Learning in the workplace.


Businesses depend on sustained performance for success. Performance is heavily influenced by inter-personal relationships and the individual’s ability to communicate and learn effectively.

Work-place relationships, communication and learning are key to the modern small to medium size enterprise (SME), to create value and sustainable results.

This sector has the most vulnerability to the affects of poor interpersonal relationships, communication and learning. This despite the fact the SME is responsible globally for the majority of GDP, with one or two third world acceptions. This fact was illustrated in a recent report by the Edinburgh Group, D’Imperio (2013) which states that 95% of SMEs account for approximately 60% of private sector employment and 52% to the global GDP on average (ACCA 2010).

Naisbitt (1994) states that as the world economy grows, the more powerful its smallest enterprises become, he calls this the ‘Global Paradox’. Despite the importance of the SME to the economy, as a general observation they invest the least in development of their interpersonal relationships, communication and learning.

These skills can make the difference between survival or catastrophic failure of the enterprise. Perhaps so many start-ups fail within the first three years of trading partly because of funding, partly because of lack of effective planning and partly because they lack strong interpersonal relationships, clear and effective communication and a willingness and desire to constantly and effectively learn?

Relationships, Communication and learning.

The process of good inter-personal relationships, communication and learning in the workplace needs to have a start point. In my view this start point must be ‘self’; The ability of the individual to self-assess and understand their impact on those around them. The wider subject of overall emotional intelligence also comes very much into play.

The journey must start with self-awareness, and I strongly agree with the definition offered by Bernard (1922, p.126) where it is made clear the impact we have on others is a key part to self-awareness.

This impact can be far more influential than may first appear to be the case. Buchanan and Boydell (2004) write about self concept, where they introduce the idea that the image we have of ourselves is influenced by the way others treat us. This then adds an interesting layer to the question of relationships, communication and learning in the workplace and what skills contribute toward them. It could be argued, despite the skills of the individual, their behaviour can be influenced externally by the behaviour of others toward them.

The important factors when it comes to self-awareness is to fully appreciate your impact on others, an appreciation of your levels of confidence, an appreciation of the activities and actions you can take to improve your confidence and then in turn, the confidence others have in you. Thompson (2009, p.3) makes this point very clearly and suggests confidence is infectious. It would therefore be fair to surmise that when others have confidence in you, relationships, communication and learning will improve within the immediate workplace? While I agree with this stance it should not be ignored that there is a counter view as stated by Pinker (2002) who’s argument is that human nature and genetics are the determining factor.

The major key to better relationships, communication and learning in the workplace will center on your understanding of self-awareness. The Johari Window created by Luft and Ingham in 1955 illustrates a suitable model to follow in achieving greater self-awareness.

  • Known – You and others can see – outward personality and physical attributes.
  • Hidden – Your private self – ambitions, fears.
  • Blind – You don’t see but others can – habits and ticks.
  • Unknown – things nobody is consciously aware of – reaction to adversity.


Calling upon my own experience working in and on a number of organizations, I take the view that while other influences should not be ignored, communication is a major factor for success and failure of individuals and teams.

This is a view that is partially shared by Jablin and Putnam (2001) who maintain that everything significant that happens in the work-places will be underpinned by communication. The impact both good and poor communications can have in the work-place can be a game changer, which is why it is so important to concentrate on core communication skills in the workplace.

Essential skills include intra-personal communication (this can be defined as the voice in your head / gut instincts), the more emotionally intelligent you are the greater control you have over this internal communication. This is important as it relates to self-concept, perception and expectations, all of which will affect the inter-personal communication. It is also important to understand the wider picture of communication, including the importance and influence non-verbal communication and in particular body language and spatial considerations.

When it comes to effective communication 55% is body language, 38% vocal and only 7% verbal. With modern technology including Social Media, which is increasingly used for business communications it is essential to understand the potential for misunderstandings in the absence of vocal, spatial and body movements to enhance the purpose and intention of the communication. Also key to physical communication is tone, rhythm and cadence, which can tell us much about the message behind the words being spoken.


It is essential that the process of learning is overtly present in the workplace to encourage personal and team development. There are numerous theories relating to learning but the one’s that appear to suit learning in the workplace, introduce the concept of learning from experience and reflection.

