How to Develop Your Interpersonal Skills

If you’ve been looking for a job recently or are hoping for a promotion, you’ve probably heard a lot about interpersonal skills. Defined as the skills that help a person interact with others, social skills are a must-have for anyone who wants to be successful in a position that requires them to interact with others. Since most jobs require this, they are required for almost every line of work.

For some, soft skills come naturally. These are the people who are most comfortable with others and who can easily communicate with, listen to, and put them at ease in day-to-day interactions. They are the people who can handle the daily stresses of life and who can respond well under pressure.

Developing Interpersonal Skills

For others, however, interpersonal skills don’t come naturally. In fact, some people find interacting with others — especially those whom they don’t know — very uncomfortable. If this is you, you can be sure of one thing — no matter where you are starting out, you can learn to develop you interpersonal skills.

Where Do I Start?

1. Determine Where You Struggle

To develop your interpersonal skills, you should begin by identifying the skills that really cause you to struggle. You need to take a real gook look at yourself and be honest as to what areas you need to work on.

If you are unsure, it can help to ask someone you trust (Tip: it’s not easy to hear about one’s faults but if the person you are talking to is someone you trust this is very valuable information that can help you greatly).

So, go over the different types of interpersonal skills and reflect on how you well you master these skills (check the telltale signs of unoptimized skills on our home page or read the articles pertaining to each type of soft skill). You can start with these popular ones:

Communication Skills
Conflict Resolution
Persuasive Skills

For example, some people struggle most with communication — they don’t know what to say to others, especially in social situations.

Others struggle most with just “reading” people. They have a hard time telling — from a person’s nonverbal cues — what the individual is thinking and feeling, so they may react inappropriately to this person or say the wrong thing.

A great way to identify the areas in which you struggle is to keep a journal in which you specifically focus on your interactions with people. What situations made you most uncomfortable? What were you feeling when you were forced to interact with others in different environments? Was there a certain environment or type of situation that made you the most uncomfortable?

Writing about these situations can help you determine where you need to focus most of your attention as you develop your interpersonal skills.

2. Obtain Knowledge — Knowledge is Power

After you’ve determined where you struggle the most, you need to spend time learning about the best way to react in that situation.

For example, if you struggle with communicating in groups, read about how to communicate in groups or take a course in public speaking.

Many experts have written self-help books that deal with a number of topics concerning social skills. Books on professional development, how to win friends and influence people, overcoming shyness.

There are also numerous courses in soft skills training, assertive training, effective meetings training, as well as materials online for corporate training.

You can also find specific articles on this website to learn more about each type of soft skill, how they are used in day-to-day situations and how to improve them.

Once you’ve determined what you need to do and you have learned how to react in different situations you are now ready to set goals, which is the next step in interpersonal skills development.

3. Set Goals

Set small, attainable, but challenging goals regarding just one of the areas in which you struggle (check out the video on the right for tips on setting SMART goals).

For example, you might set a goal of having one productive group conversation per day. This means that each day you will need to place yourself in a position to have an open conversation in a group.

As you achieve your goals, slowly make them bigger, slightly more challenging, but remember to focus on one issue at a time. You will begin to gain confidence and each step will become easier for you.

Remember, if interpersonal skills don’t come naturally to you, the good news is that you can develop them.

Don’t be impatient. Bad habits and new skills take some time to unlearn and relearn. Still, don’t lose hope — if you stick with it, you’ll soon find that you have new skills that will help you be successful at work, at home, in school… everywhere!

Useful resources:
Develop Interpersonal Skills for Career Success – The Legacy Project from Cornell University
 7 Things Employers Want from New Grads – US News

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2 Responses to “How to Develop Your Interpersonal Skills”

  1. Donovan Smith says:

    Again, concise and to the point…so easy to read!

    It’s obvious to me (now) after struggling in business for many, many years; that, the REAL reason why people are ‘held back’, even when they are great at what they do, is due to their lack of inter-personal skills! It really is a career killer.

    Thanks for the great article.

  2. Jeremy says:

    My company preaches “You can teach job skills, you can’t teach interpersonal skills!” We’ve had to let people go who were ok at the work but just could not get along with the other staff after a decent period of time. Even though companies may not be willing to spend time teaching these skills to new recruits, you’ve hit the nail on the head with this article I think. You must be willing to teach yourself!

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