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Interpersonal skills: A team fist bumps

10 Interpersonal Skills That Can Make or Break Your Career

Last updated: June 26, 2019
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Recognized as one of the world’s richest men, Warren Buffet famously revealed that he took a public speaking course when he was in his 20s. The idea of speaking in public terrified him, but he realized early on that communicating well is a crucial life skill.

While public speaking and effective communication skills are essential for career and life success, they’re only a subset of a more critical skill set — one that is considered more important than just knowing how to communicate effectively. Which skill set is that? Interpersonal skills.

What Are Interpersonal Skills?

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If communication is the ability to efficiently and effectively convey information to others, interpersonal skills are what allow a person to build good working and social relationships with others. It’s what good leaders need to become great leaders — combining communication skills, empathy, emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, relationship building, and other related traits.

Interpersonal skills are also commonly referred to as soft skills, which is  a person’s ability to interact and work with others. It relies more on someone’s character and emotional aptitude rather than his or her hard skills (technical abilities).

Why Interpersonal Skills Are Important

Imagine you’re a hiring manager tasked to recruit a new web developer. Two candidates make it to the final interview. Let’s call them John and Michael.

John has quite an impressive resume. He has worked with some of the biggest names in tech. However, on the day of the interview, he arrives late, answers some questions with condescension, and generally seems indifferent about the job.

On the other hand, Michael arrives on time, expresses enthusiasm when answering questions, and has an overall pleasant demeanor. However, his resume, while decent, was not as impressive as John’s.

Who would you choose?

If you ask Harvard Graduate School of Education economist David Deming, who published a study that highlights the growing importance of social skills in the labor market, he’d guess that you would most likely choose Michael. Why?

Deming’s research revealed that high-paying, difficult-to-automate occupations in the U.S. now require interpersonal skills. Someone who can adapt and cooperate, influence, and collaborate with others are considered high-value employees.

Being the most technically skilled person for the job doesn’t necessarily make you the best. After all, a company’s mission and vision aren’t achieved by mere completion of tasks. A company’s success lies in its people’s ability to work as one unit, running on the collective trust of each member.

At the end of the day, we still need to work with others and get along. Even remote teams have conference calls so team members can bond, catch up, and stay on track.

10 Essential Interpersonal Skills

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Let’s take a look at some of the key areas where interpersonal skills have significant impact in the workplace.

1. Communication

Knowing how to convey your message and ideas effectively is critical for achieving your personal goals and also in developing meaningful relationships with others. Those who can express themselves well both in speaking and writing can help the team articulate complex topics so others can understand.

Effective communication is crucial across all departments within a company: Marketing can craft better stories to engage existing customers and gain new ones; the sales and support team can better understand customer needs and address them effectively; and the development team can channel this information to improve the product or service.

Tips for Improving Your Communication Skills

  • Learn the 7 C’s of Communication: Clarity, Completeness, Correctness, Conciseness, Concreteness, Coherence, Courtesy.
  • Practice active listening and ask open-ended questions.
  • Use words that are appropriate for your audience.
  • Develop your nonverbal communication skills (facial expressions, smiling, making eye contact, and exerting self-confidence).

2. Empathy

Empathy is what allows you to put yourself in other people’s shoes and understand their situation. It fosters a better learning and working environment because compassion is rooted in a willingness to help others. It also cultivates a culture of honesty and integrity at work because members know that their voice will be heard and acknowledged.

Tips for Developing Empathy

  • Set aside your personal views and opinions and examine your own attitude.
  • Acknowledge the opinions and perspective of others, even if you don’t agree. Showing you understand their views helps them connect with you.
  • Pay close attention to what the other person is saying or doing.
  • Respond with a thoughtful answer that clearly addresses the other person’s concern.

3. Emotional Intelligence

Unlike your IQ (book smarts), your EQ (street smarts) refers to your ability to recognize, regulate, evaluate, and express emotions. Emotional intelligence is about knowing how to behave and respond to people (and circumstances) with clarity and composure.

