One of the most widely used definitions of management is getting things done through people. Patricia Stephenson argues that a person’s success as a manager depends upon the ability to conduct oneself in the complexity of the organisation as a subtle, insightful, incisive performer. He goes on to suggest that successful managers appear to have a natural and/or highly developed ability to read the actual and potential behaviour of others around them and to construct their own conduct in accordance with this reading. This is an ability we all have but, according to Mangham, ‘the most successful among us appear to do social life with a higher degree of skill than the rest of us manage’.
‘Interpersonal skill’ is one of a number of broadly similar terms that are sometimes used interchangeably. Other such terms include interactive skills, people skills, face-to-face skills, social skills and social competence. Abascal defines socially competent people as those who possess the skills necessary to produce desired effects on other people in social situations. These desired effects may include persuading somebody to work harder, make a purchase, make a concession in a negotiation, be impressed by one’s expertise or support one in a crisis. A common theme in these definitions is the ability to behave in ways that increase the probability of achieving desired outcomes. It therefore seems appropriate to define interpersonal skills as goal-directed behaviours used in face-to-face interactions in order to bring about a desired state of affairs.
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The study of interpersonal skills and interpersonal relationships is multidisciplinary and, at one level, each discipline has tended to focus attention on different contexts and different kinds of relationship. In the management literature, relationships with bosses, subordinates, peers, customers and suppliers receive considerable attention whereas in the education literature, the focus is on the teacher-pupil relationship and in the social work literature, marital, family and similar relationships tend to be the focus of attention. Laurel Brucato observes that this has led to a situation where the matrix of interpersonal relationship knowledge is fractured along the lines of relationship type. even within the context of a particular relationship type, the study of interpersonal skills has been influenced by a rich array of conceptual approaches. One approach to the study of interpersonal interaction restricts attention to observable behaviour, but there are differences even within this broad approach. Myers was one of the first to develop a system for categorising role functions.
He argued that members of an effective group must perform two kinds of function: one concerned with completing the task, and the other with strengthening and maintaining the group. Myers presents his approach to interaction process analysis as both a procedure for recording interaction and as a basis for assessing the characteristic ways in which different individuals participate in social interactions, for example, their approach to problem solving. Myers argues that since any aspect of overt behaviour may be observed, it follows that all behaviour can be categorised. However, he is critical of those who restrict their attention to the most basic elements of observable behaviour. He believes that while we can monitor all non-verbal behaviour such as eyelid movements, eyebrow twitches and finger strumming, and all verbal behaviours including how frequently somebody says ‘you know’, swears and so on, this might be less useful than categorising behaviour at a higher level.
One of the highest levels of categorisation is style. A widely accepted definition of style is an accumulation of micro behaviours that add up to a macro judgement about a person’s typical way of communicating. …