How To Improve Interpersonal Skills

Updated January 19, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Mental Health Influences Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal skills are essential to navigating the world around us. Even for those who prefer not to engage with other people regularly, interacting with others is necessary for day-to-day interactions like shopping, attending doctor’s visits, etc. The ability to communicate and establish bonds with people doesn’t come easily for everyone, and some people may find they need to work harder than others on their interpersonal skills.  But with some guidance, improving interpersonal skills to become more successful in our relationships, our personal lives, and the workplace is possible. 

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 Skills

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

When it comes to verbal communication, the words we use and the way in which we use them make a considerable impact on the outcome. It's important to adjust the way we communicate based on who our audience is. An important conversation with your boss would likely sound different than one with your lover- even if they were about the same topic. Likewise, a presentation given to a group of schoolchildren would be expressed differently than one given to a group of doctors.

The way in which you express yourself can either increase or decrease the possibility of miscommunication and potential disagreements. Speaking to others as clearly and concisely as possible and, if necessary, conveying your feelings and providing your opinions in a respectful way are often key points to establishing healthy communication. Once you’ve expressed yourself, allowing your listener to ask questions or request additional clarity is important. 

Your body language often says a lot about how you feel and can either benefit you or cause communication challenges. Smiling, making eye contact, and maintaining an open, confident posture are all ways to convey a positive message. 

The ability to listen to others is just as important as the ability to express yourself verbally and non-verbally. If you can’t listen effectively, messages can become distorted, and miscommunications can arise. Keep in mind that there is a difference between listening and hearing. Listening requires interpreting a message from both verbal and non-verbal communication, while hearing merely allows words to enter the ears without interpreting them further.

Leadership Skills

Effective leadership doesn't necessarily require the ability to sway people's opinions on command. It comes from understanding a situation to develop a solution or plan that benefits everyone involved. By improving your decision-making skills and learning the power of persuasion, you can take the first steps to become an effective leader.

Decision-making requires the ability to find the best possible solution to a potential problem or situation. The best decision-makers often use a combination of intuition and reasoning to reach their conclusion. Intuition refers to your 'gut feeling' and is often established according to your beliefs, experiences, instinct, and feelings.

Reasoning uses facts rather than emotions to make decisions. Many experts believe that while simpler decisions can be made with intuition, more difficult decisions should take into consideration all the facts and your expertise on the topic first, then consider how you feel about it to arrive at a well-rounded solution. 

Having the ability to persuade others effectively isn’t the same as the ability to force them into seeing things your way. Rather, it refers to using forms of communication to explain to others why your decision/ idea/course of action is the best possible, allowing them to reach the same conclusion for themselves. People who are genuinely good at persuading others don't use positions of power to scare others into agreeing with them - they present the information in a way that naturally points to one conclusion.

Empathy

Mental Health Influences Interpersonal Skills

The American Psychological Association defines empathy as: “understanding a person from his or her frame of reference rather than one’s own, or vicariously experiencing that person’s feelings, perceptions, and thoughts.”

Developing empathy is something that usually happens over time. When you can attempt to understand a situation from another’s point of view- regardless of whether you agree with them or not- it becomes easier to understand and empathize with that person. 

The ability 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 indicate that the individual isn’t receptive or in agreement with the point. If you can pick up on these signs, you can often steer the conversation in a better direction before problems arise.

Negotiation Skills

Learning how to negotiate is one of the most important ways to improve interpersonal skills. Negotiating involves addressing a problem, considering all the factors involved, and coming to a compromise that benefits all parties involved. Negotiation allows people to find common ground respectfully. In an ideal situation, negotiation can be used to diffuse potential disagreements in the conversation or interaction before emotions like anger sabotage the situation. 

A meaningful discussion in which everyone explains their point of view is usually at the center of a negotiation. With strong listening skills, a productive give-and-take in the discussion may eventually lead to a conclusion that benefits everyone. 

Resolving Conflict

Conflicts can create a lot of extreme emotions, particularly conflicts involving our loved ones. Staying mindful of how we express those during a conflict can be extremely helpful for resolving it.  

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

Teamwork

In a typical workplace, people often find themselves working with a group of people that they 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 usually consists of a group of individuals willing to take on whatever role is necessary at any given time. This means that you may need to be a leader, a coordinator, an implementer, an evaluator, or all the above. Being able to work effectively in a team requires all 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

These skills don't develop overnight, and not everyone has a work environment where they can actively acquire them. 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 each week and try to learn more about them on a level beyond small talk. Try to empathize with that person and understand their point of view.

  • Join a club or sports team where you'll work with others.

  • When you’re out in the world, try to observe the other people around you. 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.

Takeaway

If you find it difficult to relate to others or communicate effectively, you’re not alone. But if you experience symptoms of anxiety when you must interact with others, there may be an underlying issue keeping you from communicating and interacting with others effectively. 

Whether you just need to brush up on your interpersonal skills or believe you may have a deeper issue to address, speaking to a licensed counselor through a platform like BetterHelp can help. Online therapy is more convenient than in-person therapy and is as effective for treating anxiety, depression, and more. If you’re ready to begin your journey to better relationship skills,  BetterHelp can connect you with the right mental health professional via phone, text, online messaging, and video chat whenever and wherever it’s convenient for you. 

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