It is our capability to learn that is an essential part of effectiveness and therefore, by default, understanding how people learn is a ‘must have’ skill. There are four stages to learning in the workplace and these are very much sequential, starting with unconscious incompetence, where we don’t know what it is we don’t know, followed by the identification of where we lack knowledge, or conscious incompetence. This is then followed by conscious competence, lessons learnt competence is achieved consciously and finally unconscious competence, where you undertake activities in the right way without even consciously thinking about it.

It was Cupach & Cabary (1997, p.20) who stated that “Skills are developed through practice; the more we use the skill the more we sharpen it.”   In order to achieve this, understanding individual learning styles is important. The ideal learning environment would take into account the variety of ways people will engage in learning. In conjunction with the differing learning styles comes another factor identified by Klaus (2010 cited in Robles 2012, p.454) that in one particular study it was found that 75% of long-term success was dependent on people skills. Conversely the same study concluded that only 25% was dependent on technical knowledge. Today, technical knowledge is essential but so too are people skills. As with most elements in the workplace it could still be argued it’s all about a suitable balance influenced by circumstances.

Interpersonal Relationships

There are many components that influence interpersonal relationships in the workplace, some basic and some more complex. Fundamentals include motivation, shared goals, an understanding and alignment with the Vision, Mission and Values of the workplace. Without such alignment it is difficult to imagine the continuation of good quality interpersonal relationships.

Key to this subject is that of Emotional Intelligence (EI), a broad but essential subject. Sigmas et al (2010, p.13) has conducted research that makes the link between high degrees of emotional intelligence and interpersonal relationships.

Social awareness, which is described as the ability to understand the emotional components that contributed to the makeup of others, is a key skill that allows the individual to treat those around them according to their emotional condition or reactions to any given situation. People with these skills will often be more likely to achieve personal goals and have other competencies in leadership, change, conflict resolution, communication and team building.

Teamwork is essential in the majority of workplaces and the higher the team cooperation and better the interpersonal relationships within the team the greater the performance. This view is supported by Jorden & Troth (2004, p.200) where they examining the role of Emotional Intelligence on effective teamwork. They predict teams who possess higher levels of EI will perform better than those without high levels. Ultimately higher EI will lead to greater performance.

Performance is linked to group intelligence and Goleman (1996, p.160) introduces the idea that the most important element in group intelligence is not I.Q. But E.I. The key, he affirms, to group I.Q. is social harmony which comes from emotional intelligence.

In conclusion

Successful learning, communication and inter-personal relationships in the workplace are dependent on many factors, from culture, based on vision, mission and values, through to self-awareness and emotional intelligence. The more self-aware the individual the more likely they are to have good levels of self-efficacy, leading to greater confidence, from within the individual and generated in others. These elements contribute to the overall value of emotional intelligence, which empowers engagement with others and enhances team performance.


References Used In Article:

Introduction source is D’Imperio, R., 2013. Growing the global economy through SMEs

Naisbitt, J., 1994. Global Paradox. Finland: BCA

Bernard P., 1992 Know Yourself! Self awareness activities for nurses. Harrow: Scutari Press

Buchanan, D., Huczynski, A., 2004. Organizational Behaviour An Introductory Text 5th Edition. Harlow: Prentice Hall

Thompson, N., 2009. People Skills. Palgrave McMillan

Pinker, S., 2002. The Blank Slate: The modern denial of human nature. London: Allan Lane/Penguin

Jablin, FM. And Putnam, L.L., 2001. The new handbook of organizational communication: Advances in theory, research, and methods. Thousand Oaks CA: Sage Publications

Cupach, W & Canary, D., 1997 Competence in interpersonal conflict. New York. McGraw-Hill

Sigmar, L., Hynes, GE., & Cooper, T., 2010. Emotional Intelligence: Pedagogical considerations for skill-based learning in business communication courses. Journal of Instructional Pedagogy. 3 (June 2010) 1-11

Jordan, P.J., & Troth, A.C., 2004. Managing Emotions During Team Problem Solving. Human Performance, 17(2), 195-218.

Goleman, D., 1996. Emotional Intelligence Why it can matter more than IQ. London: Bloomsbury.