Planning dinner with your partner. Making a cleaning schedule with your roommates. Sharing a report with your boss. Resolving your customer’s complaint.
In each of these scenarios, there are interpersonal skills at work.
You may not realize it, but interpersonal skills come into play during every interaction you have with another human.
Every. Single. One.
For some people, good interpersonal skills are a natural gift. For others, it takes some learning, mindfulness, and effort to get the hang of it.
But one thing is constant: if you have excellent interpersonal skills, all of your relationships will be better than if you didn’t!
In this article, we’re going to look closer at what these skills are, some interpersonal skills examples, why they’re especially important in the workplace, and how you can improve yours if you feel that you’re lacking.
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What Are Interpersonal Skills?
Interpersonal skills are how we relate to and interact with other people.
These skills are a combination of personality traits and behaviors that show up in pretty much every type of human interaction we have – with family, friends, colleagues, bosses, and customers. Even the cashier at the supermarket.
You may have also heard of interpersonal skills by their many other names: social skills, people skills, or soft skills (sometimes even emotional intelligence).
Generally speaking, if a person has strong interpersonal skills, their personal and professional relationships are smoother and easier to manage. They’re able to communicate and empathize with others, which makes it easier to collaborate on whatever they’re doing.
There’s less conflict in those relationships because they’re able to effectively figure out what the problem is, then work together to solve it.
Importance of Interpersonal Skills in the Workplace
If you’ve been on the job hunt, I’m sure you’ve seen all kinds of interpersonal skills across all kinds of job listings. Things like being an effective communicator and a good team player.
These characteristics are absolutely critical for companies to operate well. There are a lot of moving parts, and often a lot of people needed to collaborate and execute on ideas and tasks.
Interpersonal skills at work help to:
- Foster a sense of trust, camaraderie, and overall positive feelings toward going to work (and happier team members are more productive team members!)
- Build stronger relationships among team members as well as with customers
- Keep the feedback loop open, so that everyone feels included and amazing ideas have a better chance of being uncovered
- On the business side: reduce the time it takes to complete tasks, boosting the company’s revenue
Types of Interpersonal Skills
There are way too many interpersonal skills examples to list here, but we’re going to go through some of the most important:
- Conflict resolution and negotiation
Interpersonal communication skills are at the top of the list (literally and figuratively).
You can master every other skill on this list, but if you can’t effectively communicate that mastery to others, you’re still at the starting line of the race.
There are three types of communication in this umbrella:
- Verbal. The way you talk to others, whether it’s in person or on a Zoom call. This includes your choice of words, but also your tone and timing.
- Non-Verbal. The movements and gestures you make when others can see you. These might seem insignificant, but they’re surprisingly powerful when it comes to making others feel heard, understood, and accepted by you.
- Written. From work reports to customer service emails, written communication is a delicate balance of getting your point across efficiently while also being engaging and inclusive.
Wondering how you’re doing in this area? Check out this free interpersonal communication skills test by Psychology Today.
Good interpersonal communication skills are a two-way street. You have to listen – and really understand – where others are coming from, then use those insights to shape your own response.
It might seem that listening is a passive activity, but author and former FBI negotiator Chris Voss thinks it’s the most active thing you can do.
Going a step further than just listening, can you put yourself in the shoes of other people? Can you try to imagine what they’re feeling and even try to share those feelings?
This is a superior interpersonal communication skill, because empathetic people can look past words to see the true emotions that are driving them. If you can’t connect those two points, you might have some trouble understanding others.
When you say you’ll do something, do you always follow through? Dependability is absolutely necessary to earn someone else’s trust. And trust is important for good communication and strong relationships.
This goes across the board for all types of relationships, personal and professional. People who count on you need to have faith that you’ll support them.
It’s easy to get frustrated by others, like when your partner overlooks small-but-important details or your coworker keeps blasting awful music during your team calls. But can you keep your cool? Can you focus on what’s important without losing your temper or treating other people differently?
Annoying – even infuriating – things are always going to happen. People with excellent interpersonal skills have patience to work through those situations calmly and with a level head.
Conflict Resolution and Negotiation
Negotiation skills don’t just come in handy where there’s a crisis or serious conflict. You’re actually negotiating constantly, every day – it’s any kind of communication that has results.
Even deciding where to go out to dinner with your friend is a negotiation! The key to strong negotiation and conflict resolution is understanding the other person’s needs as well as your own, then working toward a common goal.
Speaking of understanding your own needs… having good interpersonal skills means that you’re an excellent listener. But on the other side of the table, it means that you’re open and transparent about your own thoughts, feelings, needs, and ideas too.
The key to strong relationships is finding balance, and that means all parties meeting each other in the middle (that’s negotiation!).
