“Excellent interpersonal skills required.”
That’s what the job description tells you.
You just smile and think, “Yeah right. Just more word salad nonsense from the ‘Big Book of HR Buzzwords’ to pad out the advert.”
You’ve got it covered.
You didn’t get this far in the business without interpersonal skills – whatever they are.
You’ll wow them with your charm, wit, and personality as usual. Besides, you have all the qualifications, skills and experience they’re asking for. You’ve already got the all-important interview invite which means the job is basically yours. It’s a shoe in.
In the interview waiting room you see Jones from marketing.
You think to yourself, “What on earth is he doing here? He’s only been in the company for two years and now he wants this role. Seriously? I’ve been here for 18 years. He must be here to make up the numbers so there couldn’t have been that many applicants. It’s looking better and better for me. Let’s do this.”
Two weeks later and you get the feedback from your line manager.
“Jones got the job. It was a very difficult decision for the panel but, in the end, they went with Jones because he had far better interpersonal skills …”
BTW – if you prefer an audio version of this article, I have included one right at the end.
What are interpersonal skills?
Here’s the working definition which we’ll use for this article:
Interpersonal skills are the skills, techniques, and attitudes you use to understand, communicate with, interact with, and relate to other people.
Note that they might also be called soft skills, people skills, social skills, life skills, or even employability skills.
A full list of interpersonal (IP) skills and attitudes would be huge but here are the main elements I would expect to see in a reasonably comprehensive list of essential IP skills:
- Effective communication skills – written, verbal and non-verbal.
- Deep listening skills
- Ability to give and receive feedback
- Clarity of thought
- Effective decision-making skills
- Presentation skills
- Coaching skills
- Conflict response and resolution
- Collaboration and teamwork
- Problem identification and creative problem solving
- Influence, persuasiveness, and negotiation skills
- Consistency & dependability
- Patience and flexibility
- Ownership, honesty, and integrity
- Resilience, mental toughness, and tenacity
- Openness, approachability, and helpfulness
- A willingness and ability to learn and embrace new concepts and approaches
- Curiosity and interest in the wider world
- An appropriate sense of humour
- And so on and so forth.
These elements will suffice to give you an idea of the range of interpersonal skills and attitudes available to you. This list is in no order, and it is in no way exhaustive either. Therefore, I’m sure you could add many more if you like.
Now, I’m in no way suggesting you need to have or aspire to all these elements. Everyone is different and our situational contexts differ too. Accordingly, it’s only meant as an informative list.
If any of these concepts are new to you, do some research to flesh out your understanding of them. This would fit in with curiosity and a willingness to learn.
Interpersonal skills and Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence (EI), as I use the term, comprises four elements or pillars.
- Understanding others
- Managing relationships
There is something of a “chicken and egg” situation here.
Emotional intelligence is often listed as being one of the interpersonal skills, but this diminishes its importance in my opinion.
For me, emotional intelligence is the overarching skill. The “Master Aptitude” as Daniel Goleman called it. EI encompasses all the other interpersonal skills and many more besides.
Emotional intelligence therefore covers everything we do in life and work in terms of relationships with ourselves and those around us.
That’s my take, but feel free to place EI wherever you’d like to.
However, in my experience, the people, organisations, and occupational groups which need interpersonal skill development the most are often the most resistant to it.
Do some soul-searching to check you’re not missing out due to resistance or local “conventional wisdom.” That “wisdom” may just be unhelpful and highly limiting dogma.
How can IP skills make a difference for you?
Improved interpersonal skills can drive your personal and professional growth and they can improve your relationships in every domain.
As in the interview example, interpersonal skills can often be the deciding factor when people are deciding to interact with, support or even employ you.
Emotional intelligence and highly developed interpersonal skills can often more than offset any real or perceived deficiencies in technical or management administration ability.
There is an old HR saying which goes, “Skills can be taught but we hire for attitude.” It still applies even if not overtly stated.
Demonstrating effective and advanced interpersonal skills can represent that attitudinal difference. As a result, IP skills really can be your employment and relationship edge.
In my experience, interpersonal skills are like amplifiers of your existing skillsets, and they can therefore take what you already do and make it better. Additionally, others perceive that you have more value to them. As a result, you will generally experience more success.
There’s no downside imho.
How can you improve your interpersonal skills?
You may feel very comfortable and confident with your existing IP skills and, if that’s the case, I’m genuinely delighted for you. I always feel there is scope for developing them even further but it’s a personal choice either way.
You might, however, be feeling the exact opposite. You may well feel that you have serious gaps in your interpersonal skillset or, worse, you feel you have few if any IP skills.
Whilst this situation might be holding you back somewhat right now, be aware that the IP skills listed are almost always learnable or improvable.
BTW, you don’t need all the listed IP skills. A carefully chosen selection will often yield the greatest benefits.
For example, having an appropriate sense of humour can be hugely useful but if you don’t have an appropriate sense of humour don’t worry about it. Make up for it by developing another interpersonal skill and you’ll still be ahead of the game.
I recommend that your best first step would be to take stock of where you are now:
- What well developed IP skills do you already have?
- In what areas would you like to develop?
- What are your skill gaps?
Reflect on this yourself, seek feedback from trusted sources, talk to your coach or mentor if you have one, or even try an online interpersonal skill inventory assessment if that floats your boat.
Play the long game
The important thing to remember is that it’s a marathon and not a sprint.
As a result, you don’t need to do it all at once.
Identify high-priority and high benefit gaps or improvement areas and work to close or improve them one at a time until you’re happy and confident.
Whatever the elemental area, you can read books, take courses or even study on YouTube or any other online resource repository which takes your fancy.
The key thing therefore is to do something to aid your gap closure or improvement.
Rinse and repeat for as long as it takes.
Modelling excellence in others
Modelling is a powerful way to learn interpersonal skills. It is therefore a personal favourite of mine.
The method of modelling uses close and intense observation of someone who, or something which, you want to emulate or learn from or about.
For interpersonal skills development therefore, it makes sense to model a human exemplar who is applying the skills you want to develop yourself.
As you observe them, ask yourself as many questions as you can. For example:
- How does that person demonstrate the skill or approach?
- What do they say?
- Why are they saying what they say?
- How do they say it?
- When & where do they say it?
- What do they not say or do and why don’t they say or do it?
- What physiology and/or emotions do they display?
Come up with as many additional questions which make sense for the context or goal and note your answers.
When you see a useful technique, approach, or language pattern, give it a go yourself and see if it works for you. If it does keep it and look for the next one. If it doesn’t work for you, drop it and try the next one.
Again, rinse and repeat for as long as it takes.
Apply your new interpersonal skills and practice to make progress
If you want to make changes and create positive results in your life, you must act accordingly.
No one will do it for you.
How can they?
It’s on you.
It always has been thus, and it always will be thus.
The key thing is to apply any learning in a practical way, reflect on the outcomes of the application, make any necessary adjustments then apply it again.
It’s called practice.
Keep moving out of your comfort zone as often as possible for maximum growth.
In conclusion, high-quality and success generating interpersonal skills are yours for the taking – if you want to take them and make them yours.
I wish you well on your journey.
That is all for this one
I hope you enjoyed this article. If you found value in it, subscribe to the blog. Also join my “Self-Development Matters” newsletter community. Get exclusive content, news and, just occasionally, some irresistible offers. It all comes with my no BS and zero pushy sales guarantee.
You might also like to check out these related articles:
PS Do you want to develop your Emotional Intelligence? Higher levels of emotional intelligence (EQ) will give you to far more personal energy, deeper focus, and maximum interpersonal skills. As a result of developing enhanced emotional intelligence, you will build enhanced personal power. This FREE pdf introduces you to Emotional Intelligence and gives you ten actionable tips to help you develop your EQ. Go ahead and download “Dev your EQ” right now. You’ll also join my “Self-Development Matters” newsletter community. In the unlikely event that you don’t like it, an unsubscribe option is available.
PPS Here is the audio version of this article if you would prefer to listen.