Interpersonal skills are a much sought after skill. I would go so far as to say that it is an essential skill for most jobs, particularly if you want to thrive in your career. From securing a job through interview stage to getting a promotion up to management and leadership level, interpersonal skills are a key contributor. Good interpersonal skills can help you create better working relationships, manage conflict, motivate your colleagues, increase productivity, solve problems, network effectively and increase happiness and engagement at work. Did I mention that there are health benefits too? A 2017 article in the Harvard Business Review claimed that positive working relationships could help you avoid burnout, exhaustion and even loneliness.
The first time I thought I should really do something to improve my interpersonal skills was when I met this brilliant woman at a networking event. My job involves making new connections with people and networking frequently, however, this woman really made an impression. I had met her once before, perhaps over a year ago at another networking event. Right after that initial encounter, she emailed me with a couple of helpful contacts I had enquired about.
After a year, a lot had changed and my first meeting with her was a distant memory. However, when our paths crossed again at another event, she greeted me as if we were long-term friends, made effort to come over and talk to me, asked me about a number of things I must have told her about during our last encounter. She hadn’t forgotten a single detail about what we’d spoken about whilst I couldn't remember a single thing, only that I'd met her. Feeling a little guilty but impressed, I watched as she spoke to every single person in the room. Everyone was drawn to her and genuinely enjoyed speaking with her. I felt inspired. I could’t help but observe. I saw that she greeted everyone by their name and as if she was absolutely delighted to see them, she asked them questions whilst they spoke for hours on end and she just listened with evident interest each and every time. The best thing? She was just so genuine and sincere during each interaction. It seemed that she did not want to miss a single detail when anybody spoke to her.
That’s the moment I thought I really need to make improvements starting off with improving my listening skills. I observed many people since then and read quite a few books to see how I could interact better with people. One book you probably have already heard about is “How to Win Friends and Influence People’ by Dale Carnegie. I can be quite skeptical when a book is over-publicised, but this is one that I would certainly recommend. One thing that the most successful leaders all have in common is that they’ve all read this book. As such, I have taken the liberty of summarising parts in some easy take-away lessons, click here to view the summary.
Disclaimer - You might not agree with 100% of the book, there are some things that I myself question, but I’m sure you will be able to take at least 10 things away from it.
Here are some tips that have helped me to improve my interpersonal skills and hopefully you too (I'm still working on it by the way).
Take 5-10 minutes a day to talk to someone new in the office. Approach them with a smile and simply ask questions such as how are you getting on, what have you been working on, maybe even communicate a work challenge you have and ask for their advice.
Speak to everyone and treat everyone equally, from those more junior to the owners of your company, from the cleaner to the waiter. Removing hierachies, we are all exactly the same and you can learn from absolutely anybody. Learning about all the different backgrounds can be hugely inspiring and I guarantee, even though you shouldn't judge anyway, you may be in store for a surprise at times. Make sure to be open-minded and don’t judge.
Listen more and speak less. Remembering a person's name, asking questions and showing a genuine interest in discovering more about a person, their interests, their passions, their achievements, will instantly make you more likeable. Carnegie writes, "You make more friends in two months by becoming genuinely interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you." If you break it down, you should listen 75% and only speak 25% of the time.
Try to take at least one thing away from every interaction you have, even if it’s just learning someones name. In fact, calling someone by their name, automatically removes a light barrier and helps to form a stronger connection, they know they have become more than just a face. Not knowing someone's name on the other hand, makes it seem like they don't really matter. If you work in an 100+ people organisation and the founder approaches you calling your name, how would you feel? It's way more important than you'd imagine. But, don't over do saying their name in a conversation. I find this a little annoying and it doesn't seem sincere.
Honour your word. If you say you are going to do something, make sure you do it, trust plays an important part in relationships. If you cannot do something, let them know.
Avoid just emails. Go and talk to someone or pick up the phone in the first instance, don’t hide behind an email. Building rapport is best done face-to-face followed by over the phone and then finally through written messages. The first two methods will always get you a much faster response too.
Observe. Observe your own interactions, what’s your impact on other people, how do they feel and act after your interaction with them? Also, observe how others communicate in the office. Who do you particularly enjoy talking to or working with and why? What do they do that makes you and others like their company or working with them? How do you feel after your interactions with them? Observe, learn and implement.
