Find out why interpersonal skills are essential and how you can improve them.
Have you ever noticed that someone wasn't paying attention to what you said during a discussion? Or maybe you might have been forced to listen to someone’s rambling monologue while wondering when they would let you speak. In these examples, interpersonal skills were lacking.
Effective social interactions are vital for our careers, personal relationships, and life satisfaction. Furthermore, meaningful social interactions keep our brains healthier and our cognitive skills sharper as we get older (Kensinger & Gutchess, 2017; Ristau, 2011). Given how essential social interactions are, you may find it strange that some individuals can effortlessly handle any social situation whereas others struggle even with the most straightforward social behaviors. These variances in how people carry themselves in social circumstances result from differences in interpersonal skills.
Interpersonal skills are the competencies that allow you to interact effectively with other people and function well as a member of society. They enable you to exchange information with others, build connections, maintain relationships, and resolve conflicts.
Communicating well is vital in all aspects of life, may it be at home, school, or the workplace. At a personal level, poor interpersonal skills and miscommunication can cause unnecessary heartache, resentment, and stress. However, they can cause delays in projects and loss of resources, customers, and income at a workplace. In contrast, effective communicators are great at exchanging information at many levels; they talk eloquently, write well, and accurately identify bodily cues and gestures. Although many great communicators naturally excel in any social setting, others become great by improving their interpersonal skills, enabling them to communicate more effectively.
Key Interpersonal Skills
There are a host of interpersonal skills in the literature. This multitude reflects that these skills can be behavioral, cognitive, judgment-oriented, or attitude-based (Koenig, 2011). Furthermore, interpersonal skills build upon many dimensions, such as traditions, customs, gender roles, social expectations, and past experiences (Koenig, 2011). In short, there are multiple ways to classify interpersonal skills. Yet, many researchers generally use between two to four categories of essential interpersonal skills. These are communication-related, relationship-building, peer leadership, and social and behavioral agility skills.
1. Communication-related interpersonal skills:
Verbal communication – the ability to express yourself clearly and precisely when speaking.
Written communication – the ability to express yourself clearly, precisely, and concisely in written words.
Nonverbal communication – the ability to express and decipher the meanings of bodily cues.
Active listening – the ability to listen to others attentively while they talk.
Information sharing – the ability to communicate relevant information with others around you and refrain from sharing unnecessary information or oversharing.
Information gathering – the ability to sift through information and focus on what is useful or relevant.
2. Relationship building interpersonal skills:
Cooperation – the ability to work with others or as part of a team.
Courtesy – the ability to be supportive of and helpful to others you interact with.
Amicability – the ability to behave in a pleasant, friendly, and approachable manner.
Trust – the belief in the integrity, credibility, and reliability of others.
Dependability – the ability to invoke trust in people you interact with and act in a way to be perceived that way.
Empathy – the ability to understand and accept other people’s feelings, opinions, and experiences, even if they are different from yours. In other words, it is the skill you use when you put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It also includes the ability to respect diversity and to express interpersonal and intercultural sensitivity.
Negotiation – the ability to come into agreement with others, and when necessary, to compromise.
Conflict resolution – the ability to address disagreements constructively to reach solutions that you and all other involved individuals approve of.
3. Peer leadership interpersonal skills:
Helping others – this ability is somewhat similar to courtesy but also incorporates your willingness to assist other people in achieving their life goals or improving their performance.
Energizing others – the ability to motivate and empower people you interact or work with to stay on course toward reaching goals and desired outcomes.
Rewarding others – the ability to appreciate the success of others and praise their efforts.
Supervision – the ability to ensure that others are following rules and protocols
Staffing – the ability to match individuals to appropriate roles. It includes the skill to identify the right person to ask for help.
Serving as a role model – the ability to model desired behaviors that inspire others.
4. Social and behavioral agility skills:
Social perception – the ability to read the room and understand the emotions and opinions of people around you.
Self-perception – the ability to look inward and be aware of your own emotions, thoughts, and opinions.
Self-presentation – the ability to maintain composure and manage your thoughts and emotions during social interactions.
Social influence – the ability to guide and persuade people around you.
Adaptability and flexibility – the ability to adjust your behaviors as a reaction to changes in social situations.
How to Build Interpersonal Skills
Here are a couple of fun activities you can use to build your interpersonal skills.
Body language game
This is an activity you can do while watching TV. That’s right! Simply find a movie or a TV show with interacting characters that you can rewind. Then mute your TV and observe how the actors use their body language for the next few minutes. Can you guess the moods they are conveying? Next, rewind to the spot where you started your observation and unmute your TV. Listen to the conversation and see if the mood and emotions match your body language observations. You can do this activity on your own or with your friends.
Communication role play
This is another fun activity you can try with your friends. Each group member writes a neutral statement on a piece of paper. The statements can be about anything, and each paper shall contain only a single statement, such as “my bike has a flat tire” or “I need to buy cat food.” Fold these statement papers and put them inside a hat or a bag. Next, one person writes every emotion they can think of on individual pieces of paper, folds them, and places them inside another hat or bag. Then, two volunteers come out front. One of them pulls a piece of paper from each bag. She reads the statement aloud using the tone and body language that matches her emotional pick. The other volunteer responds as if it were a real discussion. After a few minutes of back-and-forth dialogue, the group members will guess the first volunteer’s emotion and discuss how the second volunteer reacted.
Kensinger, E. A., & Gutchess, A. H. (2017). Cognitive aging in a social and affective context: Advances over the past 50 years. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 72(1), 61-70.
Koenig, J. A. (2011). Assessing 21st century skills: Summary of a workshop. National Research Council.
Ristau, S. (2011). People do need people: Social interaction boosts brain health in older age. Generations, 35(2), 70-76.