How To Improve Interpersonal Skills

Updated September 26, 2018

Reviewer Michelle Lind

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Do you feel as though you can walk into a room and instantly become friends with everyone around? Or are you on the other side of the spectrum, finding it difficult to relate to and interact others? Not everyone has the innate ability to connect with everyone around instantly, but everyone has the potential to develop and improve their interpersonal skills. Through learning how to empathize with others, eloquently expressing your thoughts and beliefs, asserting yourself respectfully, understanding how to resolve conflicts and acquiring proper decision-making techniques, you can improve your future interactions with others.

What are interpersonal skills?

As a simple definition, interpersonal skills are what you use every day to interact with people, both in groups and individually. These encompass:

  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Empathy
  • Negotiation
  • Resolving conflict
  • Teamwork

Communication

Being able to effectively communicate with others - whether through verbal or non-verbal means - may not be the easiest for everyone. Communication includes real-life conversations, written or printed material, body language and even your ability to listen to another person truly.

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When it comes to verbal communication, the words we use and the way in which we use them to make a huge difference in the outcome. It's important to adjust the way we communicate based on who our audience is. An important conversation with your boss would be expressed differently than one with your lover. Likewise, a presentation given to a group of schoolchildren would be expressed differently than one given to a group of doctors.

Even within these different situations, the way in which you express yourself can either increase or decrease the possibility of miscommunication and potential disagreements. When communicating, lay out all of the facts as clearly and concisely as you can manage. If the topic is a personal matter, try to explain why you feel the way you do or believe what you believe about the subject. Allow your listener to ask questions or request additional clarity, and be respectful when you respond to these requests.

Your body language says a lot about how you are feeling and can either benefit you or cause problems in your communication with others. When speaking to an individual or a group, act confident. Keep your shoulders back, raise your head, enunciate properly and maintain eye contact with your listeners. This shows that you truly believe in what you are expressing. One of the easiest ways to express positive body language is to smile!

If you smile at someone you are speaking to, they naturally become more receptive to what you are saying. On the other hand, if you're constantly fidgeting with things, avoid eye contact, mumble or cross your arms, you distance yourself from your listeners and make it more difficult to get people engaged in what you are trying to say.

Being able to listen to others is just as important as being able to express yourself verbally and non-verbally. If you aren't able to listen effectively, messages can become distorted, and miscommunications can arise. There is a difference between listening and hearing. Listening requires the ability to take both verbal and non-verbal communication and extract a message from it, while the hearing is merely allowing sound to enter your ears without interpreting it further.

Leadership

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Being an effective leader doesn't necessarily mean you're able to sway people's opinions at the flick of a wrist. Effective leadership comes from understanding a situation as a whole and being able to come up with a solution that benefits everyone involved. By improving your decision-making skills and learning the power of persuasion, you can take the first steps to becoming an effective leader.

Decision making requires the ability to choose the best solution to a potential problem or situation. The best decision makers use a combination of intuition and reasoning to reach their conclusion. Intuition refers to your 'gut feeling.' This is essentially a combination of your own beliefs and experiences you have had in the past. The reasoning is more of a 'brain over heart' approach and takes into consideration the hard facts rather than emotions. While simpler decisions can be made with intuition, more difficult decisions should take into consideration all of the facts first. Once you've made a decision based on facts, consider how you feel about it. What does your intuition tell you? Does your decision feel right?

Being able to persuade others effectively doesn't mean that you're able to force them into seeing things your way. Rather, it refers to being able to use forms of communication to explain to others why your decision/ idea/course of action is the best possible one, allowing them to conclude themselves. People who are good at persuading others don't try too hard or use positions of power to scare others into agreeing with them - they simply lay the facts out in a way that naturally points to one conclusion.

Empathy

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Developing empathy is something that happens over time. The first step is to remove yourself from your feelings and beliefs. When you are completely focused on where you stand, it can be hard to view situations from an objective point of view. When you open up your mind and try to understand a situation from another's point of view - regardless of whether or not you agree with their stance - you will begin to find it easier to understand and empathize with that person.

Being able to pick up on subtle nuances in body language is also helpful in developing empathy. Crossing of the arms, sudden stiffness or averting eye contact may mean that the person isn't too happy about the way the conversation is headed. If you can pick up on these signs, you can steer the conversation in a better direction before problems arise.

Negotiation

Learning how to negotiate is one of the most important ways to improve interpersonal skills. Negotiating involves taking a problem, considering all of the factors involved, and being able to come to a compromise that benefits all parties involved even if some sacrifices need to be made. Negotiation allows people to find common ground respectfully. In an ideal situation, negotiation can be used before any problems turn into a major argument. When people get angry, there is a higher chance for miscommunication and disagreements.

During a typical negotiation, all parties involved should agree to meet at a certain time and place. At the beginning of the meeting (whether formal or informal), all of the unbiased facts should be laid out so that everyone is in full understanding of the situation. Afterwards, all parties involved should express what fears and concerns they have about particular outcomes. What are the positives? What are the negatives?

This opens up a discussion in which everyone explains their point of view. In this stage, listening skills are extremely important. Questions can be asked, and particular points can be clarified. Through an extended discussion, all parties involved can continue to speak their minds and work towards coming to a conclusion that benefits everyone. This may require re-visualizing original plans to keep everyone happy while still accomplishing the original goal.

Resolving conflict

Think about the last argument you had with someone. Were you speaking with each other respectfully, taking into consideration the other's point of view and trying to empathize with each other? Or were you yelling obscenities, throwing various objects and trying to berate the other? If the latter was the case, how did that end? Conflicts can create a lot of extreme emotions, but if you're able to keep your emotions under control, you'll have a more clear-headed approach to the situation.

As with negotiation, it is important first to acknowledge exactly what the source of conflict is. Allow all parties involved to speak their mind, and be an active listener when you aren't speaking. Sometimes the most difficult conflicts are just a result of miscommunication. Try to keep an open mind and view the problem from another person's point of view. Through respectful discussion, the conflict should be able to be resolved.

Teamwork

Often you'll find yourself working with a group of people that you wouldn't necessarily choose to work with. This is especially common in a workplace, where people of all different backgrounds and beliefs need to work together towards one common goal. An effective team consists of a group of individuals that are all willing to take on whatever role may be desired of them at any given time. This means that you may need to be a leader, a coordinator, an implementer, an evaluator or all of the above. Being able to work effectively in a team requires all of the above interpersonal skills - communication, leadership, empathy, negotiation, and problem-solving. Taking on a group project is one of the best ways to practice your interpersonal skills and learn how to work effectively with others.

Practicing Interpersonal Skills

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These skills don't develop overnight, and not everyone has a work environment in which they can actively gain these skills. If you're looking for some easy, everyday ways to gain strong interpersonal skills, you may find these simple tasks helpful:

  • Meet one new person a week and try to learn more about them - don't just stick to small talk. Try to empathize with that person and understand their point of view.
  • Join a club or sports team in which you'll have to work with others.
  • Find a comfortable bench somewhere, and people watch. Can you tell how they are feeling based on their body language?
  • Find an organization that speaks to you and spend some time reaching out to others in need.

If you find it especially difficult to relate to others or communicate effectively, there may be an underlying problem. Speaking to licensed counselors at BetterHelp can help you begin to find a solution.


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