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Friday, March 24, 2023

Interpersonal Communication: Theory and Applications

8683884271_010bc96464_oBy Syed Hayat

Special to CSMS Magazine


“Communication is a key link that bonds a team. It is fundamental to positive and lasting relationships. People want information about things that affect them; this is particularly true in the workplace” (Klann, & Center for Creative, 2004).

Communication in business is fundamental for proper organization, staff morale, problem solving and information sharing (Crick, 2014). In today’s technologically advanced age, there is a constant influx of knowledge. Through emails, text messages, social tweets and podcasts etc. One must be able to filter through all this information to seek out knowledge “We are drowning in data but starving for information” (Thompson, 2013). A similar situation is seen at the other end of this spectrum when we find ourselves disseminating vast amount of data to others. How we receive data and how we transmit data can cause distortion in the work flow, an effective worker must master the art to control this data transfer through adapting effective communication strategies (Walsh, 2014). Communication is key to the success of a project (‘PMBOK’, 2013). Employees must be aware of passive and aggressive communication styles (Janasz, Dowd & Schneider, 2012), it is inferred that when either doesn’t work, there is the option to adapt assertive communication style – described as “you speak up for your rights and take into account the rights of others”. Employees having higher communication skills also benefit from self-disclosure. Self-disclosure means making the self, known to others and letting others know what you think, feel and want (Janasz, Dowd & Schneider, 2012). The benefits of self-disclosure include open communication, reduction of stress and strengthened relationships that co-workers are able to enjoy in a work environment.

Poor communication is the biggest source of problem behind low employee morale (Poor Communication Causes Low Morale, 2014). Hence, in order to increase our awareness of all the various forms of interpersonal communication that surround us, an analysis of ten communicative methods is conducted in this study, to express interpersonal theories and ideas (Interpersonal Management Skills, 2014): 

Electronic information such as email or text,

A telephone conversation,

A team meeting,

A quote from a famous author,

A existing manager or supervisor,

Team conversations,



Leadership styles,

Other communication traits affecting communication.

For each of the items, the theory in question and applications in the workplaces are discussed.

Email and Text as Means of Electronic Information

Electronic information flow offers a great way for quick delivery of messages. It is inexpensive, great for virtual teams, and is indifferent to command and hierarchy as both boss and subordinate get the same quality of service.

Email and texts reduce cognitive perceptions of interpersonal differences (Chan, 2010) and thus can increase the salience of communication where high social and cultural boundaries exist. Several examples of cultural and social nuances can benefit from digital forms of communication (email and text) e.g. within the Hindu caste system of social inequality or within America’s increasingly diversified ethnicities arising due to high inward migration rates or a country like Malaysia, where several people from different religions, cultures and nationalities co-exist and have been living with tolerance and respect for each other since the country came into existence. When people with such stark cultural backgrounds communicate, electronic communication provides a safe distance providing personal space to accommodate these differences. Mobile phones tend to be used in reinforcing strong social ties, and text based media tend to be used in expanding relationships with weak ties (Kim H, Kim G, Park & Rice, 2007).

IM, SMS, and mobile phone are distinctive media for students, mobile phone for homeworkers, and email for organizational workers” (Kim H, Kim G, Park & Rice, 2007). A study found that vigilant individuals were more likely to use email in an efficient manner by deleting personal email and being less likely to open email later. Procrastinators, buckpassers and people experiencing high levels of negative affect were all more likely to delay dealing with email, which could be viewed as dealing with email in a less efficient manner.” (Shirren & Phillips, 2011).

As a recommendation for writing effective emails, a good technique to adopt, is not to send emails when one is angry. For example, an employee instead of attending an important meeting sends a short one line email saying they cannot make it, just five minutes before the meeting is about to start. Instead of replying to them at that moment, blasting them off in anger for the last minute notice, it might be wise to write the email with the ‘To’ field left blank. When the email is written and the anger dies down, the email can be re-edited to soften the tone and bring it to a more professional etiquette instead of using a harsh tone and a stringent choice of words. Even wiser would be to send the email the next day so one can sleep over the matter and send a more considerate email the next day because you never know if the employee didn’t attend the meeting due to negligence/slack or because they might have been in a real worry situation facing an accident or some other emergency. In short, when writing email when you are ANGRY!!! Leave the ‘to’ field blank, just write and save as draft. Then after a day or when you have cooled down. REVIEW your message REMOVE ASSUMPTIONS and any DEROGATORY comments before sending it.

