Enjoying Your Work

Richard Brislin

Working with others
requires sensitivity to
their viewpoints

Virtually all tasks in today's workplaces require that individuals interact with many others during the course of a day.

These others include co-workers, customers, clients, supervisors, and members of advisory boards who have an influence on organizational policy making.

The ability to work well with others is facilitated by social skills. In years past, children learned social skills at home. Parents taught children proper table manners, rules of etiquette such as thank-you letters upon receiving gifts, ways of making visitors feel welcome, conversational skills for social gatherings, and so forth.

As more and more parents became dual wage earners, social-skills training at home became a low priority item. Some schools picked up the slack, but social-skills training had to compete with the hours necessary to master traditional school subjects. Adults who feel they missed out on their social skills can now take courses offered by profit-making companies.

When workers are promoted to managerial ranks, social skills are required. I have been on many selection committees for managerial positions, and people's ability to work well with others always is always discussed.

When workers become managers, they do not carry out all tasks themselves. Rather, the managers make sure that the tasks are done. The managers must assign the tasks to others and provide the necessary support to subordinates. They must supervise, but not actually do the work. Social skills such as showing respect for subordinates, communicating with them about progress on the tasks, and knowing when to intervene without embarrassing subordinates become essential.

Additional social skills are necessary when managers want to pursue projects that involve widespread company change. Managers can direct subordinates to accept tasks related to the new projects, but they can rarely order fellow managers to pursue new goals in the organization. When working with fellow managers, they need to persuade rather than direct them. This means that any one manager has to listen carefully to the thoughts of coworkers whose support is desired.

A number of people responded to my request for descriptions about absences of social skills. Faulty listening skills were one theme in people's anecdotes. A business- person in Honolulu wrote, "Another manager wanted my support. We set up a meeting about a week in advance. At the appointed time, he called me from his cell phone. He said he was in his car and on his way into a parking lot. He told me he had a few minutes and asked if the telephone call could substitute for the scheduled meeting. I was so stunned that I continued the phone conversation. I had prepared some visual aids for the meeting that, of course, I could not use during the phone conversation. I felt that he blew me off with this meeting substitution. I did not become involved in his project, and have not become involved in any of his subsequent ideas."

Another businessman once told me, "Especially in Hawaii, what goes around comes around. If you don't treat people well, they won't treat you well." To this astute observation, I would add that people have long memories. If the poor treatment occurred 20 years ago, people will remember it today and make decisions about project involvement based on these memories.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

The purpose of this column is to increase understanding of human behavior as it has an impact on the workplace. Given the amount of time people spend at work, job satisfaction should ideally be high and it should contribute to general life happiness. Enjoyment can increase as people learn more about workplace psychology, communication, and group influences.

Richard Brislin is a professor in the College of Business Administration, University of Hawaii. He can be reached through the College Relations Office: cro@cba.hawaii.edu



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