Table of Contents
- What Are Interpersonal Skills?
- Examples of Interpersonal Skills in Action
- Why Are Interpersonal Skills Important?
- How to Improve 6 of the Most Important Interpersonal Skills
- How to Showcase Interpersonal Skills on a Résumé and During an Interview
- How to Foster a Great Team Culture With Strong Interpersonal Skills
According to a paper released by Microsoft and McKinsey, 30 to 40% of future jobs will depend on employees having solid social-emotional skills. As TRVST explains, “The increasingly high demands for soft expertise are likely to continue to grow as education creates more of a balance between hard and soft skills . . . employers continue to seek candidates who can communicate, influence, create, lead, and build relationships.”
In fact, when Google conducted tests to determine the top skills that qualify high-earning employees, results showed that the top four skills were socially-oriented, including:
- Being a good coach
- Listening and communicating well
- Possessing insights into others
- Having empathy toward and supporting one’s colleagues
Furthermore, according to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), social and emotional skills are now among the most significant predictors of labor market success, especially for young adults. A poll conducted by Wonderlic found that 93% of employers consider soft skills as either “very important” or “essential.”
Interpersonal skills are invaluable because effective teams rely on them to delegate tasks, collaborate, maintain trust and rapport, grow and develop relationships, and achieve shared goals.
With a growing demand and need for interpersonal skills, professionals should focus on improving them for success inside and outside the office. Find out more about how to intentionally develop these skills below.
- Interpersonal skills are also called social skills, people skills, or soft skills. They include skills such as active listening, changes in body language and tone of voice, eye contact, showing empathy, and asking insightful questions.
- People skills are essential for leaders, managers, and employees because they lead to meaningful relationships, trust, collaboration, and conflict resolution.
- Some of the main ways we display our interpersonal skills include stating our opinions respectfully, listening without distractions, and giving constructive feedback.
- Harvard Graduate School of Education states, “Jobs requiring high levels of social interaction are growing.” Over the last 30 years, professions that involve a lot of social interaction have grown by nearly 12 percentage points as a share of all jobs in the United States.
- Salaries for social-intensive jobs are also increasing faster than for jobs that are less social.
What Are Interpersonal Skills?
Interpersonal skills are learned abilities that help us socialize, cooperate, and collaborate. To display these skills, we pick up on social cues and adapt to other people’s words, feelings, and behaviors.
The National Research Council explains that each one of the interpersonal skills draws on many capacities, including a combination of attitudinal, behavioral, and cognitive components. Being a “people person” involves having knowledge of social customs, showing the capacity to solve problems associated with social expectations, and displaying self-regulation based on experience and instinct.
Examples of effective interpersonal skills include:
- Nonverbal communication (body language, eye contact, hand gestures, and facial expressions)
- Verbal communication (the words we say, tone of voice, and speed of speech)
- Active listening
Examples of Interpersonal Skills in Action
“Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”Dale Carnegie
You don’t have to be a naturally outgoing or extroverted person to have great people skills. Instead, you might lead with “quiet confidence” or stand out among a team due to your exceptional listening abilities. Beyond just the words you say, people skills rely on how well you pay attention, use body language, and engage others.
Different types of interpersonal skills include:
- Emotional intelligence: The ability to understand and manage your own emotions.
- Communication skills (both verbal and nonverbal): Clear, concise, and understandable communication using speech, written words, body language, tone of voice, gestures, and eye contact.
- Collaboration: Contributing to various teams and projects based on what’s needed. For instance, knowing when it’s most appropriate to lead versus follow.
- Adaptiveness: Playing into other people’s strengths and weaknesses, plus understanding when it’s best to listen versus contribute.
- Empathy: Putting yourself in other people’s shoes to show understanding.
- Conflict resolution: Resolving conflicts directly, rather than letting misunderstandings escalate.
- Open-mindedness: Remaining receptive to feedback in order to learn and improve.
- Optimism: Having a positive attitude and showing resilience when faced with setbacks.
- A team coming together to complete group projects by dividing up responsibilities, giving and receiving feedback, and making revisions as needed.
- A leader giving clear directions by using confident communication, a firm tone of voice, eye contact, and engaging body language.
- A manager addressing conflicts with employees and offering solutions.
- A boss delivering upsetting news about a business’s performance in a sensitive, affirming way.
- Employees asking for clarification about unclear responsibilities, schedules, and deadlines.
Why Are Interpersonal Skills Important?
