INTERPERSONAL SKILLS AND HOW TO IMPROVE THEM
Photo by Mimi Thian
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.
Definition: 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
Interpersonal skills can surprisingly take many forms! Here are some of them:
- Clear, direct speech
- Active listening
- Conflict resolution
How to Improve 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.
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.