An edited version of this manuscript was published in Research for Educational Reform (2003) Voulume 8, Issue 4, 43-57.  

The Impact of Human Relations Training on Levels of Openness and Trust*


Human relations have frequently been described as a problem area for educational leaders. A review of the literature revealed a great deal of support for the theory that human relations skill is critical for effective leaders. According to Sass (1989), interpersonal communication skills, human relations, and leadership are the most important skills for educational leaders. This finding was based on the results of a survey that was sent to superintendents and professors of leadership training institutions across the U. S. This finding has been supported by many others who investigate those competencies and skills that are critical for educational leaders. Stanton (1994), in a survey mailed to all South Dakota school board members and superintendents, also found that the most critical competencies for leader effectiveness were skill in human relations, communication, and leadership. A South Carolina study by Harrill (1990) that investigated competencies and skills needed by district level curriculum and instructional leaders, found that interpersonal communications, human relations, and management were the most important competency areas. Harrison (1993), in an investigation of effective principal preparation programs, had similar findings. The research of Harrill (1990), Hutchison, (1988), Jolly (1995), and Rouss (1992) also support the premise that human relations and interpersonal skills are competencies needed for effective leadership .

The movement during the last decade to implement site-based management or school based decision-making has created an even greater need for skill/competency in human relations, interpersonal communications, and leadership. Either approach involves a committee, and in some cases, the principal has no more power than other members of the committee. This requires the

* The pilot study of this research was published in TAMS Journal (Bulach, 2001)

principal to rely on the above skills as opposed to relying on those forms of power typically used

by educational leaders, e.g., position, reward, and coercion power. Thomas (1994), in a case study of a collaborative school environment, found that collaboration requires an awareness of facilitation and human relations' skills. Kramer (1993), in a meta-analysis of school site leader behaviors in 35 studies, also found that expertise in communications and human relations was associated with effective leadership.

While there is agreement on the importance of the above skills for educational leaders,

there is also a belief that the absence of these skills is the major factor resulting in job loss. Davis

(1998), in a survey of California school superintendents, found that the major reason most

principals got fired was a result of poor interpersonal communications. He stated that most people

do not write about the dark side of administration or what leaders do wrong.

Bulach, Boothe, and Pickett (1998), however, did investigate that area. They surveyed 375 teachers to find out those behaviors their principals practiced that they identified as mistakes. They identified 14 categories of mistakes or harmful behaviors of principals. Mistakes in human relations

and interpersonal communications were the most frequently reported. Specific behaviors in the human relations area were a lack of trust and an uncaring attitude. The most frequently occurring behavior in the area of interpersonal communications dealt with openness or failure to listen. It appears that levels of openness and trust are critical areas for good human relations .

There were also data collected during assessments at the Professional Development Center at the University of West Georgia that support the belief that this is an area where educational leaders need to improve. The assessments, during the years 1995-1998, used the National Association of Elementary School Principals” Professional Development Inventory. The skill area of greatest deficiency was in the area of human relations.

Schneider (1998), who is the deputy director of the American Association of School Administrators, stated that instructional leaders are not coming out of leadership training programs with the skills necessary to do the job. Brent & Haller (1997) went further and stated that there is little evidence that leadership training programs increase the effectiveness of educational leaders. Is it possible that leadership training programs do not provide any training on the areas that are the most critical for the effectiveness of educational leaders, i.e., human relations and interpersonal communications? Bulach et al. (1998), in reviewing the literature and curriculum of four leadership training programs in three states found very little curriculum that provided training in human relations or interpersonal relations. Key domains in these areas are levels of openness and trust. Assuming that such a curriculum could be developed, would it improve levels of openness and trust?

Purpose of this Research

The purpose of this research was to develop an experiential curriculum in the area of human relations and interpersonal communications and investigate the effect of that training on levels of openness and trust.


Experiential curriculum: a curriculum that allows participants to experience and practice the behaviors/skills that are being taught.

Human relations : behaviors/skills that foster the development of trust and openness between the leader and the followers.

Interpersonal communications (IPC) : there are five basic skills associated with IPC. They are the following: paraphrasing or reflective listening, behavior description, description of feelings, perception checking, and giving and receiving feedback (Jung, Howard, Emory, and Pino, 1977).

Trust is defined as an interpersonal condition that exists between people when interpersonal relationships are characterized by five factors as follows: an assured reliance or confident dependence on the (1)character, (2) ability, (3) truthfulness, (4) confidentiality, and (5) predictability of others in the group (Bulach, 1993).