Effective emails grab the reader’s attention and get results. Following guidelines (Interpersonal Management Skills, 2014) are useful:

1.         Make your subject line your message

2.         Answer all questions

3.         Place the action request at the beginning of e-mail

4.         Limit content to fit on one screen with no scrolling

5.         Keep it short and simple

When sending out emails, tagging the subject is a great idea (Walsh, 2014). For example, [Status Report], [Budget] or [Important]. This will allow the recipient to know which mail is urgent and requires most attention

Email and text messages also have a downside. They can be the greatest killer of productivity and concentration in the form of pop email or message alert, which deviate the focus and attention to something else. Thus, when doing important work that requires undivided attention it is best to switch off such electronic devices or turn them onto ‘do not disturb’ mode.


Telephone is the most contemporary and robust form of communication medium. It is convenient and offers a live interaction with another person or group. (Hopper, 1992) terms telephone as the primary media of electronic conversation and provides a good interactional organization of talking on the phone in his research. Knowing the correct protocols of a telephone conversation can reduce a lot of frustration and save time e.g. who calls back when a line drops? Common norm in the case is that the person who made the call should call back if the line is to drop for any reason. If instead, both parties try to dial each other, both will receive a busy tone.

Telephone has an edge over email because people have an impression that in today’s busy world and with the ease of email, telephone calls are considered as being more personalized. An important skill taught by career counsellors is to use telephone as primary and email as a secondary means of follow up whenever looking to network, especially for jobs.

A great industry user of telephone even today is the call center industry. Practices from this industry can be used to learn important communication techniques. Research has found that smiling (Hall, Coats & LeBeau, 2006) and happy effect (Hall & Horgan, 2003) is related to interpersonal power. This is the main reason why call center operators employ this technique when servicing customers or making tele-marketing calls. Call center agents are told that the customer on the other end of the phone should feel and be able to imagine the smile in the operator’s voice. The call center industry has termed this technique – ‘Smile and Dial’ and lays emphasis by making it a fundamental part of training of new hires.

During telephone calls, users can lose focus and suffer easily through distraction (Lyda, Osborne, Coleman & Rienzi, 2002). Thus, it is important to understand and let the other person know what state you are in while making the call e.g. sitting in a conference room specifically for the intended call or while driving your kid to a soccer game. Telephone conversations can easily lose focus to other things as it can be easily multi-tasked in parallel with other activities.

Like the problem with unintended email alerts, telephones can distort concentration at work. An important precaution while using telephone or cellular calls is not to be the source of distraction to others. How many times in a day has one felt being interrupted by a telephone call during an important meeting or work assignment? Hence it is important to give heads up and schedule important business calls instead of just picking and dialing at whim.

Team Meetings

Meetings are important in shaping organizational norms while playing a psychological role of team fulfillment amongst its participants. They provide the best ways for company people to exchange ideas and provide leaders a way to put their plans into to action. Meetings can be of four general types: information sharing, information dissemination, problem solving/decision making or symbolic/social.

Along with their benefits, meetings come with an inherent problem. According to a study (Janasz, Dowd & Schneider, 2012), seventy percent of Americans executives considered meetings to be a waste of time. The tragedy is that meetings are a necessary evil (Pratt, 2001), imperatively bringing invaluable benefits.

The above dilemma is perhaps explained best by (Rogelberg, Scott & Kello, 2007):

“Employees spend increasing amounts of time in meetings and love to complain about them. But privately they see meetings as a productivity tool — one that companies can learn to use better.”

Thus managers must be skilful in executing meetings for organizational benefit while minimizing time waste. They must be aware of the challenges of different channels of communication involved in meetings e.g. virtual, telephonic, electronic messaging etc. Strategies for effective meetings require that participants should clash over ideas and not personalities. (Basil, 2000) reveals advance planning to be a key in accomplishing successful meetings. Some recommendations for conducting meetings are given below.

