How to Develop Interpersonal Skills
What Are Interpersonal Skills?
Interpersonal skills are the skills we use every day to interact with others. We are not born with them, but we develop them as we grow and learn.
Starting with the first lessons we are taught by our parents about saying “please” and “thank you," and learning how to behave when we are out, through our earliest interactions with playground friends, our school years and then into our first forays into the working world – all of these experiences and environments teach us things and shape who we are and how we act and interact with our world and those in it.
Reasons to Develop These Kinds of Skills
Looking back on your life, and if you are being completely honest with yourself, you can probably think of many times where conflict has led to the loss of a friendship or other important relationship, where not really listening has made you miss an important meeting, or where you blurted out the first thing that popped into your brain, with embarrassing results. All of these situations point to an interpersonal skill that is in need of some fine-tuning.
If you look at your circle of friends, family and coworkers, you can easily spot the individuals with well-developed interpersonal skills right away. Folks with finely-tuned interpersonal skills are usually confident, successful people, both in their personal and work relationships. People with strong interpersonal skills are often more successful in many facets of their lives simply because the qualities that go into those strong interpersonal skills—being a good listener, being empathetic, being relatively stress-free—are qualities that people admire in others.
How to Develop Strong Interpersonal Skills
It is time to take an honest look at how you get by in your world. How well do you listen to others? And if you do listen, do you understand? Do you empathize? Do you often say things that end up hurting others, even if that wasn’t your intent?
Focusing on your interpersonal skills can help you to develop and improve them. You may decide that you need to become a better listener. Or perhaps you will decide that you need to learn to check your thoughts and think before you speak. Maybe you need to learn how to negotiate with others to get what you want.
Think about all of your past interactions with people and determine what areas need improving. You know how to “push peoples’ buttons”; why not focus on what you need to do and say to elicit a different, positive reaction? All interpersonal skills can be developed, refined and improved. Listed below are some of the most common skills, along with some ideas to start moving things in a more positive direction.
If you are talking, you aren’t listening. And listening isn’t just about hearing, it is about really communicating. Every one of us wants to be heard; it is important that others listen to what we have to say and treat it as being worthwhile. Good communication is about the back-and-forth of conversation, including the words we use – the verbal part of the conversation – as well as the tone of voice and the non-verbal clues like body language. You can listen to the words that someone says, but very often it is the non-verbal parts of the message that are more important. Think about it…has your spouse ever responded “Fine!” to a question you asked about what they wanted to do or how they felt about something? Things were clearly not fine.
In order to really be open to listening to others, you need to focus on the person speaking and what they are saying. You need to shut up and listen. Don’t just nod – really listen. Focus on the other person and really pay attention to what they are saying. Don’t finish their sentences – let them do that. Pay attention to the tone they use, and also pay close attention to non-verbal parts of the communication. Are their arms crossed? What do their facial expressions convey?
Choose Your Words Carefully
Be as clear and as specific as possible with the words you choose. Think about what you want to say, don’t just blurt out the first thing that comes into your head. Avoid jargon, racist and sexist terms that could offend the other person, and don’t forget to consider cultural norms. Focus on what you really want to communicate, speak clearly and with purpose. Give the other person a chance to interject to ask questions and seek clarification. Practicing your “word craft” will help avoid misunderstandings.
Practice clarity in written communications as well. Without visual clues and tone of voice, written communication can seem heavy-handed and can often lead to misunderstandings and even hurt feelings. Don’t rely on written communication; even a quick phone call can help diffuse a possible misunderstanding. Though the phone doesn’t allow for verbal clues like body language, it does at least allow the addition of tone of voice.
Breathe and Relax
When people are nervous and ill at ease, they tend to speak faster. Their tone of voice also changes because the muscles in the face, throat and jaw tense up. Being tense is also evident in the non-verbal parts of the communication. Let your arms hang loosely at your side, don’t cross them. Smile. Breathe. Nod your head. Maintain eye contact with the other person. Smile some more. Relax!
Even if you have really well-honed listening skills, the speaker is the only one who can tell if you have understood what they said. What you need to do is to demonstrate that you really were listening. Ask questions. Don’t just parrot their words back to them, but paraphrase what they have said and ask questions of clarification if necessary. Think of all the misunderstandings that could be avoided if we all practiced this skill.
Everyone has different filters that they have developed over their lifetime, meaning that they have different perspectives on things and different points of view. You don’t have to agree with their take on things, but you should respect it. You might even learn something in the process.
Learn how to get what you want while maintaining mutual respect. Always approach every negotiation with a win-win in mind; what can you get while making sure the other person feels like they got something as well. If you tend to be a “taker” in you interpersonal relationships, try to be more giving. If your spouse, friend or co-worker does something nice for you, or goes out of their way to help you, try to reciprocate in a meaningful way. Don’t be passive or aggressive, but be assertive. Respond, don’t react.
Practice and Improve
Think about previous interpersonal communication and interactions. Become a keen observer of your own behavior, and make a point of learning from good interactions with others as well as from the not so good. What went well? What didn’t go so well?
Focus on what is needed to build and maintain healthy relationships. Practice respect for the individual. Give people the due consideration that you want them to give you. Help others to feel included.
You will be amazed at the positive results you will achieve in your relationships – at work, home and play – if you take the time to work on even one of the skills covered above.
© 2012 Kaili Bisson