Psychology in Practice: Why a Working Knowledge is Essential
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Psychology in Practice: Why a Working Knowledge of Character and Attitude is Essential

Norbert Juma, Lead Editor
Published on June 24, 2018 11:00 AM EST
Psychology in Practice- Why a Working Knowledge of Character and Attitude is Essential

There’s a reason why so many human resource managers have a background in psychology. Whether it’s from simple awareness of human traits, experience, or a formal education; psychology separates traditional management from human resources management.

The direct care and interest that human resource management should take in the personnel of the company demands a working knowledge of the principles of psychology.

Psychology in Practice- Why a Working Knowledge of Character and Attitude is Essential

In the span of an employee’s time at a company, there are three times in particular that this practical knowledge of psychology will be put to the test:

1. Critical Analysis and Selection

The human resource manager plays an integral part in the hiring process. From identifying the need to knowing what steps are involved in the recruitment process, a competent HR manager relies on a good judgment of applicants and their future at the company.

Europe’s Journal of Psychology (EJOP) notes that in the selection of personnel, “management and psychology most closely intertwine among themselves.” The psychological aspect of hiring requires recognition of necessary characteristics and qualities for a good job performance and integration into company culture; while from a manager’s perspective, hiring is a search for personnel who meet the requirements needed for completion of professional work.

The manager without the psychologist can be as disastrous as the psychologist without the manager. One may land the company a competent worker but one who disrupts the culture of the workplace; while the other may harm the company by a good willed incompetence.

The EJOP further notes that for strategic hiring, character assessment is more important than ever. Depending on the competitive strategy of a company, a flexible workforce might be targeted rather than an experienced yet rigid workforce.

Or yet again, the selection process may look out for experience and know-how rather than innovation. Whether these decisions are based on textbook psychology or an awareness of human behavior, a working knowledge of psychology is essential to the hiring process.

2. Conflict Resolution

As business psychologist Simon Kilpatrick succinctly puts it: “Never assume that two people can never ever get along with each other.” Conflict resolution is really more about conflict prevention.

Good HR managers know their team and how they interact with each other. Spotting the beginning of a conflict is an opportunity to solve it, yet awareness of character and personality dynamics are as important as rare.

Awareness is only a first step. Simon Kilpatrick says the next step is to address the issue. Hoping that it will blow over gives the problem a chance to magnify.

Yet making a move does not have to be a bold or brash event. Subtle cues or private conversations are effective in mediation, and only when these are ineffective, is when a more structured form of resolution may be necessary.

“The worst thing you can do,” says Kilpatrick, “is reflect the negative behavior. If you meet conflict with conflict, you’re only adding fuel to the fire.”

3. Career Development

Another area of business in which the psychologist and manager both are essential is in career development. This is similar to the character analysis needed in the hiring process, yet now the strengths and weaknesses have been noticed and analyzed; which assets they can bring, and which will grow with exposure and use; what they want from the job, and what they are willing to do to get it. This selection requires the business savvy of a manager, yet also the character knowledge of a psychologist.

The human resource managers are the mediators between companies and employees; they negotiate for the company and for the employee. Good negotiations leave both parties satisfied, yet these require knowledge of what each wants, and how much each can sacrifice to get it. For this, it is necessary to know what the employee wants and what the company needs.

Here are a few negotiating tips to help you walk this fine line:

Discover what each party really wants from the negotiation. Take an emotionally neutral look at their position and where they want to go. But don’t look at where you assume they want to go. Use facts and what they say to inform you.
Keep your mouth shut. Listening rather than speaking gives you the objectivity that will make your statements relevant to the discussion and valuable to the process. Voiced opinions should be based on current state of affairs or statements by others. Hypotheticals or assumptions complicate and obfuscate the process unnecessarily.
Do not ask for a “yes” too early. Invite the other party to disagree, to think about it, and then to come back with feedback. Agreeing to every detail is much more difficult than disagreeing for the sake of one detail.

A degree in psychology is not needed for savvy negotiation skills. But it is crucial to know the people you work with. Whether this comes from awareness, experience, or a formal training, learning how people think and why they act is invaluable.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists five important qualities for human resources managers:

Decision making skills
Interpersonal skills
Leadership skills
Organizational skills
Speaking skills

What separates these from the skills of a traditional manager is the element of interpersonal expertise. Where traditional management would focus on basic administration and labor relations issues, human resources management focuses on recruitment, selection, and the ongoing motivation and development of their hires.

Where traditional management would solve the problems of the present, human resources management is dedicated to creating an environment that is supportive and conducive to successful career and production. Where traditional management looks at employees where they are, human resources management looks at where they would be with training and development.

For these tasks, an understanding of people based on psychological principles is a must have; an active and practical application of these principles will define the career you forge.

Psychology in Practice- Why a Working Knowledge of Character and Attitude is Essential
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