As an employee, there are a variety of areas of development that focus on growing or practicing a particular skill or attribute that can benefit your professional relationships – and that will also have a positive knock-on in one’s personal relationships. Focusing on aspects of psychological development can help employees become a more productive, empathetic and collaborative member of a team, able to form and maintain positive relationships. 


Defining psychological development 

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica (online), psychological development is “the development of human beings’ cognitive, emotional, intellectual, and social capabilities and functioning over the course of a normal life span, from infancy through old age.”

Linking psychological and mental development 

Cognitive development and mental development are both related to the way in which a person’s mind grows and changes over time. However, they can refer to slightly different aspects of this process. 

  • Cognitive development refers to the development of a person’s ability to think, understand, and process information. It involves the development of mental processes such attention, memory, and problem-solving. Starting in infancy, cognitive development continues into adulthood and old age.  
  • Mental development is a term referring to the overall development of a person’s mental abilities, including both cognitive and intellectual development, i.e., the capacity for reasoning, problem-solving, and abstract thought. But it can also refer more broadly to the development of a person’s emotional intelligence, social-emotional and behavioral skills – and their mental health and wellbeing. 


Here is a more detailed look at the development of emotional, social-emotional and behavioural intelligence among employees, all of which are beneficial in supporting a company culture that values employee’s self-improvement and their professional growth. 


Emotional development at work 

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the ability to manage both your own emotions and understand the emotions of people around you. Although it is possible to have inherently well-developed emotional intelligence, most experts believe that many of the characteristics of EI can be improved or taught. 

Emotional intelligence is one of the key skills used in communication, managing people, problem-solving and relationship-building in the workplace Learning to be comfortable and unthreatened by a variety of experiences and perspectives at work is at the heart of improving emotional intelligence. Here are 4 proactive tactics for developing emotional intelligence skills in yourself and your employees: 

  1.  First build self-awareness One of the key attributes of emotionally intelligent people is the ability to recognise and manage their own emotions. This makes developing an awareness of how one’s own feelings trigger and drive certain behavior an important first step.  
  2. Take a constructive view on conflict or difference of opinion Facing conflict is not often comfortable, especially in the workplace. Many people shy away from conflict and constructive feedback because they do not want to feel as if they did something wrong. But conflict does not have to be about who is right or wrong. It can be framed as an opportunity to see a situation from another person’s perspective and learn from it. This way, handled constructively by a manager, conflict can foster camaraderie and encourage growth.
  3. Withhold your own judgement Before you judge the situation when someone does something you do not approve of or the outcome does not go the way you would like, first examine your gut reaction. Did this person do something to you – is it personal or are you just concerned about the outcome? Is it plausible to understand their actions or decision in a different way? Examining the situation and putting yourself in the hypothetical driver’s seat will help you build empathy and see another side to the story.
  4. Become a great listener The next time you are in a conversation with a colleague or employee, consciously tune in to whether you are listening to understand or just listening to be able to respond. Challenge yourself to be present, mindful and take in what the other person is saying – and then respond by rephrasing back to them. By listening carefully, you may catch even more than what they said aloud.  


Social-emotional development 

Team leaders who have well-developed social-emotional intelligence are better able to build strong relationships with their team members. They inspire the trust and loyalty that supports a positive work environment. Team members with strong social-emotional intelligence are better able to work in collaboration and communicate effectively with their colleagues. Here are 3 proactive tactics for developing social- emotional intelligence in yourself and your employees: 

  1.  Practice self-regulation Self-regulation is when you can manage your thoughts, emotions and subsequent behavior in a way that is appropriate for the situation. It involves being able to think before you act. This skill is important because it allows you to take a pause and make better decisions and to maintain positive relationships with others. A good example of self-regulation is taking a deep breath and counting to 10 before responding to someone who has made you angry.
  2. Develop empathy  Empathy is the ability to understand and share in the feelings of others. This involves both cognitive and emotional components, as one must be able to recognise and understand another person’s emotions as well as feel a similar emotional response in sympathy with them. For example, if your colleague has recently experienced bereavement, you can put yourself in their shoes to understand what that would feel like and respond in a way that is sensitive to what they are experiencing.
  3. Build social skills Social skills are a key component of social-emotional intelligence. Social interaction at work can be just as important as time spent with friends and family. It can help to build strong and productive teams, improve communication and collaboration, and foster a sense of community within a company. To get the most out of social interactions: 
    • Be present and fully engaged. This means putting away distractions like smartphones and actively listening to others. 
    • Be proactive in seeking out social opportunities and building relationships with others at work. This can help to strengthen your social connections and improve overall 
    • Be respectful and open-minded when interacting with colleagues – try to find common ground and shared interests. 


Behavioural development 

Beyond growing emotional intelligence and social-emotional skills, it is possible for employees to learn and improve certain behavioral skills that can help them be more successful in their jobs. Here are 3 aspects of behaviour that are worthy of development in the workplace:   

  1.  Conflict resolution Conflict resolution is a behavioural skill that can help team leaders and employees manage disputes and disagreements positively. People with these skills know how to resolve conflicts through effective communication. They can also proactively identify potential problems and formulate solutions to resolve the issue before it has a detrimental effect. This trait can help employees to collaborate with others and work as part of a team.
  2. Decision-making Decision-making is a behavioral skill that helps one gather information and then assess alternatives to determine an optimal outcome. Decision-making can be a helpful behavioural skill for professionals who want to advance into a leadership role because it can help them make important decisions on behalf of their team or the company. Leaders with sound decision-making skills may ask others for input but they will hold themselves accountable for their final decision and take responsibility for the outcome.
  3. Time management Leaders and employees with strong time management skills know how to prioritise their work so they can make sure they are accomplishing the most important tasks first. Leaders will delegate lesser tasks and remove distractions so they can give their full attention to key work-related tasks. This behavioral skill can be helpful for increasing employees’ productivity and efficiency at work. 


Development of personal attributes and behaviours is essential because this can impact how employees judge each other, conduct themselves, establish rapport and interact with their colleagues, clients, service providers and people outside the company. What is more, demonstrating to employees that you care about their growth and development beyond only hard or technical skills is likely to boost their morale and willingness to stay longer and work harder for your company.


Over to you for sharing your comments and experiences.

About the Author: Kerstin Jatho

Kerstin is the senior transformational coach and team development facilitator for 4Seeds Consulting. She is also the author of Growing Butterfly Wings, a book on applying positive psychology principles during a lengthy recovery. Her passion is to develop people-centred organisations where people thrive and achieve their potential in the workplace. You can find Kerstin on LinkedIn, Soundcloud, YouTube and Facebook.

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