Interpersonal Skills: Definitions, Examples and How To Improve
Interpersonal communication involves the face-to-face exchange of thoughts, ideas, feelings and emotions between two or more people. This includes both verbal and nonverbal elements of personal interaction. Employers seek candidates with interpersonal skills as they contribute to the efficiency of teamwork and business communications.
In this article, we discuss interpersonal skills, how to improve these skills and how to highlight them on your resume and cover letter, and we provide examples to guide you.
What are interpersonal skills?
Interpersonal skills are traits you rely on when you interact and communicate with others. They cover a variety of scenarios where communication and cooperation are essential.
These skills involve the ability to communicate and build relationships with others. Often called people skills, they tend to incorporate both your innate personality traits and how you’ve learned to handle certain social situations. Effective interpersonal skills can help you during the job interview process and can have a positive impact on your career advancement.
Some examples of interpersonal skills include:
In a work environment, strong interpersonal skills are an asset that can help you navigate complexity, change and day-to-day tasks.
Why are interpersonal skills important?
Strong interpersonal skills can help you during the job interview process as interviewers look for applicants who can work well with others. They will also help you succeed in almost any job by helping you understand other people and adjusting your approach to work together effectively. For example, while a software engineer may spend the majority of her time working on code independently, she may need to collaborate with other programmers to effectively bring a product to market.
This is especially true as more companies implement collaborative agile frameworks for getting work done. Employers will be looking for workers who can both perform technical tasks with excellence and communicate well with colleagues.
Interpersonal skills examples
Unlike technical or “hard” skills, interpersonal skills are “soft” skills that are easily transferable across industries and positions. Employers value interpersonal skills because they contribute to positive work environments and help maintain an efficient workflow.
Here is a list of interpersonal skills for you to identify interpersonal skills you may possess that are valuable to employers:
Active listening means listening to others with the purpose of gathering information and engaging with the speaker. Active listeners avoid distracting behaviors while in conversation with others. This can mean putting away or closing laptops or mobile devices while listening, and asking and answering questions when prompted.
Dependable people can be relied on in any given situation. This can include anything from being punctual to keeping promises. Employers highly value dependable workers and trust them with important tasks and duties.
A worker’s emotional intelligence is how well they understand the needs and feelings of others. Employers may hire empathetic or compassionate employees to create a positive, high-functioning workplace.
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Leadership is an important interpersonal skill that involves effective decision-making. Effective leaders incorporate many other interpersonal skills, like empathy and patience, to make decisions. Leadership skills can be used by both managers and individual contributors. In any role, employers value people who take ownership to reach common goals.
The ability to work together as a team is extremely valuable in every workplace. Teamwork involves many other interpersonal skills like communication, active listening, flexibility and responsibility. Those who are good team players are often given important tasks in the workplace and may be seen as good candidates for promotions.
Jobs that require interpersonal skills
Any job you apply for will require interpersonal skills of some kind. Some jobs that rely on strong interpersonal skills more than others include:
Teachers need strong interpersonal skills in order to work collaboratively with each other, administrators, students and parents. An empathic and patient teacher can help students learn and grow effectively in their education.
Administrative assistants need to be highly dependable, among other interpersonal skills. Administrative assistants also come in contact with customers or clients on a regular basis, making interpersonal skills a necessary function of the job.
Comfort and care for patients is a key skill for nurses. Interpersonal skills of all kinds are integral for the industry, especially empathy and patience.
Marketing requires several technical and soft skills. Interpersonal communication skills are an important part of marketing and marketing management, as marketing professionals not only work collaboratively in developing marketing campaigns but also with clients and sales teams.
Customer service agents
Customer service requires a high level of people skills. Those employed in customer service spend most of their work hours engaged with customers who may be frustrated, confused, or angry. Communication skills are necessary, especially patience, empathy and active listening.
How to improve interpersonal skills
While interpersonal skills can seem easy to practice as you interact with others on a daily basis, making a deliberate plan can help you quickly improve. Consider the following ways to improve your interpersonal skills:
Attend workshops or online classes. There are several workshops, online classes and videos on ways you can practice building interpersonal skills. While many are free, some are available at a cost.
Seek out opportunities to build relationships. If you work from home or do not otherwise have many opportunities to build interpersonal skills, you might consider joining a group. This could be related to your work like networking or industry-specific groups, or simply a group that shares a similar interest or hobby.
