Sunday, July 31, 2016

Interpersonal Relationship Skills

Usage of proper "Interpersonal Relationship Skills" is emerging as a powerful tool in management of entities. We have frequent references to interpersonal skills in soft skills and management training programs all over the world. It is often said that practice of good interpersonal skills is the key to success in any type of organizations. There are exclusive training programs for development of these skills. Other management development programs also devote considerable time for discussing the importance of these skills as well as methods for imbibing such abilities for achieving success by managers at different levels. 

Harry Stack Sullivan is often quoted by soft skill trainers as the father of the study of interpersonal skills. Sullivan was the son of Irish parents who migrated to America and is said to have spent his early years in a somewhat isolated living in the New York province of USA. He studied the works of Sigmund Freud, Adolf Meyer, William White and other psychologists before him and became a leading Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst. His extensive study of relationships in human lives led to his belief that life is a web of interpersonal relationships. He is remembered as the father of "Interpersonal Psychoanalysis" and its use in treatment of patients by studying their interpersonal relationships with others.

What is the Indian thinking about interpersonal relationships? Did anyone think of the importance of interpersonal relationships and their finer aspects? Is it a modren westren idea or is there any reference to such views in Indian literature? These are some questions that beg for an answer. There are abundant references to interpersonal relationships in the various literary works of yesteryears. A detailed study on this subject can bring out a thesis fit for awarding a PhD. These references go back to several centuries and as much as over two thousand years in the least.

Indian saint-philosopher Bhartruhari has defined a nine dimensional grid for interpersonal relationship skills. Bhartruhari's period is not definite and there are many versions dating him between 6th century BC to 1st century AD. By any account, he lived at least two thousand years ago. He is believed by some to be the King of Ujjain and elder brother of King Vikramaditya of Vikram-Betaal fame.

What are the segments of people with whom a person can have interpersonal relationships during his lifetime? It can be a group of one's close relatives and friends (Swajana - स्वजन). It may be those subordinate to him in official or personal capacities (Parijana - परिजन). It may be with a group of people who are inimical to his own interests or those who are having adverse or hostile behavior to him and society (Durjana - दुर्जन). There may be others who are saintly or benevolent in nature (Sadhujana - साधुजन). There could be others who are occupying positions of authority (Nrupajana - नृपजन). Then there are always a set of people who are scholars and erudite persons with whom he would deal at different times (Vidvajjana - विद्वज्जन). There can be a group of people who are his enemies (Shatrujana - शत्रुजन).  There would be some who are considered as his elders and guides in life (Gurujana - गुरुजन). A man is also required to deal with groups of women. Some of them may belong to the above eight groups. Other women would be a distinct group (Kaantajana - कान्तजन). Dealings with these segments of people has to be on different footings and cannot be the same. Bhartruhari has made clear demarkation for dealing with these nine groups.

Once the persons are classified into segments as above, there can be a firm basis for interaction that can be arrived at thereafter. The foundations for dealing with them are given as under:

  1. Dealing with Swajana is to be with generosity and not curt or cut-and-dried approach. We frequently hear people saying that they do not give a damn about others and deal with people in their own harsh methods. "I tell them on their face. What do I care?", they often say. This is not the method to be used with one's own people. It should with finesse and delicate touch. These are people with whom one needs to have lifelong relationships. 
  2. Interaction with Parijana would be founded on the values of compassion and kindness. They may not be able to reply back harshly due to their relatively weaker positions, but would nevertheless feel hurt and discouraged. Their future support in one's endeavors would not be spontaneous thereafter.
  3. Handling Durjana is to be with sharpness and harshness. Any other method used would be interpreted by them as a sign of weakness. But one should be careful before using these methods and classification should be done after proper assessment and verification, and not on hearsay. 
  4. Sadhujana group of persons are to be treated with reverence and devotion. These are people who do not aspire anything for themselves and live for the welfare of others. Care should be exercised before accepting persons in this group.
  5. Due diplomacy and obedience should mark interactions with Nrupajana or people in authority. Other methods of dealing with them will not be appreciated and could turn out to be counterproductive. Authority is to be respected for maintaining order in society.
  6. Vidvajjana deserve to be treated with deference and respect. This is not any concession given to them, but their due on account of their superior knowledge and wisdom. These are the people who command respect wherever they go; there is no better way to interact with them.
  7. Shatrujana or enemies are to be faced with valour and courage. Dealings have to be on equal footing and without compromising self respect. There ought to be determination and boldness in dealing with one's enemies, but one should be always be watchful and prepared for any eventuality.
  8. Patience would be the hallmark in dealing with Gurujana or elders. Those with experience in life would very well understand the requirement of patience while living with elders, who may often be dependent now, and yet have led a self-sufficient life when they were young. Any deviation from the path of patience would hurt them and bring unnecessary strains in the relationship.
  9. Kaantajana are to be treated with tactfulness. Tact is a keen sense of what is appropriate, tasteful and dealing issues with delicate demeanor. This approach is consistent with the general nature that differentiates women from men. The interactions of women with men is also to be with a sense of appropriateness and tasteful as well.