Openness has a telling and a listening dimension and is defined as an interpersonal condition that exists between people in a group when they tell each other what they think about: (1) facts, ideas, values, beliefs, feelings and the way they do things, and (2) the recipient of a transmission is willing to listen to that transmission (Bulach, 1993).

Theoretical Perspective

The curriculum was designed to impact three leadership domains believed to have an impact human relations and levels of openness and trust. They are interpersonal communications, conflict management, and group management. Leaders who have poor interpersonal communication (IPC) skills will not be very open and they will be less likely to trust others or be trusted. Additionally, the ability to manage conflict can impact levels of openness and trust. Dealing with conflict is a risk, just as being open and trusting is a risk. The ability to manage groups or work successfully as an individual within a group should increase levels of openness and trust. Consequently, it is believed that experiential training in these three leadership domains will increase individual levels of openness and trust.


Seventeen graduate students in the educational leadership program at the University of West Georgia took part in thirty-nine hours of experiential training. Thirteen hours of training dealt with interpersonal communications, thirteen hours of training dealt with conflict management, and thirteen hours of training dealt with training on how to function successfully as an individual in a group setting. The thirty-nine hours of training took place within an eight-week time frame, once a week for five hours give or take a few minutes.


The instrument is called the Group Openness and Trust Instrument (GOTS) and it consists of 30 behaviors that measure two openness factors and five trust factors --Appendix A. Openness has a telling and a listening dimension. Trust has ability, character, predictability, confidentiality, and truthfulness dimensions. The reliability of the instrument as measured by a Cronbach alpha is +.85.


The Group Openness and Trust Scale was administered to the students prior to introduction of the experiential curriculum and again eight weeks later at the end of the class. The curriculum for all three modules was designed and taught by this researcher. The interpersonal relations curriculum relied heavily on material developed by the Northwest Regional Laboratory (Jung et al. 1977). The following topics were covered in the interpersonal communication skills' module :

- Dealing with arguments/conflict

- Fostering a climate of trust

- Reducing defensiveness in others

- Opening the communication process

- Constructive use of feelings

- Assess your communication style

- Interpreting nonverbal behavior

- Nine (9) techniques for motivating and influencing others

- Empowering others

In covering the above topics, participants were given ample opportunity to practice five basic interpersonal communication skills. These skills are the four uses of paraphrasing as a way of understanding verbal behavior; perception checking as a way of understanding the nonverbal behavior of others; describing feelings as a way of helping others understand their own nonverbal behavior; the use of behavior description as a tool for reducing defensiveness; and guidelines for giving and receiving feedback as a tool for facilitating personal growth in self and others. Stress throughout the seminar focused on trust building and how to open up the communication process by empowering others. Nine forms of power (Bulach, 1999) that can be used to empower or control subordinates were introduced and practiced. Information, expertise, personality, ego, and moral power are the forms of power used to motivate subordinates intrinsically because they allow subordinates to choose a form of action. They remain independent of the leader and are empowered in the process. Position, reward, coercion, and connection power are extrinsic motivators, since the subordinate is controlled by and is dependent on the superordinate.

The conflict management skills'module covered the following topics:

- Causes of conflict (intrapersonal and interpersonal)

- Responses to conflict

- Analyzing your conflict management style

- Stages of conflict management

- Coping with conflicts in groups

- Resolving arguments and/or disagreements

- Techniques for mediating and/or avoiding conflicts

- Effective confrontation skills

- Techniques for relieving stress produced by conflict

The group management skills'module covered the following topics:

- Analyzing the stages of group development and how to move a group from one stage to another

- Analyzing what is happening as groups make decisions

- Measuring levels of openness and trust

- Techniques for improving levels of openness and trust

- Selecting the appropriate decision-making process

- Determining the appropriate leadership style for a group

- Analyzing the roles being played in a group

- Dealing with the disruptive group member

- Determining your needs in a group

Forty-eight behavioral objectives were developed as the focus for the course and there was an exam for each of the modules. Students formed groups on the first day of class and they remained in these groups for the entire experience. Role playing and reflection were key activities throughout the experience.


Data analysis

The t-test was used as the statistical test to determine if the difference between the pre- and post-test scores on the two openness and five trust dimensions were significant at the .05 level. Crosstabs using chi-square was the test of significance to determine if the difference between the pre- and post-test scores on individual behaviors was significant.




