Updated 19 January 2021
We all use interpersonal skills every day. Strongly associated with emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills (in a professional context) refer to how we interact with others.
As you make the transition into the world of work, interpersonal skills become increasingly important.
Lots of soft skills could be defined as interpersonal, all used to varying degrees in the workplace depending on where you work and your level of responsibility.
Employers often seek out those candidates who have strong interpersonal skills. They actively look for applicants who can work collaboratively, communicate effectively and have positive relationships with customers and co-workers.
Self-confidence, collaboration and positivity are all interpersonal skills much in demand.
Why Are Interpersonal Skills Important?
Without interpersonal skills, everyday business would be very difficult, since almost all aspects of work involve communication.
Many jobs also involve collaboration and interaction with different types of people, and interpersonal skills are vital to make this happen.
Even if you have a very technical job, such as an IT role, you will need to interact with colleagues or clients regularly, often imparting complicated information or having to listen carefully to requirements. Having excellent technical capabilities on your resume won't necessarily be enough to get you the job.
During a job interview, recruiters will look to see how the candidate’s interpersonal skills fit in with those required in the current working environment. They will often base their decision to recruit on whether the candidate possesses the right interpersonal skills to succeed within the business.
What Are the 10 Key Interpersonal Skills?
The right level of self-confidence in the workplace can open doors and help you to gain recognition. It can also demonstrate how you approach various situations and deal with them both positively and effectively.
To be successful, it is important to demonstrate self-confidence at every stage of your career, whether you are a graduate looking for an entry position or a more experienced member of the team hoping to secure promotion.
Self-confidence at work will improve the way people see you and your views, ideas and opinions will be taken more seriously.
Confidence will help you when communicating with others, as it ensures that you can convey your point clearly and will be listened to.
2. Work Ethic
Having a strong work ethic is viewed favourably by many recruiters. But what exactly does work ethic relate to?
Well, it can be split into three distinct strands:
Professionalism – This incorporates everything from how you present yourself through to your appearance and how you treat others.
Respect – All workplaces require you to work under pressure at some time or another, and exercising grace under stress will earn you more recognition. No matter how short the deadline or how heated things may get, always retain your diplomacy and poise.
Dependability – Employers need to know they have employees they can count on. If you are always on time, well prepared and deliver work when you say you will, this demonstrates your work ethic and commitment to the business.
3. Relationship Management
Building effective relationships is one thing but managing them is something entirely different. This is an important skill in many roles, from junior posts through to management.
At every level in a business, you will be expected to engage with colleagues, partners and clients. The ability to manage relationships based on respect for each other and mutual trust is very important within any business environment.
4. Receptiveness to Feedback
Being open to feedback can help you develop both personally and professionally. View all feedback as a chance to learn and never react defensively. This can take some practice, especially if the feedback is negative, but always take a deep breath and focus on how you can improve.
To take on board feedback, you must first listen to it. Don’t think about your response; just listen to what is being said. Take on board what you have been told and use this positively to further enhance your performance and productivity.
5. Body Language
Non-verbal communication is often overlooked, but don't forget to consider how your body language and gestures could be interpreted. Factors to consider when interacting with others include:
- Eye contact
- Facial Expressions
- Personal space
- Posture and body position
Your body language will often determine how your verbal communication (your words) are perceived. In fact, your body language will impact your communication skills more than any other factor.
When improving your interpersonal communication skills, the first thing you need to learn is to listen. Failure to listen properly can have disastrous consequences, from failing to follow through on a manager’s instructions to not completing a customer’s request.
Active listening is a skill that will help you understand and learn from others and respond correctly to what they are telling you. Giving non-verbal signals that you are actively listening (such as nodding or maintaining eye contact) will also build trust as the people you are collaborating with will feel heard.
Working collaboratively allows teams to work productively and deliver positive outcomes for clients and the business. Successful collaboration requires the ability to cooperate and respect each other.
Employers often seek applicants who have a proven track record working successfully within a team and candidates who are willing to compromise and cooperate to deliver exceptional work.
Being able to collaborate – particularly in challenging situations – is a great selling point when applying for a job. Present yourself with a positive attitude and communicate your enthusiasm for team working.
8. Conflict Management
A key interpersonal skill for those working in teams is conflict management, especially for those looking at leadership roles. Conflict in the workplace can reduce productivity and cause negativity.
Good conflict management skills include diplomacy, empathy, negotiation, assertiveness and compromise.
Being able to put your views across, or defend the views of others, in a professional and respectful way is a key skill in the workplace.
9. Positive Attitude
Showing positivity, even in difficult situations, is important. Be positive from the moment you fill out the application form or write a covering letter through to the interview, your first day at work and beyond.
Never say anything negative about your current or past employer, even if you feel strongly about it.
Employees with a positive attitude are more likely to treat others positively, which creates a more harmonious working environment.