Plan meetings in advance

Inviting the appropriate people to a meeting and encourage participation

Choose the appropriate medium (conventional-in-person or virtual)

Setting a clear goal and having an agenda

Ensure that everyone comes prepared

Keeping focus on time frame and ensuring everybody sticks to the agenda

Upon concluding the meeting, sum up key points and following them up later on

Decisions reached during meetings should be checked with the following questions. What were original objectives? Have we achieved those? How can the decision be measured to ensure it was good? And later review, what were results and value of the decision to the organization and its stake holders. An effective tool for reaching decisions is to use the 5L scale (Verzuh, 2011). In a decision vote anybody can choose from the 5 L’s being loathe it, lament it, live it, like it or love it, as long as anybody in a group is a loather or lamenter, the decision should be reviewed again until everybody can at least live it.

Meetings can suffer from problems that managers must be aware of in order to preclude them immediately upon identification. These can be:- meetings run longer than expected, last minute cancellations or participants not showing up, absence of a facilitator resulting in unhealthy confrontations and wayward dialogue, people with personal agendas derailing the meeting and, phenomenon’s such as groupthink (Kim, 2001) and social loafing (Robbins, 2013). “To increase the effectiveness of a meeting, attendees should periodically critique it for what can be improved” (Rogelberg, Scott & Kello, 2007).


“Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man” – Francis Bacon

The last section of the quote says it all – writing makes an exact man! Just as a picture can say a thousand words, in the same manner, correct writing can bring life into a story. With the rising trend of using quotes in written and oral communication, the difficult part is in selecting a quote that conveys the intended meaning of the author accurately.

Finding good quotes suitable to a topic is hard and the process has been referred to as a ‘game’ (Gibb, 2004). Effective use of quotes lends authenticity to a story, breathe life into it, and adds credibility; but just as brilliant quotes bring a story to life, quotes used poorly or in heaping quantities can smother it (Gibb, 2004). It is a challenge to find a quote that can introduce a topic to immediately arouse a reader’s interest towards the subject.

Digging further into the effective use of quotes, (Hallman, 2006) recommends that quotes should not be used to deliver facts but to convey the ‘why’ of the story – “the best quotes, then, reveal meaning, rather than convey simple facts”.

Quotes also play a pivotal role as a means of providing a channel for indirect communication. Just as body language is used to reinforce verbal cues, similarly quotes can be used to indirectly convey an intended message to somebody. This is of specific importance to high-context cultures. In most Asian countries, where people avoid refusing somebody on face, a verbal ‘yes’ can sometimes mean a ‘no’ (Guffey & Loewy, 2010). In these interactions, communicating in a ‘lightly’ so as not to sound too direct – quotes can often save the day! This is one of the reason why quotes are more widely used in Western societies whereas proverbs are more famous in Eastern societies. Another reason for the popularity of proverbs is the higher degree of respect associated in most Eastern cultures. ‘Cultural myopia’ (Pilon, 2007) refers to the lack of cross-cultural awareness. Evaluating the importance of quotes, meaningful and emphatic use of quotes offer a good way to avoid cultural myopia.

I would like to share a personal example from past, in which I happened to play a sufficient role in causing a conflict situation to arise between two colleagues that I tried to resolve with the use quotes. In trying to mediate their conflict and to normalize the relationship in which both were acting stubborn, not trying to understand their own faults, I emailed them the famous quote by Thomas Carlyle, “The greatest of faults, I should say, is to be conscious of none” with a link to an article titled ‘Fixing Work Relationships Gone Sour’. As both the colleagues belonged to a high-context culture, I basically conveyed the message that both should look at their own faults instead of blaming each other and not feel shy in reconciliation when they see the other person demonstrating any of the tips mentioned in the article. I was able to accomplish mediation with the effective use of quotes and avoided any direct confrontation that would have turned them off, and aggravated the situation further.

Manager or Supervisor

Managers play a pivotal role in supporting and simulating creativity in organizations. They can identify and side step idea killers or promote  idea growers by utilizing techniques such as PPC  to breakdown ideas into positive, possibilities and concerns (Janasz, Dowd & Schneider, 2012) or using innovation chambers (Hurt, 1998).

Everyday talk among organizational members is very important (Nelson, 2010) as it can wield powerful effects on external perceptions in which honest communication with employees plays a fundamental role. The employees want to know about their jobs and the developments of their companies, managers on the other hand must make effort to recognize and provide monetary awards to employees who perform well. Effective communication is directly linked to employee motivation and morale. All three are tied in a link with each other and one cannot be achieved without the other. Therefore it is very important that workplaces should promote effective employee communication if they want to uplift morale and motivation of the employees.