All post-data means were more positive on all seven dimensions, except for the character dimension of trust (see table 1). The pre-data mean was 3.1 compared to a 3.0 post-data mean. However, while all other means showed more openness and trust, none of the differences were statistically significant. The trust dimension with the most change was truthfulness. With a score of 4.0, which is an agree response, it was also the most positive dimension.

- - - insert Table 1 here - - -

The effect of gender was also investigated. A statistically significant difference was found on the telling dimension of openness (p < .05). Males with a mean of 3.8 were more likely to tell others what they thought than females with a mean score of 3.5 (see table 2).

- - - insert Table 2 here - - -

Analysis of the individual behaviors for pre-and post-differences revealed no significant differences. When compared for gender differences, it was found that there was a significant difference on one behavior (p < .05). On the behavior “willingness to share constructive criticism,” males with a mean score of 3.6 were more willing than females to be open.

- - - insert Table 3 here - - -


Student evaluations for the experiential human relations curriculum were very positive. The average response on the student evaluation survey was 4.7 with a 5.0 being a completely agree response to the behaviors being measured. Some of the written comments were as follows:

- this is the most useful course I have ever had;

- this is the type of course that belongs in every certification program;

- I really enjoyed this course, it was enlightening;

- great at getting us involved and leading us down the path of learning and being more open and risk takers; and

- this course rocks!

A look at the pre- and post-data means for the individual behaviors proved interesting. For example the mean pre- to post-score for the behavior “I behave consistently regardless of the person or the situation or my level of stress.” was 3.5 compared to 4.1 at the end of the course. While this was not statistically significant using the Crosstabs feature of SPSS, the t-test statistic for this same set of data revealed a t-score of 2.4 which was significant at the .02 level. However, since this is ordinal data, Crosstabs is the appropriate statistic and not the t-test. Even though it is not statistically significant, this is a major change and is some indication of the importance of the conflict management module in the human relations training. Other major shifts were noted on these behaviors “I share with them what I think of their ideas” (3.4 vs. 3.8), and “I ask them what they think of my education values and beliefs” (2.6 vs. 3.1).

The gender difference on the telling dimension of openness and on the behavior willingness to share constructive criticism was very interesting. Is it possible that males are more outspoken than females? Are females more sensitive and less likely to share constructive criticism because they do not want to hurt someone's feelings? Of the eight behaviors measured in the telling dimension of openness, males are more open on all behaviors but one. That behavior is “I share positive thoughts with them instead of keeping to myself.” Females had a mean score of 4.5 compared to males with a score of 4.2. Are females more likely to compliment others and less likely to criticize? The data appears to suggest this, but more research would have to be done to prove this point.

The need to encourage other leadership training institutions to provide curriculum in this area is desperately needed. Additional research to determine the impact of this kind of curriculum is needed. An instrument has been developed by Bulach, Boothe, and Michael (1999) that measures leadership behavior in the following five domains: human relations, instructional leadership, trust, methods of control, and conflict management. Human relations training should impact all of these domains except instructional leadership.


The experiential training on interpersonal communications, conflict management, and group management does improve individual levels of openness and trust for school leaders. While the improvement in these dimensions was not large enough for statistical significance, from a practical standpoint there was a positive change. Of the three training modules, the interpersonal communications module seems to have the most impact based on student evaluations. Since openness and trust are so important for leadership, there is a need to include this type of training in all leadership development training programs.


Brent, B. O., & Haller, E. J. (1997). Does graduate training in educational administration improve America's schools? Phi Delta Kappan, 79 (3), 65-70.

Bulach, C. R. (2001). The impact of human relations training on selected leadership skills. TAMS Journal , 27 , 21-28.

Bulach, C. R. , Boothe, D., & Pickett, W. (1999). Teachers' perceptions of the extent to which principals practice effective supervisory behaviors. ERS SPECTRUM: Journal of School Research and Information , 17 (4), 25-30.

Bulach, C. R. , Boothe, D., & Michael, P. Analyzing the Leadership Behavior of School Principals. A presentation at the Association for the Advancement of Educational Research on 12-1-1999 at Pointe Vedra, Fl.

Bulach C. R., Leadership techniques that control or empower subordinates . A presentation at the Southern Regional Council of Education Administration on 11-15-1999 at Charlotte, NC.

Bulach, C. R. (1993). A measure of openness and trust. People in Education, 1 (4). 382-392.

Davis, S. H. (1998). Superintendents' perspectives on the involuntary departure of public school principals: The most frequent reasons why principals lose their jobs. Educational Administration Quarterly, 34 (1), 58-90.

