Case study – interpersonal skills in the workplace

During the first week on the job, the intern is preparing for the farmers market by making signage, packing materials, and learning about the produce being sold. At the first market, the intern is asked to help with cash sales, answer questions from customers about the farming practices, and suggest other products (eggs, honey, meat, cheese) can be purchased or meal ideas. The intern would consistently say that they “did not know” in response to questions from customers and eventually, stood back from the table and avoided making eye contact. As more and more customers relied on fewer staff members to answer questions and complete their purchases, a long line of customers grew. Eventually, people walked away from the table to visit other vendors. Some did not return. While this was going on, the intern stood back behind the other staff and started checking their phone. The supervisor asked the intern to take over the cash register. Unsure of all the prices, the intern would ask customers how much certain produce was as they processed their orders and charge them accordingly. At the end of the day, the cash flow did not equal the produce sold. The supervisor had a one-on-one conversation with the intern. During that conversation, the following patterns emerged:

  • The intern did not want to provide incorrect information to customers about the produce and negatively impact the reputation of the organization. When the intern did offer information to customers it was often somewhat inaccurate, but more importantly, it was not consistent with the messages that the farm had provided during the preliminary training and orientation.
  • As a result of asking customers to name their price, they had overcharged some customers and undercharged others leading to inconsistent expectations for customers. For new customers, this meant that future trips to purchase the same products would cost more money and they might feel sceptical about the value of the produce from the farm. For regular customers, those who had overpaid may feel entitled to lower prices in the future to compensate for this discrepancy.
  • The intern restated throughout the conversation that they “didn’t know” what was expected of them and they “didn’t want to be wrong”.
  • The intern wanted to appear busy when they were on their phone, but the two other staff later stated that they felt it was unfair for them to work while another person was taking a break. They stated that they didn’t want to be rude or make the intern feel uncomfortable, but that this kind of behaviour was unacceptable to them.


Which course of action would have been most effective at alleviating the problems experienced in this case and why?

  1. Ask for more training on farming practices, cash handling, and how to provide customer service at the market.
  2. Commit to doing better at the next market in a conversation with your supervisor. After the meeting, create a plan for how to do better in this job. Start enacting it.
  3. Reflect on the conversation. What made the intern uncomfortable? How might others perceive this behaviour? What impact does that perception have? Does that align with how the intern wants to be seen? Why or why not? What might the intern change in their behaviour to demonstrate their values?
  4. Ask the supervisor for some time to think and follow up on this conversation in the near future. After thinking, come prepared with concrete questions to ask about how to improve your work and observations to share. Ask to collaborate on an action plan and set goals for your performance.
  5. Talk to others, such as friends, family, and colleagues about the internship to get advice on what you could do to improve your performance. Apply their advice when and where possible.


TASK: Think about the most effective way of solving this situation and write a short explanation of your reflection.

Completing this part of the learning forward all the outputs of this exercise to your trainer for assessment and feedback.