(Francis, 2014) use Hackman and Oldham’s model to propose the following formula to calculate the motivating potential score (MPS) of a given job:

MPS = ((Skill Variety + Task Identity + Task Significance) ÷ 3) × Autonomy × Feedback

“According to this formula, autonomy and feedback are the more important elements in deciding motivating potential compared to skill variety, task identity, or task significance. Moreover, note how the job characteristics interact with each other in this model. If someone’s job is completely lacking in autonomy (or feedback), regardless of levels of variety, identity, and significance, the motivating potential score will be very low” (Francis, 2014).

In light of the above, in order for manager to improve employee motivation, feedback and autonomy as related communication are discussed in detail below:

Managers must provide coaching (mentoring) and counseling (guiding) as a means of feedback to escalate employees within an organization. Feedback is vital to every relationship because people need to know where they stand. Feedback also provides a mean to make employees productive by setting expectations and holding them accountable. Essentially employees are uplifted professionally and become equipped to take in new roles and responsibilities.

Open feedback helps employees perform better. Managers need to ask employees what is required for them to become better rather than construe criticism upon them. Employees surveys, open door policies and availability of a manager are all ways open feedback can be reinforced. An essential part of feedback is sincere praise, which should be specific and disclosed immediately. Having an open door policy and procedures that promote consultative procedures also promotes positive communication between managers and subordinates. The more communication channels there are, more willingness will be present among employees to share their problems. An employee that is able to share their problems with the manager can be said to have a higher level of trust. If a manager can provide an environment that nurtures trust and camaraderie, lesser will be the problems arising out of ineffective communication or miscommunication which is a main source (Janasz, Dowd & Schneider, 2012) of interpersonal conflict.

When an employee is not doing their job affectively, managers need to confront them and tell them why they aren’t doing so. When a performance issue arises, it’s important to address the problem as soon as you spot it (Blanchard, 2014). Hence confrontation and conflict become innate to organizational processes ensuring progress. Mastering these scenarios is a requisite skill for managers to learn. Therefore, communication and feedback are vital for the success of the organization because they provide the necessary methodologies to achieve higher levels of productivity and profitability. Managers must harness workplace conflicts towards organizational improvement in order to be effective.

Autonomy can be improved by specifying job description and fitting the right people in those roles, this requires clear communication. Greatest productivity gains come from pairing the best workers with the best bosses (Lazear, Shaw & Stanton, 2012). Autonomy and empowerment are closely related. Effective empowerment can lead to autonomy. Employees need to be empowered to enable them to shine and let them show what great offerings they have. That is the reason why Google allows employees to allocate 20% on projects of their own choice. This keeps them engaged and enthralls higher level of innovation. Apollo13 (NASA mission) was brought back safe to earth because many people did what they were required to do, and they were able to do so because they were empowered.

Applying the above MPS formula to a work setting the manager is responsible for giving autonomy and feedback to the employee and hence control the employee’s motivation to a greater extent. They have direct control on how much work is to be delegated and in setting up the job role. From a practical application, successful managers need to walk the talk. Employees are more likely to follow directions if they believe in them. One way for the manager to build the faith of his employees in his directives is to practice what he preaches. This serves as a great example of building trust between supervisors and their teams. It is important to make an important distinction between managers and leaders. Managers face routine tasks and known problems while leaders face new and unknown challenges.

Team Conversations

“Dialogue can connect individuals with one another and facilitate the fostering of experiences of authenticity. Thus, assisting in the development of human potential within the work environment, which accounts for the majority of our waking hours every day, can promote human fulfillment.” (Berkovich, 2014).

Critical to team conversations is the understanding of the different types of roles that team members may fit into. Explanatory from their names (Janasz, Dowd & Schneider, 2012) provide details onto recognition of these roles and provide ways in dealing with them. These roles are:

The Silent One, The Advice Seeker, The Heckler, The Fighters, The Drifter, The Stand-Pat, The Sidetracker, The Verbal Stumbler, The Griper, The Whisperer, The Eager Beaver, The Overachiever, The Mistaken, The Know-it-All, The Latecomer, The Early Leaver.

Thus team members can experience fruitful and rewarding conversations when they respond to the needs of each of these roles.

