Interpersonal skills are handy in every interaction between people, especially in the workplace. One of the reasons is you don’t always know the person you are interacting with very well. Maybe it’s a colleague from a different department, someone who just got hired, or a client you’ve never met before. Another reason is you don’t get to choose the person you would like to interact with and need to adapt to whatever mood and personality are presented to you. Last but not least, you need to be efficient and productive and find a way to use people interaction to your advantage.
Therefore, your success in the workplace depends on the quality of your interpersonal skills. And here is everything you need to know to cultivate your existing interpersonal skills and develop new ones.
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Interpersonal skills are sometimes called soft skills, social skills, or employability skills. Some go as far as naming their emotional intelligence. Regardless of how you name them, interpersonal skills are a set of behaviors and personality traits that make the way you interact with other people. They appear in any human interaction, from how you interact with your family and closest friends to speaking with a stranger and asking for directions in the street.
The good news about interpersonal skills is that you can learn them. Although some people are born with joviality and the easiness of speaking with people, most of us develop and cultivate interpersonal skills over time.
In the workplace, having interpersonal skills helps you create smoother relationships and get along with your colleagues and managers. At the same time, they help you communicate your thoughts, collaborate with anyone on any subject, and be more empathic and kind with clients and business partners.
Interpersonal skills don’t make you soft; on the contrary. They make you a better communicator and team player, convey trust, and help you avoid conflicts. In the long term, you will be more efficient in completing your tasks, quickly find people to help you when in trouble, stay up to date with everything in your office, and perform better at interviews and during meetings.
Many interpersonal skills may improve your life at home and in the workplace. The best thing you can do is spend some time with yourself, look inwards, and see what you need to cultivate more or develop from scratch. Our native personality traits and the set of social skills we developed over time are different. They are also very personal; you can’t and shouldn’t force something on yourself just because someone else has it. But a basic set of interpersonal skills often includes the following:
Communication is the first step toward human interaction. Whether it is speaking, writing, or other forms of communication (e.g., gestures, body language, etc.), communication is something you should master.
Remember that communication is a two-way path. You need to learn how to communicate your thoughts and ideas and listen to everyone else’s opinions and ideas. Listening includes providing a safe space for the other person to express themselves, understanding their point of view, and accepting different opinions than yours.
If you want to be an effective communicator, then you would need to improve the following aspects of your daily interactions:
You can be a leader and a follower simultaneously without compromising your integrity. The most important characteristic of a leader is trust: they trust themselves and others to do what is best for their common goal. Leaders are engaged, passionate, and motivated. They are open to ideas, even asking for them, and know how to make firm and wise decisions.
Leaders also know how to be supportive, kind, and encouraging. They don’t forget people’s birthdays and anniversaries and encourage them to pursue their dreams, grow, and become better people and employees. The good news is you don’t have to do everything by yourself. A smart HR app notifying you whenever a milestone or birthday is approaching is a tool all leaders rely on.
Related: What makes a good leader?
Regardless of whether you are at the top or bottom of the organization chart, you must learn how to be part of a team. Sometimes it means prioritizing your team members and common goals. Sometimes it means sharing your ideas and encouraging people to think outside the box. Other times, it means persuading your colleagues to follow your lead, providing support or mentoring, or offering a shoulder to cry on. Many aspects of teamwork come up in the workplace. But humanity is the base of all of them.
Related: Why is teamwork important?
Diplomacy comes in handy when interacting with unknown people, such as clients and business associates. As you don’t know where they stand, diplomacy helps you avoid conflicts and work on something that benefits everyone. It implies good communication skills, patience, a good read of the room, and a flexible set of expectations. You are more of an observant listener, trying to come up with the best option for everyone quickly.
The key to working with people is to forget labels and personal bias. There is no place for judgment in the workplace. Everyone is free to have an opinion, even if it’s not the same as yours. Also, everyone deserves a chance to do interesting tasks, receive a promotion, or take some time off when needed.
Diversity and inclusion are the base of good teamwork and harmonious relationships. Like with other interpersonal skills, some tools may help you. For example, a transparent way of requesting leave and a shared team absence calendar allows everyone to plan their vacation without generating conflict.
Good negotiating skills aren’t something to write in your resume, but they are very good to have skills. In the workplace, you don’t negotiate only a raise. You negotiate your vacation with your colleagues (tip use a leave planner), task planning with your team leader, customer requirements, and meetings with everyone else. You constantly negotiate your position within the team, tasks, and benefits. So, learn how to do it properly to boost confidence and morale and gain better work perspectives.
Empathy is identifying with or understanding another's situation or feelings (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language). In other words, it’s the ability to understand a person’s point of view, emotions, and status. And in the workplace, you have plenty of occasions to use empathy.
From understanding a colleague's position when it comes to covering for him over a sick day off to understanding the manager’s need to feel in control, empathy is everywhere. It allows you to feel for a client who lost money or opportunities, find the energy to help a colleague in need, and embrace the emotion of a retiring colleague. And, like all other interpersonal skills, empathy is something you cultivate.
You don’t want stress in the workplace, but you have it anyway. As a result, knowing how to cope with stressful situations is an excellent addition to your interpersonal skill set. Stress management is helpful for managers, team leaders, executive employees, and regular employees. It’s helpful in stressful jobs and dull, repetitive tasks.
Your body handles stress considerably better when you eat well, exercise, and get adequate sleep. Be upbeat and express thanks for the positive aspects of your day or life. Recognize that there are things you cannot control. Try to find strategies to stop worrying about things you can't alter.
In stress management, you can include relaxation techniques, well-being, and cultivating mindfulness, but also improve time-management, reduce procrastination, and improve the organization of your desk. Stress has many factors. See which one is more prevalent in your life.
Related: What is stress?
Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to understand and manage emotions, whether yours or others. Combined with empathy, emotional intelligence helps you understand emotional reactions and give the other person space and time to recover. As a result, you minimize conflicts and misunderstandings. Other benefits of high emotional intelligence are improved creativity, artistic expression, and problem-solving. You are at peace with yourself and others, which results in a healthy mix of rationality and emotion. All aspects of your life will benefit from it.
Related: How to resolve conflict in the workplace?
We all must be seen and appreciated, even for minor things. In the workplace, we need positive reinforcement from colleagues and managers to maintain confidence and engagement. So, learn to acknowledge the achievements of your peers and express your appreciation or gratitude.
Start with small things, such as sending a thank you note to someone who helped you meet a deadline. Move on to sending group emails to your team or recommendation letters to colleagues leaving your company. But most of all, learn to offer positive reinforcement in any conversation.
Improving or developing interpersonal skills has two aspects: finding suitable materials and support groups and finding the time to practice.
Look for renowned courses with good reviews and large audiences. They provide certificates that may be an excellent addition to your resume. But also look for small classes and workshops that put you in touch with people like you. For example, a local book club may help you express your ideas more cohesively and communicate relevant thoughts quickly.
The second aspect is practice. A class or course gives you pointers and helps you understand what you need to work on. But you need to do the work. Practice with close relationships, such as friends and family, because you already know the group dynamic. But practice with strangers, too, because you learn the most from unpredictable situations.
Remember that you don’t have to do everything on your own. You can find software and apps that support you in this journey by releasing you from repetitive tasks, keeping you up to date, notifying you when important milestones approach and providing triggers to build healthy habits.
Interpersonal skills are something we need regardless of our job and status. They allow us to slow down and interact with people more personally, enhance humanity and empathy, and confidently express our true selves. Find the tools that help you grow and be a better person. Time is our most precious resource; use it wisely.
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