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Career Advice

Honing Your Interpersonal Skills

We’ve all gotten them: the terse, borderline rude, email from someone at work. Not a “please”, “thank you”, or “cheers mate” to be found.

How did you respond to that email? If your first reaction was to deny whatever their request was (at least in your head), no one could blame you. 

What you also witnessed was the critical importance of honing your interpersonal skills. Interpersonal skills make the world go round: they make customer service possible and broker the Paris Climate Accords. And increasingly, they’re the difference between winning your next promotion or staying put in your current role.

What are Interpersonal Skills?

Interpersonal skills, often known as soft skills or employability skills, are the skills you need to not only interact with other people but work effectively with other people. These are skills that help you lead, grow, and succeed in your role. Even if you’re interested in highly technical careers, like IT or cybersecurity, your ability to advance and thrive in senior positions will depend on your interpersonal skills.

Some of the types of interpersonal skills include:

  • Communication & listening

  • Empathy

  • Negotiation

  • Teamwork

  • Conflict management

Often, we confuse interpersonal skills with having an extroverted personality or being a “people person.” The truth is that all of these are learnable skills, and you can grow in your ability to communicate, negotiate, and work with and lead teams, even if you’re painfully shy.

Why Every Role Requires Interpersonal Skills

Almost every job requires you to interact with at least one other person. Some jobs, like project management or customer experience jobs, are almost exclusively based on social interaction.

And even if you feel you don’t need these abilities, you might be surprised. Hiring managers regularly say that strong soft skills can make up for a lack of technical experience, in part because candidates with strong interpersonal skill harder to find.

You’re more likely to succeed, or conversely, find yourself facing a reprimand for a mistake you made in dealing with people compared to a technical mistake. Your skills make you:

  • Easy to work with

  • A reliable colleague

  • Trustworthy on important projects

  • A leader whose example others follow

Interpersonal skills also change over time and need updating, just like technical skills. Some employers will even enroll you in this kind of training, and don’t be surprised if you work at a larger organisation and you aren’t assigned a mentor or career manager.

The Most Valuable Interpersonal Skills in 2021 and Beyond

What skills are most important in the Irish workplace? They vary from company to company based on organisation type, size, and culture. But generally speaking, you will stand out from the crowd if you can bring these five skills to the table:

  • Written and verbal communication

  • Open-mindedness and empathy

  • Self-confidence and personal integrity

  • Time management

  • Relationship management

1 - Written and Verbal Communication

Communication is always a top interpersonal skill. No matter your industry, career goals, or background: if you can’t communicate effectively, you’ll have a hard time even getting a foot in the door. Communication is part of other core skills, like conflict management, collaboration, and empathy, so you need it to

In 2020, communication, particularly written communication, became one of the most vital skills in business. As we increasingly communicate via email, Slack, Google Docs comments, Asana, and other productivity tools, communication is once again front and centre of work life.

Communication is a skill and you can and should practice it. Here are a couple of great resources to get you started:

2 - Open-mindedness and Empathy

For organisations and people to grow, they need to be open to new ideas, including new and different ways of thinking. And they need their people to be empathetic to the experiences of others.

Your ability to be open-minded will serve you every day in your job. After all, open-mindedness is part of problem solving, communicating, inclusion, and critical and analytical thinking.

Just like communication, you can find ways to practice both open-mindedness and empathy.

Grab a few resources here:

3 - Self-confidence and Personal Integrity

Self-confidence is an interpersonal skill that’s increasingly important in business. Why? Because people who lack confidence tend to avoid communication, especially difficult conversations or conflict. More importantly, self-confidence plays a role in meeting your basic needs, such as finding happiness and being successful.

Being self-confident allows you to communicate with intention. It also allows you to try new things, problem-solve, and embark on self-development.

People who develop strong self-confidence also have an easier time developing one of the most valued interpersonal skills for leaders: personal integrity.

In a survey conducted by Robert Half, both executives and employees said integrity was the top leadership trait. But a greater percentage of employees said they believed it was the most important interpersonal skill that an executive can bring to the table.

As Terri Williams, of The Economist, who reported on the study, notes personal integrity allows you to act ethically and not only foster a culture that values integrity from the C-Suite to work placement students but also strengthens the business.

Are you ready to build your self-esteem? Get a few resources here:

4 - Time Management

When was the last time you got a frantic email from a colleague begging you to make a brand new, last minute task your top priority? Was it as recently as today?

Getting these emails is frustrating, but sending them is no picnic either. 

Traditionally, we think of time management as a way of managing our work so we can accomplish goals. But your time management also directly impacts other people’s ability to accomplish their own goals.

That’s why time management is such a vital interpersonal skill.

The way you manage your own time impacts the way your team, organisation, and other stakeholders, like customers, collaborators, or service providers, operate. If you’re a “Last Minute Larry,” then it has knock on effects for those around you.

For this reason, building strong time management skills has two parts: getting your house in order and learning to manage the time of others. 

In the first part, it means learning how to:

  • Prioritise tasks based on value and urgency

  • Manage competing priorities

  • Schedule your time

  • Use organisation tools to streamline processes

In the second, more interpersonal part, time management means knowing how to:

  • Organise tasks and their moving parts to keep them running efficiently

  • Build in flexibility to account for potential losses, such as sick days or roadblocks

  • Manage tasks and timelines to visualise progress

  • Delegate tasks based on other schedules

The second set of skills are essential for leaders. They will help you manage your time and your team’s time without overloading a team member or finding yourself sending one of those “SOS” emails that no one loves to receive.

Ready to take back your time? Find some excellent resources here:

5 - Relationship Management

Relationship management brings together all of your interpersonal skills. Described by leadership expert Brian Tait as “the key to achieving it all”, relationship management is increasingly important in the world of work.

Your relationships with internal (your colleagues and teams) and external (your clients, vendors, partners, etc.) stakeholders will determine your success in your field. Managing positive, productive relationships takes work. Specifically, it takes:

  • Communication

  • Open-mindedness

  • Empathy

  • Integrity

  • Time management

All of these skills come into play when it’s time to:

  • Build stronger bonds between team members

  • Resolve conflicts with partners

  • Actively listen to customers to build better products

  • Communicate major changes to teams, customers, and partners

  • Set mutual goals for your team

4 Tips for Improving Your Interpersonal Skills

We’ve already given you some excellent resources to get you started on honing your interpersonal skills. Remember that everyone’s strengths are different, so you might find it helpful to take an interpersonal skills assessment to see where your skills need the most work.

You may also find it helpful to take a personality test to learn more about how you build relationships at work and in life.

Building your skills based on your strengths, goals, and personality type will help you self-direct and self-correct. However, there are still a few tips that anyone can use to help improve:

  1. Practice active listening. Everyone can benefit from being a better listener. Listen to your colleagues, leaders, partners, and customers, and you might learn even more about your interpersonal skills.

  2. Practice empathy. The world could use more empathy. Make it a habit to put empathy at the centre of your work.

  3. Set up tools and processes. Whether you need to work on time management, communication, gathering new perspectives and maintaining relationships, there are tools to help you get these done. Don’t forget to automate where possible!

  4. Ask for development resources. Is there something you’re struggling with at work? A skill you know you need? Get your manager involved and ask for further development resources. Their success is your success, so consider adding interpersonal skills into conversations about performance.