How to remember all these different segmentation of people and basic structure of interacting with them? Is it not too eloberate and cumbersome to remember and practice? No, not at all. Bhartruhari has given a simple formula that can be easily remembered:

दाक्षिण्यं स्वजने दया परिजने शाठ्यं सदा दुर्जने |
प्रीतिः साधुजने नयो नृपजने विद्वज्जनेश्वार्जवम्  ||
शौर्यं शत्रुजने क्षमा गुरुजने कान्ताजने धृष्टता |
येचैवं पुरुषाः कलासु कुशलाः तेष्वेव लोकस्थितिः || 

Daakshinyam swajane daya parijane shaatyam sada durjane,
Preetih saadhujane nayo nrupajane vidvajjanescharjavam;
Showrym shatrujane kshamaa gurujane kaantajane dhrushtataa
Yechaivam purushah kalaasu kushalah teshveva lokastitihi. 

Is interpersonal relationship an art or a craft? This can be answered only when we are able to differentiate between art and craft. The difference between the two is subtle and too thin to explain in words. An art is a form of work that is linked to and is an expression of emotions. A craft is dedicated work that brings out a tangible object as output. Bhartruhari says that interpersonal relationship is an artful craft! कलासु कुशलाः (kalasu kushalaah) is the phrase he uses which denotes this expression.

Is this not a wonderful analysis of interpersonal relationship? There are many such hidden gems in our vast literature treasure!

E A S Prasanna and S Venkataraghavan were both gifted cricketers and represented the Indian team with distinction in the 1960s and 70s. Both were off-spinners and had to lose their place in the team to each other on many occasions. Though both were off-spinners, their bowling style was entirely different and both were excellent bowlers. Prasanna was the master of flight and beat the batsman in the air. Venkataraghavan was relying more on accuracy and persistence. An expert commentator once wrote in a magazine - Prasanna is an artiste whereas Venkat is a skilled craftsman. Does it explain the difference between art and craft? Of course, those who have seen both in action on the cricket fields will have an endless argument on this statement.


  1. very meaningful. worth reading multiple times.

    1. A classic article and an eye opener on the subject. Very important and a must to read for all. A treasure to be shared with all. Thanks keshav.

  2. A very delightful and expert writing. When we talk about this Interpersonal relationship we,most of time refer to foreign authors. But you must be complimented for bringing out the fact that our ancestors had the wisdom to recognise not only the importance of it but have also given us guidance as to how to deal with different kind of people.
    Please share this without fail with our softskills faculty and request them to share with the students.Thanks for sharing this with me.
    -Rahul Aradhya

  3. Worthful article, says how to deal with different segments of people with delicacy.

  4. You keep delighting the readers of your blog time and again. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one. In fact, it has been a revelation to me that our ancient scholars of vedic times had perceived the philosophy of management / living harmoniously so well through appropriate behavioural responses to each of those nine types .
    Translated into local lingo, these tips can be easily understood by one and all in the society. If practiced well, the society at large would be immensely benefited and life would be much more peaceful, meaningful and worth living for.
    Trust , I can use these tips in my life too; personally as well as professionally.

    Thanks for sharing and looking forward to many more such blogs from you.

  5. Very good write-up on interpersonal skills. Nice that you have brought out the concept as enshrined in our own rich literature. The icing on the cake is how you have given expression to 'art and craft' by taking the example of Prasanna and Venkat.

    But our younger generation has to understand certain basic truths in this area. If you want to be heard you have to be a good a listener first and if you want to be read you have to be a good reader first and if you want to be served you have to start serving first. Then automatically interpersonal relationships improve and one will be loved and admired by one and all. Lakshminarayana K

  6. wonderful, I think this can be taken to the class from management angle.

  7. Yet an another excellent piece . Modern employers look for people , who have good interpersonal skills, apart from job skills and knowledge. People having high EQ ,are generally good team players and evolve as good leaders. The reference to nine-dimensional grid of yore, is simply fantastic .Our sages has enunciated the principles several centuries back.We need to imbibe their thinking.

  8. Yet an another excellent piece. Modern employers prefer people having good interpersonal skills, apart from job skills and knowledge. people with good EQ , are good team players and evolve as good leaders. The reference to nine-dimensional grid of yore is simply fantastic . Our sages have enunciated several centuries back, the importance of interpersonal skills. We should do our best to imbibe the same

  9. A very good one sir. Mind blowing. Thank you!

  10. What Bhartruhari has written holds good in all ages. what are called as eternal truths. As usual very well written.
    Your use of the words artful craft and the words artiste and skilled craftsman brought to my mind how the words used with a sentence can also change the meaning. In the Dictionary one of the meanings for art is skill and vice versa. Art also means studied action and artificiality in behavior. Crafty gives an entirely different meaning. Skillful in underhand or evil schemes, cunning, deceitful. This is what fascinates me about any language.


  11. I’m wondering if you are a soft skills faculty or banking! Very well brought out, Sir. You’ve shown yet again that so much wisdom existed in our own ancient tradition that needs to be tapped well.

  12. Another master piece from your armoury!