The “Basics” of Effective Workplace Interactions: Tips for Leaders

Image credit of Jason Goodman via Unsplash

Whatever a leader is expected to accomplish, they must do it while working with others, and to accomplish that, the leader must effectively interact with others. This is where the “basics” come into play, and why they should not be forgotten.

Building a case for the basics

The basics are built on the premise that there are two kinds of needs to be met in every interaction. There are practical needs and personal needs. When you go to a restaurant for dinner, you expect to have both good food and good service. If you only had good food, but the service was terrible you probably wouldn’t go back. The same would be true if the restaurant served a terrible meal with great service.

Practical needs are the objectives that need to be accomplished through an interaction; the personal needs are the “human” needs everyone brings to every interaction.

Practical needs include the need to:

•Reach a decision
• Resolve a conflict
• Develop a solution or solve a problem
• Plan how to approach a task or project
• Plan the implementation of a change

Personal needs include the need to feel:

• Heard and understood
• Respected and valued
• Trusted (and willing to trust)
• Meaningfully involved
• Supported

This means that before they can develop any of the skills that are needed for specific business-related situations, leaders must be competent and confident in meeting both personal and practical needs.

At DDI, we label these foundational elements as Interaction Guidelines and Key Principles.

Interaction Guidelines form the structure for discussions and enable individuals to meet the practical needs of their internal and external partners. There are five guidelines:

OPEN with what and why. Let people know what you want to talk about and why it’s important.

CLARIFY details. Before you begin discussing ideas or solutions, make sure everyone understands the details by clarifying any facts, figures, or information needed for others to be able to move forward.

DEVELOP ideas. Cultivate ideas to achieve the main goal and do this by seeking involvement from all participants. Only share your own ideas after listening to everyone else’s.

AGREE on actions. Once you have a list of good ideas and alternatives, involve everyone in choosing the ideas to put into action, and specify what will be done, who will do it, and by when.

CLOSE with review and set follow-up. To make sure everyone understands what’s happening, go over the main points of the discussion and what people agreed to.

Key Principles, meanwhile, form the basis of effective interactions. By using these principles, learners can meet each other’s personal needs to feel valued, respected, and understood. The Key Principles include:

  1. Maintain or enhance self-esteem.
  2. Listen and respond with empathy.
  3. Ask for help and encourage involvement.
  4. Share thoughts, feelings, and rationale. (to build trust)
  5. Provide support without removing responsibility. (to build ownership)

Considerations for developing the basics

In order to change behavior, there are three phases to development: Engage, Learn, and Grow. Or, to put it another way, organizations need an ecosystem for today’s leaders so that they can practice and get feedback as they seek to master the basics. This ecosystem doesn’t need to be complex but it must exist to ensure results.

Here are just a few examples that organizations are using to develop the basics.

Technology can play an important role in the development of the basics. Both practice and feedback are available through games and simulations. I know of one executive who uses simulation to prepare for difficult conversations, just as athletes warm-up before an event.

Many organizations provide refreshers to ensure the importance and value of the basics are reinforced. One example is designing a refresher as part of a high-potential graduation session. A refresher could be designed and used to show progress being made, but also to reinforce that just because you are graduating, it doesn’t mean you can forget about the basics.

Learners might also access microcourses that are “short bursts” of learning ranging from 7 to 20 minutes each. The microcourses provide just the right amount of information through videos, quick tips, checklists, planners, and other practical learning tools that enable leaders to increase their competence and confidence in applying the basics.

Avoiding the basics can prove costly

When we are constantly asked to do more with less, it can be very tempting to forget about developing and maintaining the basics. Doing so can be very costly in both the short and long term.

Fortunately, there are multiple tools, techniques, and technology to make sure leaders are not just getting what organizations expect them to understand, but also the basics that enable leaders to practice and get feedback to grow their overall leadership capability.

Explore DDI’s leadership development subscriptions.

Bruce Court partners with organizations on all aspects of their leadership strategy. He’s experienced in every facet of leadership strategy design, development, and execution. Outside of work, Bruce likes to travel with his wife, Maureen. He loves eating at great restaurants, as well as “sampling” good wine and craft beers. Bruce is also a huge fan of smooth jazz.




DDI is a global leadership company that helps organizations transform the way they hire, promote and develop leaders at every level.

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DDI is a global leadership company that helps organizations transform the way they hire, promote and develop leaders at every level.

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