(Shiller, 1995) coined the term ‘herd behavior’ for people interacting regularly with each other who tend to start exhibiting similar behavior. It is explained –“political beliefs or opinions on policy issues such as gun control tend to show geographical or social patterns”. This concept is somewhat similar to how Howard Moskowitz, the famous psycho-physicist, in the early ’80’s, described customer segments to be lying on a horizontal line as clusters grouped together by virtue of common taste preferences (Gladwell, 2004). Shiller defines ‘conversations’ to be the idle free-flowing exchange of ideas. These conversations can be used in a team environment to solve simple everyday tasks such as finding a better restaurant. Team conversations when affected by assymetric information (Boyes, 2013), abilene paradox (Kim, 2001), or other group dysfunctions can deteriorate the quality of decision making. For the restaurant finding example, the conversation incoherencies may result in a suboptimal solution causing dissatisfaction among team members. To improve team communications politeness is stressed (Shiller, 1995) to be of essence, even across cultures. Politeness of conversation is referred to as the consensus on the topic of conversation. Differences can in team conversations can be reduced by knowing the belief and attitudes of the people in the group and knowing ‘where they are coming from’. Members of a team must be passionate, humil and humble. It is imperative for the team to maintain privacy and confidentiality to foster trust so as to be able converse effectively.

Team conversations can be aided by persuasion which can be used to exercise influence and control. But to use persuasion, one must first understand what the other person wants, focus on why they want it and use good listening skills to get valuable insight in helping them set a persuasion strategy. Persuasion can be influenced through law of scarcity, reciprocity and social proof/authority. “Aristotle, perhaps the most famous arguer, described three routes to change the mind of the other person. These methods of persuasion are Ethos – Pathos and Logos. Ethos uses trust, and focuses first on the speaker. Pathos appeals to the emotions of the listener, seeking to excite them or otherwise arouse their interest. Logos focuses first on the argument, using cool logic and rational explanation, as well as demonstrable evidence” (Interpersonal Management Skills, 2014). One of the finest examples of these three appeals in play is in the essay titled Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Jennings, n.d.).

Negotiation is another art to be applied to team conversations. (Sussman, 1999) disclose, “you dont get what you deserve but what you negotiate”. (Batista, 2014) emphasizes the value of refusing and in some negotiation or persuasion scenarios, even if people feel shy, they must understand when to say “No” as constantly giving in to persuasions and negotiations can be a downside. As William Onken the Management Guru once stated, “No one visits your office and leave you with more than they entered with and leave with less then they had when they entered” (Interpersonal Management Skills, 2014); sometimes it doesn’t hurt to be selfish in saving time.

Facilitation is another great tool that can be used in team conversations. It is used to recognize and to use appropriate process interventions during conversations, at the right time and in the right manner to deter and resolve dysfunctional behaviors. This allows teams to lead conversations to a meaningful and successful outcome.


Personality is a set of stable traits that a person possesses. Personality factors provide better understanding of the psychological beliefs of the job candidate and can help identify characteristics associated with ethical or unethical behaviors (Dennis, 2012). These factors are:

Conscientiousness (responsibility & dependability) predicts job performance and ethical conduct.

Organizational citizenship behavior will be the willingness of the candidate to help others.

Social dominance orientation/bullying measure propensity for racial and gender discrimination and lead to a hostile work environment.

Idealist (deontology, person is principled) vs expedient (relativism, person adheres to short term gains).

Internalized moral character (caring, compassionate or fair) and symbolizes them onto others. Moral courage, empathy, altruism (desire to help others), trustworthiness, Machiavellianism (ends justify means or manipulating others for personal gain); locus of control (thinks that he controls things or thinks external factors control him). Does a person regard life (values it and is fulfilled by it).

When people who do not share the same attitudes, traits, and beliefs interact, the resulting outcome may be a disagreement or a personality clash. When one understands their own personality, and thusly adjusts their behavior to changing situations they can avoid such uncomfortable work stressors. One must – ‘learn to agree to disagree’.

There are four personalities if as per the principles of DiSC and 16 as per the Myers Briggs personality types. The two important things; first is to realize what your personality and behavioral style is? Second, it is important to understand the personality of the person receiving the information”. It is advised (Interpersonal Management Skills, 2014) that it is best to emulate the style of the person who you’re speaking with. As you get comfortable with the individual you get to emulate their style so that you can decrease barriers of communication, create better understanding while affecting the outcomes you desire of that individual.

