Interpersonal skills or emotional intelligence, soft skills, communication skills, or even employability skills – call them what you like.
But regardless of what you are going to call them, these are things that you are going to need if you are hoping to succeed in a job interview, an application, or in the workplace more generally. Because employers value these people skills, or these interpersonal communication skills (there are another two names for you!) – even when you might not.
So, now we know the terms that we’re generally dealing with – and the variety of names for these skills speaks of the difficulty in defining them completely accurately – let’s take a look at what these interpersonal skills are, and why you might need them in your life.
To succeed in today’s work environment, you can’t rely entirely on your hard skills – those skills that you went to university, say, or vocational training to learn. These are those skills that, theoretically, you can sit down and learn from a textbook. The ability to speak a second language. Competent use of a computer. Or other sector-specific, technical skills.
Soft skills – the abilities to communicate effectively, to relate to people, and to get along with others – make up the other half of the skills required for the workplace. These are, traditionally, thought to be things that you are less going to learn as to develop. They are considered to be character traits as well as social skills as such – and include your levels of assertiveness or self-confidence as well as your positive attitude.
Public speaking is an important part of the interpersonal skill set.
Yet, as we say, they are essential for the modern workplace. Why?
In recent years, the workplace has changed dramatically. With larger academic interests in workplace culture – as much as greater business interest in academic disciplines such as the psychology, culture, and structures of work – people are beginning to realise that the ways in which we have been working for so long have overlooked things that should be priorities.
Think about the ways that people interact with others, or how businesses are able to work collaboratively. These things were once taken for granted. Now, however, their importance is being seen by businesses as crucial to success.
Businesses want workplaces that are a pleasure to work in. And one of the best ways to build a great workplace culture is through interpersonal skills – for the benefit of you the employee and for the world in general. Strong interpersonal skills are what allows people, quite simply, just to get along.
Find out more about the importance of interpersonal skills.
So, let’s take a look at some of the most important skills in the interpersonal skill set. These are the skills that employers will look for when you are applying. And, more importantly, they are skills that will help you flourish both in work and outside of it.
We’ve broken them down into general categories, which, as you will see, differ between those which are, essentially, personality traits, and those that can be developed in skills training.
So, once you have a grasp of which abilities constitute good interpersonal skills, you can check out how to develop your interpersonal skills.
Let’s take a look.
Why not develop your interpersonal skills?
The first category we can look at can be called ‘emotional intelligence’, the bedrock for all interpersonal skills and effective communication.
Sure, these are things you can learn. However, they are also qualities of character that need to be developed at a much deeper level. These are things that define your work ethic, your attitude to other people, and your ability to understand others.
They are things that you will probably think make a good person in general, quite honestly – as they are traits that are valued in people regardless of their position in work. However, no-one is asking you to have them all.
Empathy, as we are taught it, is the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes – the ability to understand other people’s emotions, their perspectives, and their ways of thinking.
Being empathetic is one of the most important interpersonal skills, as it permits you to relate to other people. Without it, you can be a little bit trapped in your own world – and this doesn’t make for a great leader nor a great team-player.
Being tolerant to difference is a related skill. Not everyone is the same, and the ability to recognise this is essential for successful people management and good communication.
Whilst tolerance refers to an attention to the nature of different people, open-mindedness refers to a receptivity to other people’s ideas.
This means being able to admit that you are wrong, to accept criticism and different viewpoints, and to work collaboratively.
Find out how to develop your interpersonal skills!
On every job application you will have ever done, good communication skills will be listed as a desired quality.
And that, really, is legitimate – because good work is premised on good communication. Very very rarely are you expected to work alone – and a good communicator will excel in collaborative contexts.
Here’s why you need to learn interpersonal skills.
The most obvious example of communication is verbal – i.e. that which we do when we open our mouths to produce words.
Yet, there is so much more to it than that. Apart from the ability to speak and write clearly, verbal communication is about your tone of voice, your style, and your ability to ask necessary questions.
Meanwhile, nonverbal communication is the secret key to interpersonal relations. This is about body language, eye contact, facial expressions – all the little aspects of your relating to people that aren’t based around words.
Apparently, eighty-five percent of what is communicated is actually nonverbal.
The other side of communication is listening. You aren’t going to be able to understand much of an exchange if you don’t listen to the other’s response.
Active listening is a hugely important part of interpersonal communication.
The ability to speak in front of audiences is often quite important for employers too. These requires a different sort of skill set: assertiveness, self-confidence, clarity.
Leadership skills are not only useful for actual, literal leaders. Rather, they are useful for everyone – from the lowest levels of work to the highest.
And whilst there is a lot of discussion about the styles of leadership that exist in the world of business, the leadership skills per se are common to them all.
As a leader, you should have the ability to inspire people to achieve their best, whilst motivating them on a day to day basis.
People want to learn from their leaders – and be continually encouraged to improve. These are key leadership qualities. However, people can learn from anyone. So, be the sort of person from which people want to learn.
Whilst taking into account other people’s views, one of the essential leadership skills is to take and own decisions – to lead the way and commit to it.
Again, teamwork skills are not just for those people who actually work in teams. Teams, actually, are all around us – even when they are not identified as such specifically.
These skills are for when you are working toward a common goal with others.
Collaboration is simply the idea of working with another. Yet, it is not as simple as this. If you don’t have the open-mindedness and empathy that we discussed earlier, collaboration will stall.
Those gimmicky ‘team-building exercises’ that businesses and other organisations sometimes make you do are not there just to make you feel weird and uncomfortable.
Indeed, if they make you feel too weird and uncomfortable, it might the case that you need to improve your teamwork skills.
In teams, discussion is essential. But successful discussion requires a particular way of doing things.
Discussion facilitation is an important tool to make sure that conversations stay on track, that they are conducted in a nice manner, and that they achieve what they were intended to achieve.
Try these resources to help develop your interpersonal skills online.
But, in all teams, conflict will arise. The important thing is to know how to handle it when it does. Conflict management is one of the crucial skills in interpersonal communication.
It involves looking for original and effective ways to solve problems – in which the conflict does not arise again.
But it also involves a certain ability to manage criticism between team members to ensure that conflict does not arise in the first place. Constructive criticism is always the best way to enable this.
Finally, there is a specific skill set association with the requirements of the negotiation – both in literal business negotiations and in the context of an internal discussion.
Persuasion is key here: the ability to convince others of your own viewpoint and win them over.
Learn more about interpersonal skills!