“Whether home health aides or white-collar data scientists, the human element is the key to many of today’s fastest growing jobs.”Josh Wright, iCIMS chief economist
Being competent in social skills results in coworkers, customers, bosses, and friends wanting to be around you because you display attractive traits such as being dependable, fair, honest, funny, humble, and nonjudgmental.
Someone with strong interpersonal skills has advantages in the workplace because they:
- Work well with others, including in teams or one-on-one.
- Provide clear and respectful communication, which reduces unnecessary conflicts and misunderstandings.
- Boost work productivity, employee retention, and engagement.
- Improve customer satisfaction.
- Encourage effective problem-solving and decision-making.
- Establish team cultures founded on accountability and trust.
- Avoid language that’s offensive or blames and shames others.
Benefits that strong interpersonal skills provide in your personal life include:
- Helping family members and friends to work together cohesively and to compromise when needed.
- Reducing hurt feelings, resentment, and festering problems.
- Building trust and empathy, making people feel supported.
- Encouraging forgiveness, understanding, and negotiation.
How to Improve 6 of the Most Important Interpersonal Skills
Even among those who don’t consider themselves people-oriented, it’s still possible to become a better communicator, team player, manager, or partner. This can be achieved by working on skills such as listening and communicating.
Neuroplasticity describes our ability to change and evolve depending on where we focus our attention. It’s another term for a “growth mindset” in which we continuously seek new experiences and learning opportunities.
According to a 2022 article published in Stat Pearls, our brains can reorganize synaptic connections in response to learning, and this ability doesn’t stop at any particular age. In other words, we’re constantly forming new neural connections that can lead to improved social skills—it just takes practice to make this happen. Here’s how to do it:
1. Increase Your Emotional Intelligence
“What really matters for success, character, happiness, and lifelong achievements is a definite set of emotional skills.”Daniel Goleman
It’s difficult to relate to others well without having high emotional intelligence (EI). To practice emotional intelligence, you must learn to understand and control your own emotions.
Self-awareness and self-management are crucial components of EI and having excellent social skills because they allow us to alter our words and behaviors based on the setting we’re in. Other factors that come into play include adaptability, flexibility, and being open to learning from others.
Here’s how to boost EI in order to improve your interpersonal skills:
- Get to know your unique strengths and limitations, as well as your personality and habits. Use exercises like online personality tests, meditation, and journaling to help.
- Learn to control impulses and think through decisions carefully by slowing down. Aim to respond instead of reacting to your feelings.
- Avoid acting out of emotion or stress. Use mindfulness practices and breathing techniques to keep yourself calm and clear-headed.
- Take accountability for your mistakes and be willing to apologize.
2. Adapt to Your Surroundings
“The strongest will is the will that knows how to bend.”Alice Duer Miller
Those who are adaptive are capable of adjusting to new conditions and fitting into a variety of settings, including those that involve people from different backgrounds. This benefits employees who must work with people from various cultures and in different arrangements. Adaptive workers also know how to alter their speech when needed and state opinions without offending others, leading to enhanced collaboration.
To improve how adaptive you are:
- Adjust how you deliver messages and make requests based on subtle cues like people’s body language.
- Consider flipping how you express information to make people feel more motivated, seen, and heard.
- Read the room by paying attention to people’s level of engagement, then adjust your delivery based on what you perceive.
3. Improve Social Awareness
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”Dale Carnegie
Socially aware people can identify and manage the emotions of others within a social context. For example, they discern subtle social cues and understand a group’s intricate emotional dynamics.
Social awareness also relies on curiosity about others and eagerness to learn from their experiences.
Speaker and author Brian Tracy explains, “The deepest craving of human nature is the need to feel valued, therefore the secret to charm and people skills is to make people feel important.”
Ways to become more socially aware:
- Read other people’s body language and respond to nonverbal cues like eye contact and posture.
- Ask questions to keep conversations balanced and to engage others.
- Pick up on people’s tone of voice to better understand their feelings and emotions.
- Back down from arguments if you sense someone getting tense or angry.
4. Hone Your Listening and Communication Skills
“Good communication is the bridge between confusion and clarity.”Nat Turner
In his TED talk on social interaction, Tom Indigo describes that there are three types of listeners: active listeners, distracted listeners, and those who hijack conversations in order to talk about themselves. Active listeners are by far the most likable type of people because they make others feel heard and important.
To maintain relationships, it’s critical to both listen and express yourself clearly. Harvard Business Review notes that managers often shy away from providing feedback when something goes wrong. Additionally, many fail to offer praise or words of encouragement. This lack of communication altogether can contribute to poor performances at work, less trust, and missed opportunities for growth.