(Dattner, 2014) reviews personality style typologies like Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, the DISC Assessment, Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument, Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument and others which are criticized by academic psychologists for their unproven or debatable reliability and validity. The authors suggest that personality testing should consider using non-categorical, well-validated personality assessments such as the Hogan Personality Inventory or the IPIP-NEO Assessment of the “Big Five” Personality dimensions as they are likely to identify some hard-hitting development themes, for example telling you that you are set in your ways, likely to anger easily, and take criticism too personally instead of a simple classification into an ‘INTJ’ type given by Myers-Briggs.

The job characteristics model (Francis, 2014) describes five core job dimensions (skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy and feedback) leading to three critical psychological states, resulting in work-related outcomes. As part of the three psychological states employees view their work as meaningful, they feel responsible for the outcomes, and they acquire knowledge of results that “in turn are related to positive outcomes such as overall job satisfaction, internal motivation, higher performance, and lower absenteeism and turnover” (Francis, 2014). The Five-Factor Model (FFM) (Digman, 1990) divides personality types into five different categories i.e. openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability. (Barrick, Mount & Li, 2013) have used the FFM and the job characteristics model to predict work behavior. The core principle of the theory is that “personality traits initiate purposeful goal strivings, and when the motivational forces associated with job characteristics act in concert with these purposeful motivational strivings, individuals experience the psychological state of experienced meaningful- ness. In turn, experienced meaningfulness triggers task-specific motivation processes that influence the attainment of work outcomes” (Barrick, Mount & Li, 2013).

Source: (Barrick, Mount & Li, 2013).

The image is allowed to be reproduced for education purposes only, under copy right as per Business Source Premier.

The above table reveals critical relationships between personality types, job characteristics and the motivational striving of an individual. This knowledge can be used to better understand the needs of the other person, improving empathy and thus lead towards enhanced interpersonal communication in a work environment.


(Harland, Staats & Wilke, 2007) use Norm Activation Theory (NAT) proposed by Schwartz in 1977, to predict pro-environmental behavior. Much can be learnt from their research to understand how behaviors result. They express influence of the situational activators and the personality trait activators that when exerted via personal norms, influence behavior. The illustration simplifies NAT theory:

Source: Image reproduced from (Harland, Staats & Wilke, 2007)

The above model can be used to improve communication among team members. A team member irrespective of being in either the role of a manager or a subordinate, if is able to understand that certain situational and personality factors (see diagram above) affect the behavioral outcome of their colleague, then they can reinforce their own communication style to have better control over the work setting. As an example, a boss might be able to influence the situational factors while having an understanding of the other person’s personality activators to affect the desired behavioral outcome from an employee.

Employers should provide strong policies against discrimination. Employees should inhibit such behaviors among comrades and abstain themselves too. Evident from the lesson served by ‘A class divided’ experiment in 1968, it is learned that workplace behaviors are also affected by corporate culture.

Outcomes arising from impulsivity can also be used to predict work behaviors among individuals. The effects of impulsivity on behavior are reviewed by (Sharma, Clark & Markon, 2014). It is found that people scoring high on measures of impulsivity tend to demonstrate more of following negative behaviors i.e. maladaptive cell phone usage, internet pornography viewing, nonplanful and procrastinating attitude, and having difficulty in school, work, health and social adjustment. Furthermore, their tendency to indulge in high risk behaviors such as reckless driving, juvenile delinquency and criminality tends to cohere with their need of high sensation seeking. These individuals have been linked to various types of extreme recreations such as sky diving, rock climbing and excessive exercising.

(Bahl & Dadhich, 2008) use leader member exchange (LMX) as predictors of subordinate behavior. LMX theory states that there are two kinds of followers in a group. They constitute being in the ‘In Group’ and ‘Not in the In Group’. Being part of the ‘in group’ will affect the perception of trust in the leadership and may result in employees exhibiting behaviors of putting in ‘extra effort’ in their work. To understand, we create a scenario in which the problem statement is defined as – ‘To hire dean of School of Business’. First a committee is made to select the dean. If this committee is formed through members of the ‘in group’ and Jennifer (an employee with 25 years of service) was not picked and Johnson with (1 year of service) was picked as he was part of the ‘in group’. So in this case Jennifer will feel a complete lack of trust in the leadership and may become disfranchised. Johnson on the other hand, will work hard to maintain his place as a member of the ‘in-group’.

