Assisting Managers in Improving their Interpersonal Skills | EAPA-SA

There are ten primary roles or behaviours (across three categories) which can be used to categorise a manager’s different functions in an organisation, according to Professor Henry Mintzberg, a Canadian business academic and author.  The ten roles are:1

Interpersonal:  Figurehead, Leader and Liaison

Informational:  Monitor, Disseminator, and Spokesperson

Decisional: Entrepreneur, Disturbance Handler, Resource Allocator and Negotiator

Within the interpersonal category a manager’s role embraces the following responsibilities:

As a figurehead, a manager has social, ceremonial and legal responsibilities. Managers are expected to be a source of inspiration. Employees look up to a manager as a person with authority.

As a leader, a manager provides leadership for a team, a department or even an entire organisation. It is within this aspect of a manager’s role that the performance and responsibilities of everyone in the group is coordinated and supervised.

As a liaison, a manager must be able to successfully communicate with internal and external associates, and needs to be able to network effectively on behalf of the organisation.

Managers with well developed interpersonal skills are able to facilitate more meaningful engagement in the workplace – with the result that their colleagues are more comfortable interacting with them when seeking assistance and advice – making for a more productive and fruitful work enviroment.3

While there are several reasons why communication between management and employees may be non-existent, or have broken down in the workplace, most of them are likely to be attributable to poor interpersonal skills on behalf of the manager concerned.  This will typically show up in the manager:

  • not being approachable,
  • not being present – both mentally and physically, and
  • generally lacking in the quality of their communication with colleagues and employees.


Essential interpersonal skills for managers2

Competent verbal communication skills are essential when managing a team. Managers must be able to speak clearly and concisely.  They must have the right vocabulary to make themselves understood or their staff will not be able to successfully complete their tasks.  This includes knowledge of appropriate technical language.

Nonverbal communication is critical to success – perhaps even more so than verbal communication.  Non verbal communication includes tone and volume of voice, gestures and facial expressions, body posture and stance, proximity to the listener, eye contact and movement.

  • A leader who constantly folds his arms across his chest when addressing his staff may seem uncomfortable or standoffish.
  • A manager who can’t hold eye contact during a conversation will seem bored and uninterested.

Good listening skills are indispensable part of communication for managers. Effective listening can pre-empt problems, prevent potential mistakes and can greatly impact the communication process.

This requires really listening in a one-on-one conversation.  It means being present and paying attention in a meeting to make sure all questions, concerns and comments have been heard and addressed.

The ability to negotiate is an interpersonal skill that is important to effective business engagement and communication. A good negotiator has the ability to discuss and reach an agreement in a professional manner.  This will typically entail reaching a win-win outcome for the parties involved.

Problem solving is a vital interpersonal skill in that problems in the workplace are a regular and very real part of the daily reality of an organisation. The ability to think through and find a solution to problems is an essential management skill.

Linked to problem solving, as a manager one needs to be to be a strong decision-maker.  Decision-making may involve choosing to take action or deciding between more than one possible solution to a problem.  Factors such as not having correct information, having too many people involved, or lacking interest in the outcome can influence the decision-making process.

Assertiveness as an interpersonal skill entails being able to stand up for your own or other people’s rights in the workplace in a calm and positive way, without being either aggressive or passively accepting what is wrong or incorrect.

How EAPs can assist managers in improving their interpersonal skills3

Employee Assistance Programme2s (EAPs) are uniquely positioned to help organisations develop a systematic process to groom and train frontline managers and supervisors in developing great interpersonal skills, especially because EAPs remain linked with the organisation long after the classroom training phase of the programme is completed.  EAPs are able to provide the ongoing personalised consultation and guidance that managers need once they begin applying their new skills in real business situations.

The best models for teaching these skills include the following five elements:

Skill assessment:  This helps participants take stock of their current competencies, under professional guidance, and stimulates the desire for change and skill development.

Skill learning:  Imparts information and principles regarding beneficial leadership behaviours and skills, and lays the foundation for why these are crucial to business success.

Skill demonstration: Provides case studies that illustrate the outcome of a variety of successful and unsuccessful leadership approaches.

Skill practice:  Presents the opportunity to practice desired skills and receive feedback and assistance.

Skill application:   This allows the manager to apply these newfound skills to actual business situations and receive ongoing guidance.