For example, a manager who has a negative attitude or constantly blames employees for inefficiencies can create a hostile work environment. On the other hand, a manager who has high emotional intelligence considers his or her own accountability as well as the emotional well-being of others. This approach fosters productivity and a harmonious working environment.

How to Develop Your Emotional Intelligence

  • Pause and reflect on your emotions so you don’t react in the heat of the moment.
  • Choose your words wisely and be mindful of how they can affect others.
  • Identify your stressors and find ways to avoid or reduce them.

4. Leadership

A good leader knows that strong interpersonal skills are needed to motivate and inspire others into action. Leadership is also demonstrated by offering encouragement or guidance when needed.

How to Develop Your Leadership Skills

  • Be conscious of your actions, knowing you are a role model for others.
  • Leverage your strengths and improve on your weaknesses.
  • Be passionate about what you do.
  • Be transparent to establish trust.

5. Positivity

A scientific study conducted at the University of Michigan revealed that positive emotions not only broaden your sense of possibilities, they also fuel psychological resilience, promote the exploration and acquisition of new skills, and trigger momentum towards greater well-being both professionally and personally.

How to Develop a Positive Attitude

  • Center yourself with a sense of gratitude for everything you have.
  • Focus on what inspires and motivates you.
  • Keep negative emotions in check.

6. Being Open to Feedback

Having an open mind improves your ability to learn from others. Acknowledging and validating another person’s point of view helps you understand the rationale behind their feedback.

How to Be More Receptive to Feedback

  • When listening to feedback, set your ego aside and focus on the message and its value.
  • Remind yourself of the benefits of receiving input from others.
  • Establish emotional distance from the work/result.

7. Teamwork

Teamwork is about combining individual skills and efforts to achieve a common goal. It helps build strong bonds with colleagues by acknowledging and leveraging each person’s traits and strengths to pursue the team’s mission and vision.

Essential Teamwork Skills and Traits

  • Reliability
  • Helpfulness
  • Integrity
  • Positive attitude
  • Accountability
  • Respect

8. Conflict Resolution

Resolving conflict in a respectful manner is a key interpersonal skill. By actively listening to and acknowledging all sides of the story, you can have more effective mediations, negotiations, and solutions.

How to Be Good at Conflict Resolution

  • Manage the situation with a calm, respectful demeanor.
  • Keep emotions in check and stick with the facts.
  • Actively listen to identify the feelings being expressed.
  • Empathize and respect each other’s view and opinion.

9. Decision Making

Deciding which action to take is crucial to the success of any endeavor. If you master this skill, you can be decisive while still being fair and transparent. For example, CEOs should consider how a particular decision would affect the company as a whole, not just themselves. Since empathy is a subset of interpersonal skills, it allows leaders to put themselves in their team’s shoes to make a more well-rounded decision.

How to Improve Your Decision-Making Skills

  • Gather all the facts so you’re as informed as possible.
  • Don’t rush into hasty decisions.
  • Be aware of your cognitive biases (the tendency to perceive information based solely on your own experiences and preferences) and try to avoid them.

10. Relationship Building

This skill is essential in forming and maintaining strong personal connections with the people you work with. Being able to genuinely connect with others is vital not only for your success at work, but for your overall well-being.

How to Build Good Working Relationships

  • Recognize and respect each person’s opinion and perspective.
  • Identify and share the things you have in common with others ⁠— it’s a great way to bond and build trust.
  • Show colleagues that you care by listening and encouraging them in their endeavors, both at work and in their personal lives.

Over to You

Reaching your career goals depends on many factors. However, one thing is for sure: having these interpersonal skills is a must if you want to enjoy well-rounded success.

If you’re a freelance developer, for example, honing your networking abilities and presentation skills will serve you well in getting more clients.

If you’re applying for a job, knowing how to express your thoughts clearly while demonstrating the proper etiquette will help you ace the job interview.

If you’re a manager, developing your ability to resolve conflict, solve problems, and maintain good working conditions at the office will help everyone stay happy and productive.

Regardless of what you do, having these essential interpersonal skills brings tremendous benefits both in your career and personal life. Start developing these skills today for a better future.

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