Be thoughtful about ways your interactions could improve. Take time to review the interactions you have and consider ways you could have interacted more effectively. This might be certain words you said, ways you reacted or body language you used.
Ask trusted friends or colleagues for constructive criticism. It is helpful to get a third-party perspective about your skill level and specific ways you can improve. Ask friends or trusted colleagues to provide constructive criticism regarding your interpersonal skills.
Observe other positive interpersonal interactions. It can also be helpful to learn by seeing others use interpersonal skills. Observe positive interactions of those around you and apply those qualities you admire to your own relationships.
Seek out mentorship. Asking someone you trust, admire and respect to counsel you on improving interpersonal skills and advancing in your career overall can be an extremely effective way to learn.
Set goals. Setting goals for yourself can also provide structure, making your learning more efficient by understanding when and how you have made adequate improvements.
Prepare for interviews with practice questions and tips
How to highlight interpersonal skills when applying for jobs
During the job application and interview phase, you can highlight your interpersonal skills on your resume and your cover letter. After you are successfully hired, you should continue to maintain your skills and develop new ones.
If you aren't sure how to show your interpersonal skills on a resume, you can get professional help with our resume feedback questionnaire.
In a resume
On your resume, include a few key interpersonal skills under the “skills” section. Generally, the best skills to put on a resume are those that you are confident will be verified by any of the references you list on your job application. Review the job posting to understand which of your skills are most relevant to the job you’re applying for, and which you should prioritize on your resume.
Your resume skills section may look like this:
Technical skills: POS Systems, Excel, HTML, Digital Phone Systems
Additional skills: Effective team player, highly communicative and cooperative, active listener, innovative researcher
You can also provide examples of your interpersonal skills in the Experience section of your resume. Do this by including concrete examples of how you worked with others and the results you achieved. For example: “Collaborated with designers, copywriters and strategists on a rebranding initiative that resulted in a 30% increase in website visits.”
In a cover letter
For your cover letter, you may want to focus on one strong, relevant interpersonal skill. This can help the employer get a good idea about an area you see as one of your strengths. You may also want to briefly explain how that skill can benefit the employer and create a good work relationship.
An example section highlighting your skills in a cover letter could look like the following:
“With my previous employer, I was often called upon to help form collaborative teams. My managers pointed to my ability to listen to and understand my colleagues’ strengths to best determine how to assign effective roles.”
In a job interview and on the job
Your interpersonal skills will be necessary both during the job interview and on the job.
During your job interview, the hiring manager may be looking to see how well you listen actively, maintain eye contact and whether you are courteous and respectful. The job interview is also a good opportunity to show dependability. Arriving early for your interview, for example, shows you are serious about the interview and respect the interviewer’s time.
Once you successfully get a job, you will continue to rely on interpersonal skills. By demonstrating that you are dependable, taking the initiative to lead and having a positive impact on your colleagues, you can develop a strong reputation as a collaborative teammate.
Interpersonal communication skills are increasingly valued by employers in every industry. Regardless of what type of career you are looking to enter, your ability to work well with your colleagues and employer may make a good impression and result in positive career growth.
Frequently asked questions
Is negotiation an interpersonal skill?
Yes, negotiation is an interpersonal skill. When you initiate a discussion with the intention of reaching a mutually beneficial agreement, you can consider the other party's feelings and needs. As you implement your negotiation skills, you can remain patient and respectful toward the other party while still trying to accomplish your personal goals.
What interpersonal skills do employers value most?
The interpersonal skills an employer values may vary depending on the industry or area in which an individual works. For example, an employer may prefer a human resources (HR) assistant to have conflict resolution and empathy skills, while they may not emphasize the importance of leadership as much in this specific role. Alternatively, an employer may prefer a financial director to show strong leadership skills, while they may not emphasize conflict resolution as greatly in this role.
How can I improve my interpersonal skills in everyday conversations?
Whenever you have a conversation with anyone in the workplace, whether it be a fellow team member, a manager or a client, give them time to speak without interrupting them. When they're done, paraphrase what they said and repeat it back to them. This trick can show that you're an active listener who not only heard what they said but also understood what they were explaining to you or requesting from you.
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