Interpersonal Skills Example – Can You Let It Go?

interpersonal skills example 3This interpersonal skills example can happen any day at work or in life.  It was our second day in Beijing.  My cousin, my mom, and Isabel went to visit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.  It was majestic, fun, but a super long walk.  By 1pm, we were all exhausted, hungry and decided to Uber back to the hotel.

Yes, there was Uber in China and very reasonably priced. 🙂  My cousin requested one on her phone.  After 10 min, he was still not there, so she called the driver only to find out that he was on the wrong side of the road. The driver asked us to cross the road to meet him.  It wasn’t feasible as we were far away from any cross walk and it was about 8 lanes across, illegal and unsafe to jaywalk across.  We asked him to circle to pick us up where we originally said.

Another 15 minutes went by, he finally picked us up.  As soon as we got into the car, the driver started complaining, how difficult it was to pick us up, what a tough day he has had, and how badly the uber app sucked.  I was going to say something as it was inappropriate for him to unleash his irritation on us.  We were in the right.

  • We patiently waited for him for 25 minutes.
  • He was clearly lost and didn’t know his way which was why it took him so long.
  • We didn’t cancel on him even though we could have to opt for a cab instead.
  • My cousin was also feeling stressed as she knew my mom was tired.

To be greeted with only complaints instead of gratitude or an apology was more than irritating and unexpected.   Do you know what my cousin did?

  • She smiled at the driver and just let him vent
  • She actually apologized to him in Chinese, “Sorry it was difficult to pick us up.”
  • She empathized with his bad day and everything that was going wrong for him, smiling and almost comforting him the whole drive.
  • By the end of the drive, about 30 minutes, he completely calmed down and even smiled when we left his car.

That would have not been my reaction if the driver was talking to me.  What about you?

How this interpersonal skill example applies to work

We all have had interactions with co-workers that feel likes this – interactions where we feel we did everything right but somehow the other person still complains.    For example, lets say

  • We asked politely for some important information from a co-worker.
  • The co-worker promised to deliver it by x date, only to not do it at all or acknowledge it on that date.
  • We follow up to ask for status.   What we receive back is this co-worker complaining that our request wasn’t clear enough and he then tells us all the things he still needs to get it done.

Now we have two choices on how to respond.  Which one do you think is more effective?

  1. Demonstrate why we are right.  We can tell him our displeasure and how we expected that he should have at least communicated back what he needed from us to get the work done, especially he promised to deliver it by x date.  This is almost a natural reaction from most of us.   We expected a level of professionalism.   How do you think that would have gone?    Would he be happy to be corrected?  Would he apologize immediately for his wrong action? I bet no!
  2. Focus on getting the information we need.  We can let go of the fact that he didn’t keep his own promise, apologize to him for not being clear in the request, and then provide all the data he needs, so he can deliver what we need.   How do you think that would have gone?  Probably much better.
    • If he was over-whelmed with other work, he would appreciate us not calling him out on not keeping his own promise
    • He is likely to focus more on getting the info to us since we were still polite to ask him for it without demanding
    • If he is simply not good at his job, we can’t change him anyways.  At least this way, we are one step closer to getting the info we need.

At the end of the day, our primary objective is to get what we want.  It is not about being right.

  • For our trip in Beijing with this uber driver, what we ultimately wanted was to get to our destination in a pleasant way.  My cousin made sure we achieved it.
  • For this co-worker, what we ultimately wanted was getting the info we need from him.

Often we lose sight of the primary objective when we are “wronged” by someone.  We want to tell them why they were so wrong.   While this urge is natural, it is completely unproductive.  Nobody ever like being corrected even when they were wrong at some level.  This is why this simple interpersonal skills example is so relevant for work.   We break relationships when we focus on being right.  We are better partners and leaders when we focus on the larger picture of getting the work done.

If you enjoyed this article, see the other two interpersonal skills examples also from my china trip 🙂

Your comments:  How would you have reacted to that uber driver or that co-worker?  Will you do anything different as a result of this article?   I look forward to your comments

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3 thoughts on “Interpersonal Skills Example – Can You Let It Go?

  1. Rekha

    This article is interesting. Needless to say, the 2nd approach is the more sensible and matured response to such situations. However, I seriously wonder if the other person even understands that they basically screwed up. Each one tries to defend themselves. Agreed that the first approach doesn’t do either party any good.
    This past week I had to deal with a similar horrible experience. we had a project that I was working on and the PM had NOT been communicating with me any of the details. Was never invited to any of the meetings. Zero response to my or to my manager’s emails. Part of the project went live and my stuff didn’t move to production. Things broke. We had to expedite several tasks. Huge waste of time and energy. To top all this he came back to me with a rude email asking – “When did you think we were going live”? I don’t think he even realized the fact that he had screwed up to begin with AND was super arrogant. It is very frustrating and lose-lose scenario.

    1. Lei Han Post author

      Rekha, thanks for sharing your example. You are right, sometimes people don’t even know their incompetence. Unfortunately we cannot change them or have the power to fire them. All we can do is two things
      1) communicate to others / leaders the impact of their actions on the business results and ask for help
      2) accept that they cannot change and see if we can work around them the best we can.

      I wrote about this in another article called How to Deal with Others’ Incompetence. I think it echoes your situation. Hope that article can help as well. Best wishes,


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