HOW TO IMPROVE INTERPERSONAL SKILLS
Photo by Mimi Thian
MEANING OF INTERPERSONAL SKILLS
Odds are that, even if you work remotely or you are a freelancer, you are still a member of a “team” at work. Maybe you and your team work on marketing, engineering, or operations. Maybe you regularly work with two people and maybe two hundred! Regardless of goal or size, all teams have one thing in common: they thrive on strong interpersonal skills.
Interpersonal skills are the qualities and behaviors a person uses to interact with others properly. Interpersonal skills cover all of the micro-skills you utilize to work well with others. Like emotional intelligence, they are considered a soft skill, but that doesn’t mean these capabilities are any less important than your hard skills.
Without solid interpersonal skills, your team may be working inefficiently and unharmoniously. You also could be inadvertently causing your employer to doubt your ability to one day lead your own team. To succeed in your career, developing your interpersonal skills should be a high priority.
IMPORTANCE OF INTERPERSONAL SKILLS IN THE WORKPLACE
Your ability to express yourself, interpret others, and work in a team doesn’t just affect your career, but it also impacts the success of your entire company! If your interpersonal skills are weak, you suffer, your team suffers, and your company suffers. How? Here are some of the things that can go wrong if you don’t develop your interpersonal skills.
1. Your team could be wasting time
Were you zoning out during a meeting and missed something important? You could accidentally spend hours on a project that got axed. You could miss a deadline. You could miss that your supervisor got promoted. Every tiny piece of information you miss causes you and your company to lose valuable time.
2. Your teammates might not be able to rely on you
Do you flake on obligations every once in a while? Do you miss meetings, miss deadlines, or turn people down when they ask you for help? If so, your team is suffering. A strong team and a strong company is one that emphasizes dependability. If you refuse to take one for the team or lend a hand when others need it, no one will do the same for you when you need it.
3. You might be creating a toxic atmosphere
If your interpersonal skills are lacking, you might be making people feel uncomfortable. Maybe your lack of directness leaves people confused or conveys apathy. It’s important to not be vague and to try to maintain positivity as much as possible. If you’re positive and assertive, there’s little to misinterpret.
Now, we know the downsides, but what about the upsides? How could your work-life improve?
1. You’ll get along better with your co-workers and supervisors
If people know where you stand, if you help your co-workers, and if you maintain positivity, people will want to be around you. Don’t be surprised if you start getting more offers to work on new projects, to work with different teams, and to take on more responsibility.
2. You’ll be much more likely to be considered for a leadership role
If you can’t work well on a team, how can anyone expect you to lead one? The more you shine as a teammate, the more likely your colleagues and supervisors will feel comfortable with you taking the reins. Treat your teammates how you’d like to be treated and support them in the way you would like a leader to support you.
3. You’ll feel more confident
The more clearly you are understood and understand others, the easier it will be for you and your team to thrive. Mutual understanding and transparency often lead to increased confidence. You succeed, your team succeeds, and your company succeeds. What is a bigger confidence booster than that?
EXAMPLES OF INTERPERSONAL SKILLS
Here are some examples of interpersonal skills:
- Clear, direct speech
- Active listening
- Conflict resolution
HOW TO IMPROVE INTERPERSONAL SKILLS
Here are the 5 most important tips on how to develop great interpersonal skills.
Not to be confused with oversharing, overcommunicating is making sure everyone on your team is on the same page. If you tell one of your team members something, you should tell all of them. If you tell the marketing team something, you should probably tell the public relations team, as well! It’s better to annoy your co-workers with too much information than to cause silos by not communicating enough.
2. Listen more
Not only should you communicate more, but you should also spend more time listening! Read all of the team announcements, make yourself available to your teammates when they have a problem, and—this is a big one—actively listen in meetings. A lot of the communication problems faced in the workplace are a result of not paying attention. Sure, a lot of the information we get at work is repetitive and not particularly relevant, but, if you treat all of those Slack notifications like white noise, you will likely miss something important.
3. Be as flexible as you can
Working well with others requires a great deal of flexibility. We all have different needs, schedules, and projects. For example, maybe you think you’re too busy today to have an extra meeting about an upcoming project, but, try to find the time before saying “no”, and, if you can’t, propose another time. If you are flexible with others, they are also much more likely to be flexible with your needs down the line.
4. Follow through, follow through, follow through
In order to build trust with your teammates, you need to always follow through. If you say you’re going to do something, it’s very important to actually do it. Flakiness is one of the surefire signs of a worker with bad interpersonal skills.
As the old saying goes, “Say what you mean, mean what you say, and do what you say you’ll do”.
5. Strive to be even more empathetic
In order to work better with others, it’s important to imagine what they are thinking and feeling. Why are they upset? Why are they unmotivated? Why are they pushing something so aggressively? From there, you can better assess their needs, the needs of your team, and your own needs.
INTERPERSONAL SKILLS FOR REMOTE EMPLOYEES OR FREELANCERS
Interpersonal skills are even more important for freelancer or remote employee. Why? Because it’s so easy to misinterpret an email or to miss an announcement when you aren’t in the same room or in the same time zone.
As a remote employee or freelancer, we recommend:
1. Read and re-read your emails before sending.
You need to be even more careful when communicating with your colleagues than anyone. Regularly police your tone to make sure nothing can be construed as aggressive or inflexible. Be careful when phrasing questions, also, so as to not make anyone feel attacked. Give more context than too little.
2. Clearly communicate your schedule and timelines with your teammates
Since you’re not in the office, your teammates need to know when they can depend on you and when they can’t. Be direct but, as always, flexible. Also, make sure to communicate when you need more time on a project or when you need others to speed up their work. Since no one is watching you work, it’s crucial to communicate
3. Never miss meetings if you can help it
Meetings are your key to understanding the relationships and hierarchies of your workplace, the current mood at your company, and changing workflows. Since you don’t have the opportunity to communicate regularly with your teammates, you naturally are at a disadvantage, as you don’t have the benefit of learning things in a casual setting. In that regard, meetings are essential to your success at your company.
ADDING INTERPERSONAL SKILLS TO YOUR RESUME
One common question people have is, “How do I talk about soft skills, like interpersonal skills, on my resume?”
This can be tricky, particularly because there’s no way to quantify soft skills. We encourage using real examples and hard figures when possible on your resume, but, for interpersonal skills, it’s more difficult.
One way to do this is to talk about the accomplishments of your team, for example: “Worked on a team that devised a new sales initiative to increase quarterly KPIs by 15%.”
Another way to do this is to talk about your initiatives to improve team communication or morale. What did you do to improve the efficacy of your team? For instance, “Developed communication workflows to eliminate miscommunications across teams.”
Don’t have room on your resume to cover this? Don’t clutter it. If this is the case, talk about your soft skills extensively in your cover letter.
And if you want to write the perfect resume, take our online course “How to Write a Job-Winning Resume.“
The importance of interpersonal skills at work can’t be overstated. An absence of these skills can lead to miscommunication, discontent, and inefficiency, while strong interpersonal skills can contribute to the success of your company and that of your own career.
If you’re hoping to move up at your company, we recommend focusing on your interpersonal skills. Interpersonal skills, like most soft skills, require ongoing effort to maintain. Sometimes we get so caught up in the day-to-day that we forget to prioritize our relationships and contributions to our teams. It’s important to exercise mindfulness to nurture clear, direct communication, teamwork, and flexibility.
If you want to learn more about improving people skills, read the book “The Social Skills Guidebook: Manage Shyness, Improve Your Conversations, and Make Friends, Without Giving Up Who You Are” by Chris MacLeod.