What are Interpersonal Skills?
Interpersonal skills are the life skills we use every day when we communicate and interact with other people, both individually and in groups.
People who have worked on developing strong interpersonal skills are usually more successful in both their professional and personal lives.
Employers often seek to hire staff with 'strong interpersonal skills' - they want people who will work well in a team and be able to communicate effectively with colleagues, customers and clients.
Interpersonal skills are not just important in the workplace, our personal and social lives can also benefit from better interpersonal skills. People with good interpersonal skills are usually perceived as optimistic, calm, confident and charismatic - qualities that are often endearing or appealing to others.
Through awareness of how you interact with others - and with practice - you can improve your interpersonal skills.
This section of Skills You Need is full of information and practical advice that you can use to improve your interpersonal skills.
Discover your interpersonal skills strengths and weaknesses.
Our free self-assessment covers listening skills, verbal communication, emotional intelligence and working in groups.
Interpersonal Skills Include:
- Communication Skills, which in turn include:
- Verbal Communication – What we say and how we say it.
- Non-Verbal Communication – What we communicate without words, body language is an example.
- Listening Skills – How we interpret both the verbal and non-verbal messages sent by others.
- Team-Working – Working with others in groups and teams, both formal and informal.
- Negotiation, Persuasion and Influencing Skills – Working with others to find a mutually agreeable (Win/Win) outcome.
- Conflict Resolution and Mediation – Working with others to resolve interpersonal conflict and disagreements in a positive way.
- Problem Solving and Decision-Making – Working with others to identify, define and solve problems, which includes making decisions about the best course of action.
You Already Have Interpersonal Skills
We've all been developing our interpersonal skills since childhood - usually subconsciously.
Interpersonal Skills become so natural that we may take them for granted, never thinking about how we communicate with other people. With a little time and effort you can develop these skills. Good interpersonal skills can improve many aspects of your life, both professionally and socially, as they lead to better understanding and better relationships.
Interpersonal skills are also sometimes referred to as social skills, people skills, soft skills, or life skills. Although all these terms can include interpersonal skills, they tend to be broader and therefore may also refer other types of skills. Many people also use the term communication skills for interpersonal skills, but interpersonal skills covers more, including decision-making and problem-solving, plus working in a group or team.
Develop Your Interpersonal Skills
There are a variety of skills that can help you to succeed in different areas of life and Skills You Need has sections covering many of these.
However, the foundations for many other skills are built on strong interpersonal skills since these are relevant to our personal relationships, social affairs and professional lives.
Without good interpersonal skills it is often more difficult to develop other important life skills.
Unlike specialised and technical skills (hard skills), interpersonal skills (soft skills) are used every day and in every area of our lives.
Improving and developing your interpersonal skills is best done in steps, for example:
1. Focus on Your Basic Communication Skills
Learn to Listen
Listening is not the same as hearing. Take time to listen carefully to what others are saying through both their verbal and non-verbal communication. Visit our Listening Skills pages to learn more.
Choose Your Words
Be aware of the words you are using when talking to others. Could you be misunderstood or confuse the issue? Practise clarity and learn to seek feedback to ensure your message has been understood. Encourage others to engage in communication and use appropriate questioning to develop your understanding.
Our page Verbal Communication introduces the subject. You may also be interested in Effective Speech for tips on how to use your voice to full effect, and Conversational Skills for all you need to know about holding a relaxed conversation.
Questioning and Reflection can help you encourage communication in others and clarify what they have said. See our page on Clarification for more.
Understand Why Communication Fails
Communication is rarely perfect and can fail for a number of reasons. Learn about the various barriers to good communication so you can be aware of—and reduce the likelihood of—ineffective interpersonal communication and misunderstandings.
See our page Barriers to Communication for more information.
Our page Communicating in Difficult Situations offers further ideas to help you to get your message across when stress levels or other emotions are running high.
Remember the Importance of Non-Verbal Communication
When we are nervous we tend to talk more quickly and therefore less clearly. Being tense is also evident in our body language and other non-verbal communication. Instead, try to stay calm, make eye contact and smile. Let your confidence shine.
2. Improve your Personal Skills
Try to remain positive and cheerful. People are much more likely to be drawn to you if you can maintain a positive attitude. A positive attitude also translates into improved self-confidence.
Develop your Emotional Intelligence, and particularly your Empathy
Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand your own and others’ emotions, and their effect on behaviour and attitudes. It is therefore perhaps best considered as both personal and interpersonal in its nature, but there is no doubt that improving your emotional intelligence will help in all areas of interpersonal skills.
For more, see our section on Emotional Intelligence.
Improving your emotional intelligence improves your understanding that other people have different points of view. It helps you to try to see things from their perspective. In doing so, you may learn something whilst gaining the respect and trust of others.
Understand and Manage Stress
It is much harder to communicate well when under stress. Learn to recognise, manage and reduce stress in yourself and others. Although stress is not always bad, it can have a detrimental effect on your interpersonal communication. Learning how to recognise and manage stress, in yourself and others, is an important personal skill.
See our section on stress and stress management, start with: Stress: Symptoms and Triggers.
Learn to be Assertive
You should aim to be neither passive nor aggressive. Being assertive is about expressing your feelings and beliefs in a way that others can understand and respect. It is fundamental to successful interpersonal relationships.
Reflect and Improve
Think about previous conversations and other interpersonal interactions; learn from your mistakes and successes. Always keep a positive attitude but realise that you can always improve our communication skills.
3. Use Your Interpersonal Skills
Working in Groups
We often find ourselves in group situations, professionally and socially. Learn more about the different types of groups and teams.
Negotiate, Persuade and Influence
Learn how to effectively negotiate with others, paving the way to mutual respect, trust and lasting interpersonal relations. Learn more about how to persuade and influence others for mutual benefit.
Conflict Resolution and Mediation
Sometimes negotiation and persuasion are not enough to avoid conflict. When this happens, you need strong conflict resolution and potentially even mediation skills.
See our pages on Conflict Resolution and Mediation Skills for more.
Problem Solving and Decision-Making
Problem-solving and decision-making are key life skills. While both can be done alone, they also frequently involve interpersonal elements, and there is no doubt that better interpersonal skills will help with both.
See our pages on Problem-Solving and Decision-Making for more.
Develop your interpersonal skills with our new series of eBooks. Learn about and improve your communication skills, tackle conflict resolution, mediate in difficult situations, and develop your emotional intelligence.