Try to be positive and helpful as often as you can during interactions. Whether that’s making suggestions for an issue someone has, making useful connections between your network or even simply, just hearing someone out without being judgemental. This is where emotional intelligence comes in. We don’t always want advice, sometimes we just want someone to hear us out. If the person is not asking for your advice, perhaps just take the time to listen to them. Often, we resolve our own issues by just talking about them and you being there to listen is just as helpful if not more than you providing advice.
Avoid arguments at all costs. How? If you find that you often get into disagreements, have a think about whether you truly let the other person speak or whether you automatically assume what they will say and have made your mind up before they've even put their idea forward. You must first listen, genuinley try to understand why and what they are saying and where they are coming from. Consider whether their idea might work, perhaps it's even better than yours or, are the consequences of going with the other persons idea really that bad, maybe give it a go? Never tell them they are wrong. Consider their idea and then politely, once they have clearly finished, put forward your idea as an alternative, not as a better idea. This way, they are more likely to return the favour of really listening to you as you have done for them. They won't feel so defensive and you would have made effort right from the start to put pride, ego and your defensive mechanisms away. Remember that if you are in a leadership position, one of the best ways to learn is by letting people make their own mistakes, particulalry earlier in their career where the consequences are much smaller. We all learn better from experience which include mistakes. Certainly guide and offer tips, but let them make the ultimate decision. In the long-term, they will become much more valuable in the company.
Don't criticise. It's never received well. Carnegie writes ‘Any fool can criticise, condemn or complain - and most fools do.’ He goes on to say that it takes character and self-control to be forgiving and understanding. Criticising is most likely to lead to resentment, putting the other person on the defensive. It's likely to be demotivating and cause people to give up or simply ignore you. Don't forget, criticising is very different to providing constructive feedback. Even when providing constructive feedback always do it in a positive, encouraging way. Start with what's already great and show your appreciation for their efforts, and then follow on to provide helpful suggestions to improve but instead of saying but... try to use 'and, I believe once you *****, your performance will improve even more than it aleady has done so'.
Show appreciation. Everybody craves appreciation, it shows our value and importance. Take time to really try to see someone's positive traits, what are their strengths and what are they particulalry good at? Even if it's simply keeping up morale in the company or their enthusiasm is contagious and makes for a better work environment. Whatever it is, try to see the value in everyone you work with and don't keep it to yourself, make effort to tell them, sincerely, what you think and thank them for it - show sincere appreication. Don't just flatter people, this is often empty praise and doesn't have near to the same effect. Make sure to mean it. To relay to someone that you are grateful and appreciate the value they bring to your team, to your learning experience, to your organisation, to your clients, is the best way to recongnise someone, encourage them, and motivate them.
Be ready to admit your own mistakes. Nothing will make people less defensive and more agreeable than you being humble and reasonable enough to admit your own mistakes. Having strong and stable personal and professional relationships relies on you taking responsibility for your actions, especially your mistakes, rather than simply blaming others or ignoring it. The quicker you accept a mistake, the quicker you can move on and make up for it with another brilliant idea. Nothing will help end tension or a disagreement more than a swift acknowledgment and apology on your part, it also goes to help build trust.
Note that the foundation of interpersonal skills is emotional intelligence. That is, being aware of your thoughts, actions and feelings;’ seeing your impact on other people; and sensing others’ moods and needs. Developing your emotional intelligence allows you to self-regulate, to make positive choices about how you interact with other people and to think before you act. This book provides an excellent basis on how to improve your emotional intelligence.
Improving our interpersonal skills doesn't mean changing our personality. It's about raising our awareness of other people and improving how we respect and communicate with them. Things such as listening and paying more interest to people, will likely benefit us and our learning experience, help us become even a little more cultured! Learning how to put our ideas forward in a less argumentative way, will lead to more people actually considering our ideas and actually, committing and believing in them.
It's important to note that although many sales people use the book I have recommended, simply because of its tips on influencing others, the truth is that we all need to influence others in our day to day lives - to get them to accept our ideas, our way of working, our methods and so on. We need to convince our clients to proceed with our designs, our services, we need to convice our boss that we are ready for a promotion. Influence is part of every day life and there is a good way to do it, and a bad way to do it. The good way is always when you demonstrate a degree of empathy and real understanding for the other person's thoughts and opinions. Consider them sincerely in such a way that you are prepared to change your own ideas, and then proceed to agree on the best solution taking into consideration both accounts and as far as possible, avoiding conflict and arguments.
I hope some of these tips prove useful!