How you interact with and relate to others can impact how successful you are in life and your career.
No one wants to work with someone who is negative and always complaining. And no manager wants to hire or promote someone who is rude, temperamental, or unreliable.
Strong interpersonal skills are just as crucial to your career as technical hard skills and expertise. They help you navigate the day-to-day tasks and challenges you face at work.
So what exactly are these skills, and how do you improve them? The list below is by no means extensive, but it’s a good start.
What Are Interpersonal Skills?
Interpersonal skills are the personal and social skills we use to interact and collaborate with others, share ideas or information, and avoid conflict.
They include other soft skills like communication, active listening, critical thinking, empathy, teamwork, problem-solving, emotional intelligence, and more.
Why Do We Need Interpersonal Skills?
We use interpersonal skills in all aspects of life, but they are vital if you want to be successful in your career.
Good interpersonal skills can help you be likable and build strong relationships with your co-workers and customers, making your job more enjoyable. Possessing these skills will help you navigate the day-to-day job complexities and changes in the work environment.
Employers value staff with interpersonal and communication skills because they also help you be a better, more productive employee. Being interpersonal will open up new opportunities for you, such as promotions and raises.
How To Learn and Improve Your Interpersonal Skills
It may seem like learning interpersonal skills is as simple as socializing with others. While that will help, it will only get you so far. Here are more ways to develop and improve your interpersonal skills.
1. Change Your Surroundings
A total change in scenery will help you open up your senses and learn from what is happening around you. So instead of sitting at your desk being aware only of what’s happening inside your brain, go and spend time around other people.
2. People Watch
Look around and listen to what others say, how they say it, and why they’re saying it. Take note of how the other people in the conversation respond.
You don’t necessarily have to jump into conversations to learn interpersonal skills. It’s okay to sit and watch for a while and reflect on what’s happening.
3. Identify People with Strong Interpersonal Skills
If you know someone who is friendly and charismatic, and everyone seems to love them, pay close attention to their behavior and words. What do they do differently? What qualities do they have that you admire?
4. Find a Mentor or Coach
It can be hard to learn interpersonal skills alone, so why not find a mentor or coach to work with? They can help you learn how to communicate effectively, how to resolve conflict, and how to build relationships.
A mentor or coach can also provide you with feedback and accountability, which can help you stay on track as you work to improve your interpersonal and other related job skills.
Having someone guide and support you while learning a new skill can make all the difference.
5. Read Books On People Skills
If you want to learn how to talk to others at work more confidently, many books will help you do just that. They cover topics from small talk, body language, successfully navigating relationships, public speaking, overcoming social anxiety, and more.
A few good examples include:
- Better Small Talk: Talk to Anyone, Avoid Awkwardness, Generate Deep Conversations, and Make Real Friends by Patrick King
- How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- How to Make People Do What You Want: Methods of Subtle Psychology to Read People, Persuade, and Influence Human Behavior by James W. Williams
- How to Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety by Ellen Hendriksen
6. Learn How To Make Small Talk & Get Good At It
Making small talk with someone shouldn’t be a big deal, yet we often freeze up when faced with it.
The best way to learn to be a great conversationalist is to practice your conversational skills with new people. It doesn’t matter what you talk about, but choosing a subject you are both interested in is important. (You probably want to avoid politics and religion.)
Commenting on the weather or asking other people about their day is a great go-to conversation starter.
7. Be Approachable and Friendly
Don’t be afraid to say hello to people and start a conversation, even if you don’t know them. If you have the urge to speak to someone new, just do it! You’ll never know if the subject will be of any interest to them or not unless you take a chance. The worst thing that can happen is they give you the cold shoulder and walk away.
8. Join a Group or Club
If you don’t come into contact with many people throughout your day, consider finding a group and joining it. It can be job-related, like a professional association or networking group, but it doesn’t have to be. You could instead find individuals with whom you share the same interest or hobby, like a book club or a sports team.
9. Learn How to Read Body Language
You don’t need to be an expert at reading others, but you should know that some telltale signs give people away, especially when they’re not telling the truth. Various studies suggest that up to 90% of communication is nonverbal, so if you can learn to read body language, you’ll have a leg up on your competition.
10. Ask for Feedback
Try different strategies when making small talk at work and ask for feedback, especially from those you already have a relationship with. And ask your colleagues and work friends how you’re doing with your people skills and keep track of what they say. That way, if anyone gives you negative feedback, you can take the time to self-reflect on why that is happening and change your approach.
Stay open-minded about the feedback and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you’re unsure what someone means.
You can also ask your friends or family members for constructive criticism or suggestions on how you can improve.
11. Practice, Practice, Practice
It might seem like a no-brainer but mastering your people skills requires a lot of effort. You have to put certain things in place before you can expect to see any kind of results. If you want to get off the bench and into the game, you need to prove that you’re willing to work just as hard as everyone else.
Do you know why salespeople are so good at making sales? It’s because they practice their people skills every day. They know how to read people, and they know how to sell them what they want. To be successful, you need to learn how to do the same thing.
12. Take a Class
The internet has many free online classes, workshops, and videos covering ways of improving and practicing interpersonal skills. A few suggestions include:
- Developing Interpersonal Skills by IBM (Free)
- Professional Skills for the Workplace Specialization by the University of California (Free)
- Effective Communication: Writing, Design, and Presentation Specialization by the University of Colorado (Free)
- Improving Communication Skills by University of Pennsylvania (Free)
13. Reflect on Your Interactions
You can learn a lot by reviewing your interactions with others. Think about the words and phrases you used, how you reacted to the conversation, and your body language. They all play a role in the way the interaction is perceived.
Interactions can also be revealing in terms of what someone is thinking or feeling. For example, if someone is laughing a lot, they may be enjoying the conversation. If someone seems angry, they may disagree with the other person.
14. Keep Track of Your Progress
To know how far you’ve come, you need a way to measure your growth. Make notes about what people have told you about yourself and compare that list with the original version from time to time.
15. Work on Your Communication Skills
Improving your communication skills will make your life a lot easier.
When talking or writing, be cautious of what words you use. Ask yourself if you might be misunderstood or cause confusion; if so, make your message clearer.
Non-verbal communication also plays a critical role in your interactions. Experts have found that a larger part of your message is communicated by non-verbal signals like body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and the pace you speak. These signals reinforce or contradict the words coming from your mouth, and they are hard to fake.
16. Don’t Just Hear, Listen!
Effective communication involves much more than the words you speak. There is a big difference between listening and hearing. That is why you should talk less and listen more before you react to anything.
Pay attention to what others are saying, and give them your full attention. Show them you have an interest in what they are saying.
17. Set Goals
One of the best ways to learn interpersonal skills is by setting goals for yourself and taking action to achieve them.
For example, let’s say you want to learn to be a better listener. You could set a goal to practice listening to people for 10 minutes daily. As you work on achieving this goal, you will naturally develop the interpersonal skills necessary to be a good listener.
18. Be Patient With Yourself
It takes time to improve how you communicate with others. You can’t expect everything to happen overnight. If this really matters to you, stick with it, and you will continue growing.
The better your interpersonal skills are, the more likely you are to be successful in various areas of life, such as your career, personal life, and social life. These tips will help you get there!
Amanda Kay, an Employment Specialist and founder of My Life, I Guess, strives to keep the "person" in personal finance by writing about money, mistakes, and making a living. She focuses on what it’s like being in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and surviving unemployment while also offering advice and support for others in similar situations - including a FREE library of career & job search resources.