10. Workplace Etiquette
How you come across to others can speak volumes. Learning workplace etiquette is a great way to leave a lasting impression on those you meet.
Check your posture, ensure that you stand straight and make eye contact, turn towards people when they are speaking and smile genuinely at them.
Follow the dress code of the company and make sure that your accessories such as ties, bags and jewellery are suitable for the workplace.
Also ensure that you demonstrate kindness and courtesy, and arrive in good time every morning.
Which Jobs Require Interpersonal Skills?
If you feel you have strong relationship-building capabilities combined with effective collaborative skills, there are certain roles that you will be well suited to.
Any careers that require client management would be an ideal choice.
That said, being able to remember the finer details, having the self-confidence to market yourself properly and respecting workplace etiquette are skills that are valued in many roles, including:
Interpersonal skills are particularly important in customer-facing roles. You will be expected to interact with others daily, often in a problem-solving role.
Communicating clearly and active listening are key customer service skills, whether you are speaking with customers in person or on the phone. Empathy, emotional intelligence and positivity will also help you engage with customers who need help or are unhappy with a product or service.
When working in property, you must be able to build relationships with clients and partners, and be receptive to the requirements of both buyers and sellers.
As buying and selling property is a major financial decision, an estate agent or consultant will need strong negotiation skills and communicative abilities to close sales and find the best price for the seller.
Although education and the level of skill required to become a qualified medical professional are most important, interpersonal skills feature strongly in the skill set of a doctor, nurse or consultant.
They must be able to communicate and use non-verbal communication to offer reassurance and put patients at ease.
Medical professionals must also be able to discuss sensitive issues with their patients, and bedside manner is very important.
A broker helps their clients to secure the best deal on a range of products from mortgages to insurance. Financial product knowledge is key, but communication skills are also high on the list of priorities.
As well as working with clients, brokers also need to develop strong relationships with partners such as banks, lenders and estate agents.
Financial planners will assist their clients in areas such as investments, insurance and planning for retirement, so they must be able to establish a certain degree of trust.
Listening is crucial, so that they can understand clients’ requirements and then recommend suitable products and services.
Relationship management is a key element of many sales roles – done well, it can lead to new and repeat business from recommendations or referred customers.
Sales professionals must also be confident when making cold calls, and need to use strong negotiation and listening skills to find out the requirements of the client, before offering suitable products or services.
How to Emphasise Your Interpersonal Skills in Your Resume
Now that you understand what interpersonal skills are and the industries in which they are most useful, you should be able to identify which you most possess.
Once you have, be sure to emphasise them in your application documents and then, if successful, at interview.
Here are a few tips to help you emphasise the right interpersonal skills in your job application:
When drafting your resume, look carefully at the job description and person specification to see if any specific interpersonal skills are mentioned. See if these match the interpersonal skills you feel you can demonstrate the best and highlight them in your application. Any skills you mention must be relevant to the role you are applying for.
Start your resume with a clear and concise skills section that describes your main attributes. This should be followed by a strong career history section, again incorporating your interpersonal skills via your professional experience, academic studies and voluntary work.
Back up every interpersonal skill you mention with evidence. These skills can feel intangible, so the recruiter will need to see evidence of when you demonstrated them and achieved a positive result.
In your cover letter, you can expand this further by explaining how you used these skills and the impact that had on the business. Perhaps your strong communication skills secured a sale, or your successful relationship management resulted in excellent customer feedback.
If you are invited to an interview, as well as talking about key interpersonal skills and how you've used them in previous employment, ensure you demonstrate them too. Elements such as workplace etiquette, professionalism and self-confidence all come into play here.
Can I Learn Interpersonal Skills?
Interpersonal skills are so vital for both work and personal relationships that they are worth developing. Remember, everything that you have learned when interacting with people over your lifetime will have given you a good foundation, but there is always room to improve.
Here are some tips to help:
Decide which areas you need to improve. Maybe you are aware of certain areas that you are weak in, or there are specific requirements for a job you are applying for. It isn't always easy to self-analyse, so don't be afraid to ask those who are close to you for their feedback.
Learn from feedback. Consider the relationships you have with your colleagues. Are there ever any conflicts? Have you ever had any feedback from your boss on your interpersonal skills that you could review? Thinking about the feedback you have been given, either directly or indirectly, will help you develop.
Look for online training. Once you have identified the areas you need to improve, look for some online courses that will help you learn certain interpersonal and social skills that would be useful in the workplace. Try searching on Coursera or OpenLearn. There are also many books and articles on this topic you could review.
Develop your emotional intelligence. Interpersonal skills rely on reading others correctly and having empathy. Good emotional intelligence will help you accept other's differences and understand their point of view.
Practice communicating (and listening). If you are normally reserved at work, try to put yourself out there and practice your newly learnt communication skills. This will give you the confidence to keep improving.