A master’s degree in industrial-organizational (IO) psychology, one of the top degrees for the highest-paying business careers, should build upon your personal strengths and interests. The best industrial-organizational psychologists are good listeners and resourceful problem-solvers who blend their natural problem sensitivity and social perceptiveness with the ability to understand and analyze complex systems.

Good Listeners and Communicators

It probably comes as no surprise that the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists communication skills as some of the most important qualities for the psychology profession as a whole. Although you might not think of being a good listener as being as important in industrial-organizational psychology as it is in counseling or clinical psychology, you would be surprised. Active listening – which includes giving the speaker your full attention and really thinking about the points they are making – tops the list of the most important skills for IO psychologists specifically, according to O*NET. Although you may naturally have good communication skills, even strong communicators can develop their skills further with practice reading, writing and speaking to people from diverse backgrounds in a professional context or setting.

At every phase of work in the field of industrial-organizational psychology, you must display excellent communication skills. When a problem is initially brought to your attention, either by an organization’s manager or through your own observations, there needs to be clear and open discussion about the situation. As you explore the scope of the problem, you gain both qualitative and quantitative information from surveying and interviewing managers, workers, vendors, suppliers and anyone else involved in the matter. If you aren’t actively listening to these stakeholders, you could miss a key detail that would help you formulate a solution. Once you do have a solution, you must share it using clear language to ensure that the plan is implemented correctly and effectively.

Workplace communication problems can cause negative effects like high employee turnover, tarnished brand image and even reduced bottom line, according to The Houston Chronicle. You need good communication to address poor communication practices.

Critical Thinkers and Problem Solvers

Industrial-organizational psychology is all about developing solutions. Sometimes the “problems” you encounter are really more of a goal than a true problem – for example, the desire to increase productivity, to boost employee engagement and morale or to otherwise make the workplace more efficient. Whether you’re addressing a consistent issue or striving for optimization, you use similar skills to fully understand the situation and formulate a logical, evidence-based plan that fits the needs and realities of the organization.

When you think about a problem or a solution, do you think critically, examining the matter from all angles? Can you identify whose perspectives you should seek out to get a fuller understanding of the situation, its causes and effects and any factors that may complicate addressing it? These are skills IO psychologists bring to each new issue they tackle. They must also be skilled at using different types of reasoning in their thinking. O*NET attests to the importance of having strong skills in both deductive reasoning, which involves applying logical rules to problems to find answers, and inductive reasoning, in which you must piece together scraps of information to find relationships.

As an IO psychologist, you use inductive reasoning as you compile the results of your research and interviews. Two different people in different positions may not realize that their perspectives answer each other’s questions, so it’s up to you to make this connection. 

What Kind of People Become IO Psychologists?

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An Innate Perceptiveness of People and Problems

Communication and critical thinking skills can be acquired through practice. What’s harder to cultivate, if you don’t have it, is sensitivity to problems and to people. Separate from actually solving problems is what O*NET describes as “problem sensitivity,” or the ability to recognize a problem or potential problem. Although you certainly improve your ability to identify problems as you learn more about efficient and inefficient systems and procedures in the workplace, having this inherent sensitivity is valuable each time you get started on a new project in IO psychology.

When you get caught up in the quantitative aspects of the science of industrial-organizational psychology, it can be easy to forget that each worker or manager involved in the system is a person with complex feelings. In this job that involves questioning how and why workers do things and then changing processes and procedures, it’s important to have the “social perceptiveness” to observe how individuals respond and to interpret why they react or feel in certain ways.

Having good interpersonal skills and knowing how to communicate in a way that is respectful, receptive and empathetic, instead of faultfinding or antagonistic, can help you avoid hostile responses to your inquiries and the solutions you present.

An Aptitude for Analyzing Systems

Industrial-organizational psychologists don’t just go into a workplace and base their recommendations on their gut feelings. Rather, they apply scientific psychological concepts and research methods to the system they’re investigating. Being able to conceive of every part of a work process or environment as being an integrated system is crucial to helping you begin to analyze and evaluate that system. The factors that contribute to problems or sub-optimal performance often go deeper than they appear at first glance, so examining the whole system is crucial for developing comprehensive and workable solutions that don’t leave any of these factors out.

IO psychology is the scientific study of human behavior in the workplace, and it requires a thorough understanding of the workplace ecosystem. Scientifically speaking, human behavior is predictable, the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology reported.

Additional Resources

Is Industrial Organizational Psychology a Field Where I Am More Likely to Be Hired as a Consultant Rather Than as a Full-Time Employee?

What Are the Benefits of Pursuing a Degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology?

How Long Does It Take to Become an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist?

What Should You Know When You Interview for a Job With a Degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology?