Interpersonal Skills: A Brief Guide
9th October 2015
You’ve probably heard of ‘interpersonal skills’. A lot of job advertisements list them as a requirement, and thousands of CVs state that the person they’re about has ‘good interpersonal skills’.
So, what exactly are they and why are they important?
What are Interpersonal Skills?
‘Inter’ is a word that, in a specific context, is interchangeable with ‘between’.
Of course, you know what a ‘person’ is!
‘Interpersonal’ can be briefly described as ‘between people’. Your interpersonal skills are the skills that you use to connect with other people.
We can break interpersonal skills down into a number of categories. Most simply:
As a more detailed breakdown, your interpersonal skills might include:
This covers your use of spoken language. If you have good verbal communication skills then you’re able to speak clearly, to get your message across and to talk in one-to-one situations, in group situations and to a listening audience.
The Non-Verbal Communication category covers your body language, your use of eye contact and your facial expressions. These can be just as important, if not more important, than what you’re actually saying.
Talking might be useful, but it’s not going to form a strong connection with another person. It’s also not going to help a customer if they have a complaint to make. Listening skills are important, helping you to understand someone’s needs or simply to get to know them better. Listening can also help with conflict resolution – if you can listen to someone’s grievance then you’re in a stronger position to find a solution.
Clarification is a useful skill to have. This skill is used when you need to be sure that you’ve correctly understood what you’ve heard. It can sometimes be hard to ask someone to repeat what they’ve said, but doing so will reduce the risk of getting something wrong. ‘Parroting’ information back to someone is a useful clarification tool – think about how your order is repeated back to you when you’re dining in a restaurant.
The ability to negotiate is another useful one to have in your ‘interpersonal skills’ collection. Sometimes a compromise, or a deal, is the best way to keep people as happy as possible. Negotiating might result in compromise, or you may be able to negotiate using clever phrasing and the right words to make things work in your favour.
Assertiveness and Decision Making
Sometimes, a compromise isn’t the answer. In certain scenarios, spending time negotiating is not the best course of action. The ability to make decisions and be assertive will ensure that things get done quickly when it’s necessary. You should have a good balance of ‘negotiation’ and ‘assertiveness’ skills, but be aware when you need to be firm about what has to be done.
Manners are considered to be amongst the most basic of interpersonal skills. They’re a skill that many humans begin to develop before their first birthday. A simple ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ can go a long way to developing a positive relationship!
Charisma is perhaps the most difficult and elusive of all interpersonal skills. Arguably, it’s not a skill that you can learn but is something that certain people have, whilst others don’t. If you have charisma, you’re a compelling person that people feel drawn to. Charisma can fast-track the process of connecting with someone, because they’ll already feel connected to you through and might find you hard to ignore.
The process of building rapport can also be described as ‘connection forming’. This is an interpersonal skill that requires a little of everything else. To build rapport, making someone feel comfortable around you, you need to be able to speak well and use the right body language, to tailor your behaviour to the person that you’re communicating with and to listen to what they have to say. Listening isn’t enough, though – responding, validating their feelings and negotiating when necessary are all important for rapport building.
As an interpersonal skill, awareness is your ability to know who you’re dealing with and how to communicate with them. In simple terms, you wouldn’t speak to an esteemed client the way you speak to your best friend. You should be able to adapt your behaviour in various social situations, even when the required behaviour isn’t always obvious. Be aware of different cultures, religions and beliefs, for example. To be aware you should try to read the person that you’re talking to – no two people are the same, so something that one person agrees with might anger or frustrate someone slightly different. Awareness can also help you to determine when you can use humour, and when you should be entirely serious.
Developing Your Interpersonal Skills
The more you learn about other people, and the more time you spend in various social scenarios, the better your interpersonal skills will become. You’ll require a mixture of experience and knowledge.
Your experience will come from spending time in a variety of situations – one-to-one conversations, small group conversations, large group conversations, mingling, phone conversations, online conversations and giving speeches are just a few possibilities.
Knowledge comes from learning about the world around you. What beliefs do certain religions and groups of people typically hold? What have other people found to be the most effective ways of dealing with certain complaints? What topics do you know about that might help you to connect with someone – can you talk with them about sport, computer games, pets or a favourite book, for example?
When Are Interpersonal Skills Important?
Interpersonal skills are always important! They’re vital for developing personal relationships and business relationships. They’re particularly necessary in customer-facing or client-facing roles, but strong interpersonal skills are also required for other working relationships with managers, team members and colleagues.
Strong interpersonal skills will make you a good subordinate when required, will make you a successful leader and will help you to fit as a member of a team and to work well with other people. In the working world, it’s no wonder that interpersonal skills are in such high demand.