Supply Chain professionals in all areas of Logistics and Supply Management focus on gaining and maintaining technical knowledge and skills in their area(s) of expertise. They earn college degrees (and often certifications) confirming that they have successfully learned a body of knowledge and the proper application of important principles. And there is the ongoing effort to stay current through reading publications, attending seminars, and earning required continuing education credits.

However, in today’s diverse and challenging workplace, technical skills alone just can’t navigate the road to a successful, fulfilling, and upward-moving career path because technical capability needs support from its partner, interpersonal skills. Professionals must consider just how important people are to the objectives and goals of any organization. Technical proficiency is great, but unless people can work, motivate, and communicate well with others, they will find that planning and execution of great ideas both fall short.

Interpersonal skills are the life skills we use every day to communicate and interact with people, both individually and in groups. Those who have worked on developing strong interpersonal skills are usually more successful in both their professional and personal lives. Those skills include:

- An acceptance that the human side of business is as important as the technical side
- An appreciation of the uniqueness of each person
- An ability to accept people for who they are and not what one wishes them to be
- The ability to communicate well with people from many backgrounds and cultures
- The use of the “Platinum Rule”: Do unto others as they would have you do unto them
- The willingness to step over boundaries and learn about other people’s interests, goals, objectives, skills, and knowledge

The workplace is more diverse than ever before. Diversity experts project that today’s minorities in the United States will constitute the majority by 2050. Also, many organizations have a global reach with off-shore offices, manufacturing sites, customers, and suppliers. In addition, there are significant efforts to employ the disabled, ex-inmates, and the long-term unemployed, while new equal employment laws provide support for the gay, lesbian, and transgender community. And even though women are taking on more leadership roles in organizations, there is still a glaring lack of women in senior office suites.

People from other cultures may be reluctant to admit mistakes and problems, so it is important to stay close to their situation to identify any disconnects. Also, many terms and phrases do not translate well, and gestures mean different things based on where people are from, so it is important to limit their use in the workplace. On the way to successful relationships all professionals should ask themselves: do they acknowledge, understand, accept, value, and celebrate the cultural differences among people?

Additional diversity exists in many workplaces that today employ five different generations:

The G.I. Generation Born 1924 and earlier (There are still a few in the workplace!)
The Silent Generation Born 1925 – 1945
Baby Boomers Born 1946 – 1964
Generation X Born 1965 – 1976
Generation Y Born 1977 – 1994

And some companies now include a sixth: Millennials, born from 1995 to 2020.

People in organizations not only come from different backgrounds, generations, and cultures; they have diverse personalities, mostly in these major categories:

- The “Type A” people, who are all about getting results. They want the facts with little amenities and are focused on the goal. They do not want to waste time.
- The “non-Type A” folks, who are the “people-people” that love to work on teams, enjoy communicating and chatting, and sometimes are so busy interacting that their work suffers. They want to be liked.
- The “Conscientious”, who are focused on being right and into the details. They take a lot of time to make decisions and often do not see the big picture.
- The “Expressives”, who love to be appreciated. They are the showoffs of the workplace.

A good communicator will get to the point immediately, provide the facts, and waste little time when dealing with a results-focused “Type A” personality. But when dealing with a “People Person” they should open with friendly discussion and warmth, and eventually get to the facts. However, they must be sure to give plenty of acknowledgment to the “Expressive”, and be prepared to get into every detail with the “Conscientious”. 

Today’s business professionals must deal with bosses, peers, staff, customers, and suppliers from various cultural backgrounds, generations, genders, and personalities. Success in managing those relationships begins with awareness of the human side of business, an appreciation of its importance, the willingness to learn more about and accept others, and then stepping over boundaries to explore commonalities and mutual interests rather than define differences.

In conclusion, those who are successful in their field not only have nailed the technical aspects but are able to adjust their communication style based on cultural background, gender, generation, and personality. They consider this ability critical to their success and are always evaluating their performance in managing relationships. They continually learn about others and can learn much from an occasional walk in their shoes.

This article is part of the monthly series authored by ISM’s Logistics & Transportation Group Board Members, who are current practitioners, consultants, trainers, and educators. In future columns, they will continue sharing their views on a number of Supply Chain and Personal Development topics.

Marilyn Gettinger is the owner of New Directions Consulting Group, which offers customized workshops and a team-oriented consulting method to assist organizations in being successful in their global supply chain management efforts. She can be reached at, or (908) 709-0656, or