To become a better listener and communicator:
- Decide which type of communication (written or verbal) is best to use depending on the situation, your audience, and the level of urgency.
- Practice active listening by paying attention and avoiding distractions, including putting away your phone, computer, and other devices.
- Withhold judgment and provide space for others to freely express themselves.
- Clearly define your intentions and expectations to avoid misunderstandings.
- Ask questions if you’re unsure of something.
5. Collaborate to Improve Problem-Solving
“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”Michael Jordan
For businesses to be successful, leaders need to use available information and feedback to guide a group toward achieving a collective, overarching goal. Taking into account multiple opinions and perspectives, plus analyzing information from a variety of sources, leads to enhanced decision-making. These habits are the heart of organizational leadership, which involves business leaders collaborating in order to look for innovative and creative solutions.
To improve collaboration:
- Ask questions to dig deeper into people’s points of view.
- Stay organized so that goals and ideas are consistent, clear, and concise.
- Practice time management to avoid making rushed decisions, overwhelming people, overlooking important details, or having poor communication.
6. Show That You’re Reliable
“Leadership is about persuasion, presentation, and people skills.”Shiv Khera
The most effective leaders and employees display integrity, consistency, and honesty, leading to greater trust in the workplace. Sigma Assessment Systems points out, “Research has shown that dependability is a key factor in performance, as leaders who are dependable are more inclined to ensure the timely execution of strategic initiatives.”
To show you’re reliable at work and in other relationships, try this:
- Avoid acting impulsively and develop solid conflict resolution skills. Conflicts are best handled when you’re calm, in control of your emotions, and clear on your end goals.
- Ask for feedback to show you’re a team player, and be approachable and accountable.
- Admit when you don’t have answers to a problem or when you’ve made a mistake.
- Outline facts and communicate the “why” behind your decisions to help people better understand your perspective.
How to Showcase Interpersonal Skills on a Résumé and During an Interview
“Collaboration—a vital interpersonal skill—has been cited as the most sought-after skill in fresh graduates and also one that drives employee performance.”Maciej Duszyński, certified resume writer and career columnist
54% of employees applying for new jobs say they typically don’t include soft skills in their cover letters, yet about 75% of employers are looking for workers with above-average people skills. To stay competitive in today’s job market, be sure to display your ability to act as a people person who has strong social awareness and communication skills.
Here’s how you can describe your most important interpersonal skills on a résumé:
- Name your greatest strengths: Clearly state the social skills you have, such as public speaking or giving feedback one-on-one, then give examples of how you’ve used these skills in the past.
- Show versatility: Explain different types of communication skills you possess, such as written communication skills including writing emails and dispersing schedules, as well as verbal communication skills such as lecturing teams and providing feedback.
- Emphasize that you understand the importance of communication and listening: If you’ve taken any courses to improve your communication skills, such as those related to body language or written communication skills, mention this and explain what you learned.
To demonstrate interpersonal skills during an interview:
- Practice active listening: Employers notice when workers are distracted and disengaged. Demonstrate that you can listen actively, such as by nodding along, maintaining eye contact, and avoiding looking at your phone.
- Ask insightful questions: Show interest by asking open-ended follow-up questions that allow the interviewer to dive deeper into a topic. For example, you can ask, “Can you tell me more about typical deadlines related to this project?”
- Show friendliness: Smile, use hand gestures to show enthusiasm, and maintain an engaged posture.
- Be willing to share: Communication is a two-way street. Listen well, but also be willing to open up and reveal interesting facts about yourself. For instance, share your favorite parts of your previous work experiences or several details about your personal life.
How to Foster a Great Team Culture With Strong Interpersonal Skills
Interpersonal skills help people come together to achieve great things. As Simon Sinek says, “If you don’t understand people, you don’t understand business.”
As a leader, how do you create a team culture of strong interpersonal skills across the board? Here are tips for doing this:
- Educate your employees on communication skills, especially listening, written communication, and the use of body language.
- Offer free self-assessment tests to uncover people’s strengths and weaknesses, such as how distractible they are, how well they can repeat what they’ve heard, plus verbal communication abilities, and emotional intelligence.
- During interviews, ask for specific examples of social skills that potential employees have used in the past.
- Hire workers who demonstrate the social skills listed above, including flexibility, adaptiveness, friendliness, and collaborativeness.
Interested in learning more about the benefits of collaborative leadership? Read: Collaborative Leadership: What Happens When Hierarchies Flatten
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