Harrill, J. L. (1990). A descriptive study of South Carolina district-level curriculum/instructional leaders' perceptions of needed competencies and skills. Dissertation Abstracts International, 51 (08), 2620. (University Microfilms No. AAI9101463)

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Jung, C., Howard, R., Emory, R., & Pino, R. (1977). Interpersonal Communications. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.

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A meta-analysis and theoretical comparison (effective leadership). Dissertation Abstracts International, 54 (09), 3282. (University Microfilms No. AAI9803729)

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Schneider, J. (1998). University training of school leaders isn't the only option. The AASA Professor, 22 (1).

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Table 1.

The impact of human relations training on the seven

openness and trust dimensions.


Dimensions N Mean S D t-score P



Pre-data 17 3.6 .34 .78 .44

Post-data 17 3.7 .49


Pre-data 17 3.4 .62 1.19 .24

Post-data 17 3.6 .50


Pre-data 17 3.1 .37 .77 .48

Post-data 17 3.0 .31


Pre-data 17 3.7 .44 1.48 .15

Post-data 17 4.0 .52


Pre-data 17 3.7 .29 .62 .54

Post-data 17 3.8 .41


Pre-data 17 3.2 .54 .68 .50

Post-data 17 3.4 .49


Pre-data 17 3.7 .51 1.31 .20

Post-data 17 3.9 .37


*P < .05


Table 2.

The effect of gender on the seven dimensions of

openness and trust.


Dimensions N Mean S D t-score P



Female 20 3.5 .28 2.7 .01*

Male 14 3.8 .48


Female 20 3.5 .50 0.3 .74

Male 14 3.6 .67


Female 20 3.0 .25 0.0 .98

Male 14 3.0 .44


Female 20 3.9 .40 0.4 .72

Male 14 3.8 .59


Female 20 3.7 .39 1.3 .22

Male 14 3.9 .33


Female 20 3.3 .50 0.3 .78

Male 14 3.3 .54


Female 20 3.8 .48 0.7 .46

Male 14 3.9 .42


*P < .05


Table 3. The role of gender in willingness to

share constructive criticism.


Behavior N M SD Chi-square P

share constructive criticism

Male 7 3.6 .84 7.9 .048*

Female 10 3.2 .43


* P < .05

Appenndix A


Group Openness and Trust Scale by Dimension


Telling Dimenision of Openness

My colleagues expect me to

1. .. share what I think of the way they do things.

2. ..share what I think of their ideas.

3. ..share what I think of their educational values and beliefs.

4. ..share my feelings with them

10. ..share my thoughts with them if I don't agree with what is being said or done.

11. ..share positive thoughts with them instead of keeping them to myself.

12. ..share constructive criticism with them instead of keeping it to myself.

Listening Dimension of Openness

My colleagues expect me to

5. ..ask them what they think of the way I do things.

6. ..ask them what they think of my ideas.

7. ..ask them what they think of my beliefs and values.

8. ..ask them about their feelings.

9. ..accept their comments and reactions.

Character Dimension of Trust

My colleagues expect me to

14. ..question their intentions and/or motives.

15. ..conceal my true feelings about what they do or say.

16. .."play it cool"--keep my distance.

19. ..believe that they care about me.



Truthfulness Dimension of Trust

My colleagues expect me to

13. ..believe what I hear them say.

24. ..believe that they are honest.

26. ..tell the truth when it needs to be told.

28. ..admit my mistakes and/or problems when necessary.

Ability Dimension of Trust

My colleagues expect me to

17. ..count on them for assistance if I have a problem.

18. ..have faith in their ability.

27. ..respect the opinions of my colleagues.

29. their ideas, decisions, and actions.

Confidentiality Dimension of Trust

My colleagues expect me to

21. ..tell them interesting information/gossip I know about someone.

23. ..rely on them to keep a confidence.

25. ..count on them to do what they say they are going to do.

Predictability Dimension of Trust

My colleagues expect me to

20. with them directly when there is a problem.

22. ..believe they will respond favorably in a given situation when my welfare is at stake.

30. ..believe that they will behave consistently regardless of the person or situation, or my level of stress.








Cletus R. Bulach, Associate Professor

Department of Educational Leadership and Professional Studies

College of Education

State University of West Georgia

Carrollton, GA 30118


770-836-4646 FAX





Presentation at the Association for the Advancement of Educational Research Conference in Ponte Vedra, FL 2001. (It was a different title there dealing with a human relations curriculum)