How well do you work with others? Do people enjoy being put on an assignment with you, or do they all roll their eyes?
This is a big deal when you’re in the workplace or another environment where it’s critical to collaborate with others. To be a good team player, you need to combine all the other interpersonal skills we’ve talked about.
The strongest leaders have all of the skills we’ve discussed so far.
Interpersonal leadership skills mean:
- Listening to your team and colleagues
- Truly understanding where they’re coming from
- Building trust through traits like patience and dependability
- Being assertive in showing them the path you want them to follow, but keeping the feedback loop open for continuous growth
- Working through challenges and projects in a way that finds a common ground for everyone involved
How to Improve Interpersonal Skills
Here are a few tips on your path to developing excellent interpersonal skills.
1. Ask for constructive feedback
Before you can work on developing interpersonal skills, you need to know where you’re lacking. The best way to find this out is to go straight from the people closest to you: your colleagues, boss, friends, and family.
One approach is to show them the interpersonal skills list from above, and ask them which ones you’re great at, and which ones could use some work.
Here’s the catch: you should be aware of your own interpersonal skills when you try this. Keep your mind open to feedback. Try not to be offended or take it personally.
You WILL hear things you don’t want to hear. But that’s the whole point of the exercise!
2. Practice active listening
Like I mentioned earlier, if you want to improve interpersonal skills, you have to be a better listener.
Here are six steps to practice active listening.
- Pay attention when someone else is talking. Don’t cut them off before they’re finished. To make sure you’re not cutting them off, waiting a second or two when they stop to make sure they’re really done. Make eye contact and avoid fidgeting or multi-tasking, which is a non-verbal way of showing them you’re really listening.
- Don’t judge them or steamroll them with your own ideas. Keep an open mind and be willing to see another person’s point of view. You’re not always right! (And even if you are, you’ll need to collaborate and compromise anyway.)
- Reflect on what they might be trying to say and what they’re feeling. If your colleague says, “I don’t know what to do about this,” you can reflect by saying, “It sounds like you’re feeling stuck.”
- Clarify anything that’s vague or confusing by asking as many questions as you need to. You can say something like: “Let me make sure I’m hearing you…”
- Summarize what they’ve said by paraphrasing and repeating it back to them. This way, you can be 100 percent certain that you understand their points and arguments in the way they intended.
- Share your own thoughts – after you’re certain they’re done talking and that you’ve understood them correctly. There’s a delicate balance: you want to communicate your own thoughts, while supporting the other person and working to solve the issue at the same time.
3. Get in touch with your own feelings
Developing interpersonal skills means that you need a better understanding of others, but it also means having a better understanding of yourself.
When you understand your own emotional responses and triggers, you’re better able to control them when you’re working closely with other people.
Digging even deeper, you’ll find that understanding your own feelings might automatically boost your ability to empathize with others and put yourself in their position.
And when you’re being assertive and communicating your own thoughts, feelings, and ideas, you can do it waaaaay more easily and effectively.
There’s an awesome article in Harvard Business Review that can help you understand your emotions. Here are the three main tips:
- Expand your vocabulary of emotions. Different emotions have different “flavors.” The more words you consider, the better you’ll be able to navigate the small differences.
- Consider how intense each emotion is. Are you feeling deeply sad, or just disappointed? You can even rate them 1-10 on their intensity.
- Write about it. Set a timer for 20 minutes and explore something you’re feeling strongly. Try to reflect and learn by using phrases like “I’ve learned” and “Now I realize.”
4. Find a mentor or enroll in a course
If you’re struggling with developing interpersonal skills, there are lots of opportunities for you to find more direct and involved help.
This one can feel a little bit vulnerable, but you can always try reaching out to a close friend, family member, colleague, or peer who has excellent interpersonal skills. See if they’d be willing to help mentor you and give you tips, advice, and strategies.
You can also try searching for a professional coach or take an online course.
Just do a quick Google search to browse your options and see what works for your schedule, learning preferences, and budget.
Don’t forget to search for similar terms like:
- Emotional intelligence course
- Soft skills training
- People skills course
- Better communication training
The Path to Better Relationships
Whether you’re dealing with your coworker or your uncle, interpersonal relationship skills are absolutely critical if you want things to go smoothly. They’re always at work in the background, even if you’re not paying close attention.
But if you want to understand and improve them, it’s time to start looking closer.
Think about all the personal and professional relationships in your life and how you can improve them. And if you’re looking for a job right now, consider how these skills can help you land your dream job or help you fit into your workplace better.
Even if you don’t have the natural gift of effortless interactions, there’s always something you can do to improve your interpersonal skills.