Leadership Styles

75882248_8117860ce0_oLeaders don’t necessarily have to be born with characteristics and traits of a leader, their journey begins with an understanding the story of themselves and are characterized as leaders by demonstrating superior results over a sustained period of time (George, Sims, McLean & Mayer, 2007).

(Kousez & Posner, 2002) characterize leaders by their ability to

Challenge the process

Inspire a shared vision

Enable others to act

Model the way

Encourage the heart

Great leadership in organization can instill many benefits among its employee members i.e. empowerment, accountability and work ownership. Ownership of work is very important. When nobody owns something nobody takes care of it and this is the reason behind many jobs that are not tended to properly; resulting in the tragedy of the commons (Hill, 2010). This is similar to the example that nobody washes a rental car upon its return. An employee when owns the work, starts to take good care of it because now due to owner ship, they feel it’s beneficial to add value to it.

Peter Drucker, the 20th century management guru has been attributed to call leadership a responsibility rather than a rank (Janasz, Dowd & Schneider, 2012). Leadership is a process of social influence to move individuals and groups towards goal achievement (Northouse, 1977). Leaders can inspire a high level of respect through building relationships and trust by creating a pleasant workplace and showing concern for others personal welfare, while achieving organizational objectives (Saro, Worchel, Pence & Orban, 1980). Charismatic leaders show a vision, a willingness to take personal risks and are sensitive to follower needs, environmental sensitivity and can exhibit extraordinary behaviors. Authentic leaders know who they are and what their beliefs are. They then act on those openly; followers see them as ethical. Ethical leaders use ethical means to get followers to achieve their goals (which are ethical). They work towards positive change, do not abuse power. Self-leadership is what happens when individuals act on their own to achieve the organization’s mission, vision, purpose, values and goals (Janasz, Dowd & Schneider, 2012). People suffering from autism (Meng-Chuan, Lombardo, & Baron-Cohen, 2014) show an improvement in quality of life based on how leaders can elicit successful engagement amongst them. (Parr & Hunter, 2014) research indicates that leadership has a great effect on such employee attitudes and performance; the notion of leadership preferences is quite complex culminating in several important behaviors rather than one superior leadership theory.

Contingency theories of leadership are summarized below (Collins, 2012).

Fiedler: leadership type (production vs people orientation is fixed); this can be measured through a least-preferred-co-worker evaluation or LPC. Change leader to fit situation and change situation to fit leader. Situation defined by leader-member relationship, structuredness of task, power

Hersey/Blanchard: behaviors can be changed; followers make situation e.g. more able followers require less leadership skills

Path/Goal: leader must help followers to attain goals, adapt behavior to situation (which is affected by environments and subordinate).

Vroom/Jago: Good model to determine employee participation level. Five types of leadership i.e. Autocrative, less autocrative, consultative, more consultative, group decision. Autocrative: solve problem yourself with information you have.

 (McCleskey, 2014) compares and contrasts three seminal leadership theories being situational, transformational and transactional leadership. Situational leadership describes behaviors along a continuum between task-orientation and relation-orientation. It emphasizes “matching the leader to the situation if possible or matching the leadership orientation (task versus relation) to the follower maturity”. This model suffers from inconsistency and conformity issues. Transformational leader is “one who raises the followers’ level of consciousness” and leaders are able to achieve results by employing idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration. The theory lacks sufficient identification of mechanisms under laying role of leader influence. Transactional leadership focuses on “the exchanges that occur between leaders and followers which allow leaders to achieve their performance objectives”. Critics argue the model promotes short termism and is shallow.

Although there is no particular universally accepted from of leadership style that can be termed as effective. An understanding of the different models can profoundly improve leadership qualities among individuals. Hence leadership styles need to be explored in breadth. (Gardner, Avolio & Walumbwa, 2005) propose authentic leadership which stresses building leader’s legitimacy through honest relationships with followers. Authentic leadership within its sketch, encompasses virtues and traits of ethical leadership. Humility (Chang & Diddams, 2009) and self-awareness are further named to be the key components of authentic leadership. Such personality characteristics can be seen in the likes of monumental leaders like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington who were able to inspire masses by standing up for causes that were beyond recognition. (Berkovich, 2014) uses dialogical pedagogy to improve authentic leadership by suggesting the addition of eight components to it: self-exposure, open-mindedness, empathy, care, respect, critical thinking, contact, and mutuality. With these additions organizations can benefit as individuals filling in leadership roles will be more authentically aligned.

Let’s briefly look at Hitler and Mousseline two great leader in world history. Hitler although one of the most famous army generals, is also the most controversial, loved by some and despised by others. Mousseline in comparison, was hung upside down in the market place by the very same people whom he commanded and who were once even willing to die in his service. Why the reason for the stark contrast in popularity of these leaders among historians and populist societies? Because, the cause they were striving for was not universal; although of benefit to some, it would bring loss to others.

Hence, it is important to note that one of the most fundamental trait to successful leadership is giving vision for the ‘right cause’. This is the reason that the top two most influential leaders in the list (The Most Influential People of All Time, 2014) are prophets. An anecdotal view of them being most influential is because they had a divine cause and a mission that would uplift humanity, morals and values so high that the people would become entitled for securing a place in paradise. They were most influential because they came to give and asked for nothing in return. True leaders in our society today must learn from such great examples in order to instill their followers to serve for causes beyond self-interest based on serving universal interests.

Other Communication Traits

Communication and Importance of Body Language

Communication – more than 80% of it is varied out through non-verbal cues (Janasz, Dowd & Schneider, 2012). Verbal and non-verbal communication should be congruent. People believe non-verbal communication over verbal e.g. giving good news gloomily will sound sad as well. Important body language traits such as eye contact, posture and arms position etc. should be used to reinforce the intended message.


As Socrates said “Know thyself” a high level of self-awareness allows individuals to set meaningful life and career goals. High self-awareness managers are more trusted and perceived as being competent. They can relate and empathize better with co-workers. Have better understanding of ourselves and how others see us can greatly enhance interactional communication exchanges among team members.

Creating expectations in others

When the person approaches with a comment or question, one should immediately wonder what they “want” from (or where are they coming from, what led them to raise this comment). How you interact with a ‘chatty’ type in the office? One twist is to NOT open the conversion with ‘what’s happening’ but ‘what can I do for you?’ This sets the tone! (Walsh, 2014). One should know their biases and should not assume things. See why others might be doing some behavior you are not comfortable with, and try to emphasize and understand the other person’s reasons of doing so (get to the context behind what they are coming from).

Also it is important to let others know. Simple gestures like knocking the door, letting someone know before you plan to visit or informing an associate of your travel plans instead of suddenly dropping the bombshell on them helps others in understanding your needs and gives them time to accept your demands rather than getting startled and caught off guard. Creating an expectation in others will help them to better handle the situation and increase their comfort in communicating and interacting with others.

Use of Proper Language

Use of language that is ‘politically correct’ is very important. Using the word ‘physically challenged’ vs ‘handicap’ and similarly ‘waste material’ vs ‘garbage’, ‘gender’ vs ‘women’.

Another use of writing skills comes when enforcing view points, e.g. use of ‘shall’ signifies a strong assertion whereas ‘maybe’ signifies a weak one. “We must use the proper words and statements so that what we intend to say is actually said. We need to shine by using the right words, at the right time and with the right person. Doing so will provide us with eliminating gaps and diminishing barriers so that we can get along with most if not all people” (Interpersonal Management Skills, 2014).

Having Knowledge of Barriers to Effective Communication

Effective exchanges are key to essential communication. The largest ports of communication or receiving, listening and then returning content. Determine which communication medium best serves varying situations. Get messages across in a way that doesn’t cause defensiveness on the part of the receiver. Below are some common barriers to effective communication which must be taken into careful consideration in interpersonal communication.

Filtering (news downward in organization is generally bad news e.g. layoffs, news upward in organization is generally filtered to sound good to manager)

Selective perception (selectively interpret based on interests, experiences, attitudes)

Information overload

Emotions (feeling of reviver upon receiving message e.g. time of week/day, mood etc.)


Language is a barrier when you talk to people who speak a different language

Accent, English as someone’s second language

Communication Apprehension (anxiety or tension about oral presentation)

Not understanding gender differences and typical stereo-types associated with genders

Not listening

Put aside distracting thoughts. Don’t mentally prepare a rebuttal! Be in the moment by visualizing the information and drawing mental pictures.

Importance of active listening

Cultural barriers to communication

Semantics, Word Connotations, Tone Differences, Perception Differences


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Note: Syed Hayat is an MBA student at Maryville University, St Louis, Missouri. He is also an IT and business consultant based working full time with local and international clients. He may be reached at aftabhayat@hotmail.com



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