The interpersonal skills you need at work at work (+ how to grow them today)

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We’re back again, talking about soft skills—specifically, interpersonal skills—and just how important they are to your career.

Often, it’s easier to understand the benefits of a certain skill set by examining situations involving people who lack it. So, before we talk about what interpersonal skills are, let’s talk about what they are not.


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Have you ever had a coworker—or worse, a boss—who really stank at communicating, delegating, or empathizing? Maybe she wasn’t detail-oriented, saved all of her critiques for curt emails, or maybe she expected you to magically intuit what she wanted next. These are all examples of people with lackluster interpersonal skills.

To put it bluntly, people with bad interpersonal skills can be really difficult to work with. Since interpersonal skills are an umbrella-like skill set, they involve everything from what you say to how you approach problems. Let’s dive in.

WHAT ARE INTERPERSONAL SKILLS?

Interpersonal skills are the social skills people use to interact with others. They include the ability to communicate, to build, and to nurture relationships with others. In this people-filled world, interpersonal skills help you to navigate daily interactions, communications, and conflicts with other people.

Strong interpersonal skills will help you through life—but they are especially important when it comes to networking, interviewing, and working with others. For better or for worse, your interpersonal skills are on display when you first meet someone—and they determine that ever-so-important “first impression.”

TYPES OF INTERPERSONAL SKILLS

Like we mentioned earlier, interpersonal skills are sort of a giant umbrella containing multitudes of skills. Don’t be overwhelmed, though. Some people are naturally more inclined to have strengths and weaknesses within their interpersonal skill set.

For example, if you are not a great verbal communicator—like, when you are communicating with a larger group of people—you might employ a different interpersonal skill set, such as written communication.

If you are not great at problem-solving, maybe work on your listening and communication skills so that problems potentially don’t arise as much. We are all imperfect humans, so play to your strengths—but also test your own comfort boundaries when building on your own interpersonal skillset.

  • Verbal communication
  • Non-verbal communication
  • Written communication
  • Listening Skills
  • Teamwork
  • Empathy
  • Dependability
  • Negotiation
  • Problem-Solving
  • Decision-Making
  • Assertiveness
  • Attitude

INTERPERSONAL SKILLS IN THE WORKPLACE

How important are interpersonal skills at work? Well, they are also commonly known as “employability skills”—so the answer is that they are pretty important.

Whether you work remotely and rely solely on digital communication or you work face-to-face with a huge team, interpersonal skills are always at play in the workplace. In fact, when employers are looking to hire, it’s one of their top criteria in considering a candidate—hence the importance of an in-person interview.

CAN INTERPERSONAL SKILLS BE LEARNED?

Our answer is a resounding YES!

Many people learn their interpersonal skills from a very young age from—you guessed it—their parents. Chances are, that if you have parents with great interpersonal skills, you learned them alongside your ABCs and 123s.

If not, interpersonal skills are some of the first skills you learn in pre-school or kindergarten. Sharing? Yep, you guessed it! That’s one helluva interpersonal skill—and it’s best learned in your formative years.

If you struggle with some interpersonal skills, don’t fret. Interpersonal skills can be learned, improved, and grown throughout your lifetime. For example, listening is a big one. Next time you’re having a conversation or sitting in a meeting, consider this—are you just waiting for your chance to speak? Or are you really listening?

Improving your listening skills will greenlight the development of other soft skills—almost without effort! When you employ really strong listening skills in the workplace, you are going to be equipped to solve problems, make decisions, and act empathetically—all because you were paying close attention the whole time.

Taking the time to develop just one aspect of interpersonal skills is likely to cause an amazing ripple effect. Get with it!

HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR INTERPERSONAL SKILLS

You can work on your interpersonal skills on a daily basis. For example, if you’re someone who doesn’t tend to speak loudly, you might practice raising your voice in a meeting. If you’re someone who is known for being, err, less-than-sensitive, you might take a moment to ask a coworker about her weekend or about her dog who has been sick.

It’s important to take small steps to constantly improve your interpersonal skills, but you can also take larger steps—and really get out of your comfort zone—to the “discomfort zone,” where personal growth is imminent and inevitable.

  • Take an online class: Yes, there are online classes covering all things soft skills. Soft skills are becoming increasingly important in the modern workplace, with employers placing more importance than ever on things like communication, organization, and teamwork. Take a course to hone these skills in your own time.
  • Get outside perspective: Having a difficult time figuring out exactly where your soft skill sets stand? Phone a friend! Seriously—enlist the help of a close friend or relative to assess where you excel, where you lag behind, and where you can use minimal improvement. Often, those closest to us have some of the best insights.
  • Find a mentor: Find a mentor with—you guessed it—a great set of the interpersonal skills you are trying to build. Work on developing these together. Consider finding a mentor who recently built up her own interpersonal skills—whether through starting her first big-time leadership role or conquering her fear of large presentations. She can give you the tools to build and grow your own set. The best part? You can work together to track and achieve your goals.
  • Set “interpersonal goals”—both small and large: Speaking of goals, set a few. Remember that list we shared up there? Go through it and score yourself, 1-10, on some of these skills. Make small, medium, and larger goals to work on developing the sets that could really aid in your career. You’ve got this.

HOW TO INCLUDE INTERPERSONAL SKILLS ON YOUR RESUME + COVER LETTER

It’s important to emphasize your interpersonal skills throughout the job hunt process. Whether you do it on your resume or your cover letter, we have one big tip (which, coincidentally, is something else we all learned about in kindergarten.)

Show, don’t (just) tell 

Sure, you can say you have great interpersonal skills. Heck, you can format your resume so that the entire right column is filled with a list of these skills. But, you need to show how you exhibit these—and don’t make the mistake of listing any skills that you don’t actually have mastered.

Instead of simply listing “Impeccable Decision-Making Skills,” detail how a particular project you spearheaded improved your company’s bottom line. Maybe you used your interpersonal skills to start a group at your office—that’s also a huge boon to your resume.

You get the vibe here, right? Show! Take the opportunity—at every chance—to show how you have utilized these important skills in your career.

Express Interest in Developing Interpersonal Skills 

So, you don’t have every interpersonal skill mastered? In the words of Fred Armisen as Joy Behar, “So what? Who cares?”

Use your cover letter as the opportunity to highlight the interpersonal soft skills you are looking to develop in the role. Emphasize why it is you want to focus on this particular skill—and what you plan to do with it. Any hiring manager is going to be dazzled by the foresight you have put forward. And, as a bonus—it’s much more interesting to read a cover letter that outlines plans rather than one that regurgitates what your resume already says.

This article first appeared on Career Contessa.