Meaning, Examples, Types, Importance and Improvement Tips
Alex had the perfect qualifications to be a promising assistant manager. She had landed a job at a new restaurant and her resume boasted a degree in catering and two years’ hands-on experience in hospitality.
Besides, Alex understood the food business, she was ambitious, worked hard, was efficient and excellent at multi-tasking.
So her employers assumed that appointing her in the kitchen – the nerve centre of a restaurant – would be the right fit.
A month after the eatery opened, Alex was out of work.
The problem was, despite her stellar qualifications on paper, Alex sorely lacked interpersonal skills.
She had ruled the kitchen with an iron hand, she ‘played boss’ all the time, was a terrible listener, and had only negative feedback for the staff. She believed that praise would lower the bar.
The kitchen staff grew to resent Alex, morale took a beating and when the sous chef quit, management showed Alex the door.
What Are Interpersonal Skills?
The ‘Alexes’ of the corporate world don’t get very far; people with good interpersonal skills do. It’s simple – if you’re a people person, you can expect a potentially long and successful career.
Those who lack social skills, even though they may be well qualified, usually crash and burn while trying to make their way up that metaphorical ladder.
Interpersonal skills refer to an individual’s ability to get along with others at the workplace while getting the job done.
They have little or nothing to do with hard skills or formal qualifications.
Haven’t you had a friend or colleague or relative who is just naturally good with people? What makes them so easy to get along with? Why do people always respond to them favourably? Why do people almost never say ‘no’ to them?
Interpersonal skills – also called social intelligence – are largely innate although it is possible to learn them with some coaching.
When you break it down, this is how you would describe an employee or manager with good social skills:
- they are good communicators and express themselves clearly and confidently;
- they are good listeners and have a sense of empathy; they project a positive attitude;
- show a willingness to collaborate;
- express their opinions without running down colleagues or subordinates;
- are great problem-solvers and amazing negotiators;
- and are very persuasive.
It’s not hard to see why socially intelligent employees are highly valued. Employees with good interpersonal skills tend to foster a positive atmosphere and are likely to be more productive than others due to their tendency to ‘figure it out’ rather than ‘crib about it’.
And which employer doesn’t love that? And if you’re a manager and have a high interpersonal quotient, who knows, a promotion could be around the next corner!
Types of Interpersonal Skills
Employees who score on social intelligence are also good communicators. They express their thoughts clearly, precisely, succinctly – and pleasantly. Individuals like these know exactly what to say, when it say it, and how to say it. They are blessed with the gift of diplomacy, so even when being critical, the person at the receiving end remains open to feedback. They also use language effectively as they are tuned to its nuances, and choose their words before they speak.
This is the guy or gal who has that ‘vibe’ – people naturally gravitate to them. They have sunny personalities, their enthusiasm is infectious and, sometimes, they can be charming too.
Note how people with good interpersonal skills are always cheerful and never run down their colleagues or subordinates.
If you are socially intelligent, chances are you’re a good team player. This means you have your eye on the goal post, and are adept at negotiating and resolving conflicts while navigating the terrain en route to the goal. Everybody loves a team player.
These are people who like to collaborate and therefore work well with other people. They play on their colleagues’ strengths and never belittle or berate other people.
Managers who stress teamwork interact with their team on a regular basis and never let anyone feel left out. They avoid making comparisons among team members; they intervene at an appropriate time when conflicts arise among subordinates; and are always accessible to team members.
Business and the environment in which it operates are becoming increasingly complex, making it even more critical that managers have good networking skills.
Business partnerships are increasing, companies are rapidly expanding with subsidiaries and regional operations spread across geographies, and there is now a trend towards matrix management and cross-functional teams.
Simply put, this means interacting with many people at many different levels, in different places, all at the same time.
Add to the mix clients, customers, vendors, suppliers, you name it, and you have a growing basket of people you need to interact with and stay in touch with as part of your core responsibilities.
Networking doesn’t necessarily mean having the gift of the gab, and calling up everyone in your contact list at regular intervals.
While some of this does help, networking means building lasting relationships with the people, or partner organisations, or customers and clients you work with so that they see value in you.
An integral part of building these connections is by engaging them meaningfully, gaining their trust and getting them to view you as someone who is reliable.
It is very important to know what you have to offer and then make sure other people know it too!
This is the ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and truly understand what they are saying or feeling without judgement or bias.
People with healthy interpersonal skills score on empathy because they are good listeners, they are patient and don’t jump to conclusions and are self-aware.
As a manager, this is an especially great skill to have as it helps when, say, a subordinate is trying to explain a controversial decision, or during conflict-resolution, when team members are butting heads and it is crucial not to take sides.
Being confident and assertive about what you believe in, standing up for your ideas and confidently instructing others on what should or shouldn’t be done are an important part of interpersonal skills. When combined with tact, confidence can earn respect.
As colleagues and subordinates realise that you are sure of yourself, you become the go-to person for looking for help, suggestions or advice.
How To Improve Your Interpersonal Skills
Just like your intelligence quotient or IQ, social intelligence too is largely innate. But take heart.
Most people have the potential to exhibit good soft skills, only this aspect of their personality has been eclipsed by negative behaviour that they have learnt over time.
The first step to improving your interpersonal skills is to honestly ask yourself whether you have a blind spot when it comes to people skills, identify target behaviours that are holding back the people-person in you, and then decide to do something about it.
If you’re ready to take the leap, there are many tools to help you, including online courses, personality development courses that teach life skills, and a more exclusive method – engaging a life coach – to help you engage with people more effectively.
Back to the list of key skills.