
  • You don’t understand what you’re talking about…
  • You’ve missed the point entirely…

Or, my personal real-life favorite, said by one Fortune 500 VP to another at a senior leadership communication meeting…

  • That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard.

“Soft skills” aren’t easy. They take some doing to design for and a lot of hard work and practice to acquire.

The hardest skills to learn are often those that allow us to interact successfully with other people.

We would do a great service, when it’s clear that people are missing essential interpersonal skills, if we would…

  • Carefully analyze the components of a soft skill we want to teach
  • Provide excellent support for learning: here are the concepts, the principles, the procedures, the choices you have to make, and here’s a demonstration of how to do this
  • Design what might seem like more than enough safe opportunities for varied practice
  • Provide feedback from someone who can recognize the nuances of the skills in question.

It’s often not technical skills that hold people back, but instead their ability to work with others. With heavy-handed approaches, people are bound to feel uncomfortable, miss steps, shut down, or engage in conflict. If we have more Leah-type approaches, people can just keep working. They can also take advantage of different points of view.


Review | Learning Domains and Delivery of Instruction (by my friend, Dr. Cindy Vinson!)

Article | Soft Skills Are Hard to Assess. And Even Harder to Succeed Without

Article | Introduction: What is the Interpersonal Domain?

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