Yale School of Management

Feeling Back to Your Roots – Interpersonal Dynamics

Interpersonal Dynamics (IPD) is one of the most highly bid courses at SOM. Yet, an aura of mystery surrounds it; some students bid nearly all their points to get into a class without being fully aware of its key takeaways. That may seem like curious behavior coming from an MBA student, but allow me to explain my own experience.

October 22, 2014

Before I applied to Yale SOM, I had an extraordinary opportunity to meet a panel of business leaders. This panel spoke extensively about how they were successful and included a serial entrepreneur, a career politician, a pharmaceutical executive, and a venture capitalist. When they described their backgrounds, the one trait they had in common was that they had all taken a course called Interpersonal dynamics; they described it as a class that doesn’t teach actual business acumen but teaches you about yourself. Meeting this panel was inspirational to me, as I aspired to capture some of the success they had experienced. Because they attributed much of their success to this class, I resolved to find a program that offered the course.

When I arrived at Yale SOM and heard Professor Heidi Brooks talk about IPD during Managing Groups and Teams, I experienced a torrent of emotions. Frustration - I had to wait until Spring to take the class. Elation – I really connected with Heidi as an instructor! Curiosity – what will it really be like? Worry – what if I don’t get into the course? Resolve – I have to get into the course. It was the most emotion I had felt since arriving at SOM. I decided to bid all my points to enroll and was ecstatic when I learned that I got in.

When I walked into the classroom the first day, I felt very nervous and afraid. Who else was in this class, what secrets do I have to reveal to them, and how are they going to use that knowledge against me? Yes, this is SOM and the people are great, but can I really trust them?

Then one of the only “rules” of IPD came into play – the Vegas rule – what happens in IPD stays in IPD.

Strangely, I found that instead of having a calming effect, it actually made me even more apprehensive. What is going to happen in this class that it requires a Vegas rule? How would I handle this maelstrom of emotion inside of me? I did what I’ve been trained to do throughout my life; I suppressed it.

I put on a face of stoic apathy and let it ride.

It was exactly what I should not have done.

From the learnings of the course, I believe that if I had expressed more of my emotion, it could have had more of a unifying effect with the rest of the class. Instead, it was a missed opportunity. But I missed it because I didn’t know I had that choice. IPD taught me awareness of choice.

To me, this lack of awareness is more of something I’ve forgotten versus a completely new concept. When we are babies, the first form of expression we learn is to communicate our emotions. Hungry, cry. Uncomfortable, cry. Wet diaper, cry. Yet as I grew older, I was told not to cry; it wasn’t acceptable in society. For me, being forbidden from that form of expression at that age was equivalent to saying I shouldn’t fully communicate my emotions – at least not verbally. It was okay for my face to show how I felt, but I’m not allowed to talk about it and develop the skills for it.

For me, the key lessons from IPD revolve around learning how to communicate my emotions in a manner that is effective. This is something that we all should have learned, but otherwise didn’t. And it’s applicable to business because it’s a life skill - it’s a skill that makes you a better communicator. But it’s also a business skill; it’s what makes you more persuasive, more likeable, and a better leader. When I speak to potential investors about my startup venture, I communicate using the lessons I learned from IPD, and when I execute properly, it makes them believe in me as an entrepreneur even more.

And even if you aren’t an entrepreneur, the skills from IPD can still be leveraged. For example if you want to persuade your boss to a proposal you have, IPD may mean you learn the visual cues of when to present that proposal - and while you’re presenting, which arguments you are making have the most impact. IPD increases your awareness; you then choose how you want to apply that awareness to your own learning and your own life.

Thinking back to that panel, I now understand why it was so dynamic and influential; each of those alum had been through IPD and they were displaying the years of further developing their own curriculum of life. I’ve laid my own foundation to becoming one of those leaders that I admired - the persuasiveness, presence, and personality – but must continue to practice and hone my skills moving forward. I hope that in the years ahead, I’ll be sitting on a similar panel representing SOM and can impart the same qualities I saw from my IPD learnings to pay it forward.

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About the author

James Lin

Post-MBA position: President, Alacrity Semiconductors

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