Interpersonal Skills: Definition, Tips and 20 Examples
We all use interpersonal skills/competencies (also known as people skills) every day.
When it comes to employment or your job search, interpersonal skills are almost as important as technical skills/hard skills and knowledge, education and experience for success.
But what are interpersonal skills and why are they so vital?
Strongly associated with emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills refer to how we interact with others.
They cover how we behave around others, how we communicate (both verbally and non-verbally), how we manage our emotions and attitudes, how well we work with others, and much more.
Lots of soft skills could be defined as interpersonal and are used to varying degrees in the workplace depending on where you work and your level of responsibility.
Hiring managers often seek out candidates who have strong interpersonal skills.
They actively look for applicants who:
- Can work collaboratively
- Communicate effectively
- Have positive relationships with customers and co-workers
Self-confidence, collaboration and positivity are all sought-after interpersonal skills.
A good range of interpersonal skills will help you contribute to a productive and professional work environment, which is beneficial for employees and employers alike.
The importance of interpersonal skills in the workplace should not be underestimated. Without interpersonal skills, everyday business would be very difficult, since almost all aspects of work involve communication, even if you work alone most of the time.
Many jobs also involve collaboration and interaction with different types of people, and interpersonal skills are vital to making 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.
Here is our list of interpersonal skills that employers value and will be looking for from job candidates.
Job seekers should pay particular attention to the most relevant interpersonal skills required for the job they are applying for.
It is a great idea to check out the job description for the role, research the company on its website and social media, and then match up the best and most relevant interpersonal skills to mention in the experience section of your cv/resume (which should be tailored to each application), on the application form and at interview.
Good communication is an important part of a normal working day, where you will be required to communicate with colleagues, suppliers, customers, managers or members of the public.
Communication is as much about effective listening and understanding non-verbal cues as it is about what you say and how you say it.
The most effective communicators know how to talk to people from different backgrounds, can empathize and negotiate where needed, and can convey information in the most appropriate way possible.
You can improve your communication skills in several ways:
- Talk to people around you and focus on really listening to what they have to say. Notice their facial expressions, body positions, and gestures to get a fuller picture of what they are trying to tell you.
- Think about how you would speak to a member of the public about something work-related. How have you had excellent customer service in the past? Can you use that knowledge to improve the way you communicate with customers or suppliers?
- Try and share information or instructions with someone and think about how you can share that knowledge concisely so that there is no confusion.
Managing people or a department needs a combination of different skills, and while some of them might be a bit more practical, the better interpersonal skills a manager has, the better their relationship will be with their team members.
Managers need to be able to organize themselves and others, and effectively delegate tasks when necessary.
Delegation and the completion of work needed are achievable through effective interpersonal skills – asking co-workers for help with a task or demonstrating what they need to do to complete a task effectively.
You can improve your management skills in a few ways:
- Think about managing an area of your life differently. Perhaps you need to delegate some housework tasks to other members of the family – how are you going to ask them to help you complete the necessary tasks? Sometimes this can be straightforward, other times you might need to negotiate instead.
- At work, see if you can lead some projects in the office if you don’t have any experience in managing a team or an office. Project management is not the same as other management roles, but the interpersonal skills that you will need to use to ensure that deadlines are met are very similar.
Making a decision might not seem like interpersonal skill on the surface, but effective decision making needs the cooperation of different people.
Not only do they need to be told about the decision that you have made, but they might also need to be consulted when you are still researching.
Logical reasoning and critical thinking are two important parts of decision making, and the best way to ensure that all viewpoints are taken into consideration is to speak to the people who are likely to be personally affected by any changes that you might make.
To improve your decision-making skills, you can:
- Take a problematic scenario and think critically about each facet of the problem. How might other people be affected, and what might their view of the issue be? This empathy is an interpersonal skill, but when used with critical thinking skills is a way to make the best decisions.
- Practice making considered decisions during a normal working day. Even if it is just choosing what sandwich to have at lunch, thinking logically about a problem and considering other people’s points of view will help you get used to considering other people when you need to make a more important choice.
More than just collaboration, effective teamwork is an interpersonal skill that demonstrates to potential employers that you are experienced in working to deadlines and helping a whole team be successful.
People with excellent teamwork skills can encourage and motivate other people, utilizing the diversity of a team to get the results that are needed.
Teamwork is about using the strengths and abilities of everyone in the team, especially those who have specialist knowledge.
You can improve your teamwork skills by:
- Working on projects in your current employment or while you are still at school, ensuring that you know as much as you can about your teammates. This knowledge will help you make the most effective use of their skills and abilities so that you can achieve what you have set out to do.
A good level of self-confidence in a workplace can open doors and help you make an impression. 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.
You can improve your self-confidence by:
- Thinking critically about what you are good at, and what value you can bring to an organization. If, for example, you are particularly good at creating useful spreadsheets, then have the self-confidence to tell people that you can do it.
Being dependable means doing what you say you will when you say you will.
Employers value dependable employees because they can be relied on to meet deadlines and work to the fullest of their abilities.
Being dependable also means holding yourself accountable if something goes wrong – the workplace is not always smooth sailing and if problems occur a dependable employee will take responsibility and work to find a suitable solution.
To improve your dependability:
- Put yourself into the position of being the person that always gets their work done, to the right standards and on time.
- Being sensitive to the needs of the business and ensuring that you meet or exceed performance expectations is also an important part of this.
Building effective relationships is one thing but managing them is something entirely different.
This is an important skill in many roles, from junior posts 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.
You can improve your relationship-building and management skills by:
- Taking the time to communicate effectively with different people, whether they are customers, colleagues, suppliers or management.
- Listening and remembering key points in a conversation.
- Showing respect when needed.
- Demonstrating that you are a reliable person all help build and maintain relationships.
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.
You can improve your receptiveness to feedback by:
- Thinking about when you might get criticism or praise at work, and really take on board what that person is saying.
- 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.
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 is perceived. In fact, your body language will impact your communication skills more than any other factor.
Don’t forget, that as part of an effective conversation, you will need to be able to read the body language and non-verbal cues of the people you are talking to.
You can improve your non-verbal communication by:
- Practicing talking in a mirror or filming yourself so you can see how you portray yourself.
- Watch people on the television, particularly in live situations, to see how they are using their bodies to communicate as well.
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.
Improve your active listening skills in everyday conversations by:
- Giving your full attention to other people when they are speaking. This will help you understand what they are saying properly, rather than just using it as a space to think of what you are going to say next.
- When you are listening, if there is something that you aren’t clear on, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification.
- Think about some of the verbal cues that you could add which will demonstrate that you have been listening, such as repeating a key idea with different phrasing.
Adaptability is a key skill in the workplace, especially if you are in the entrepreneurial space or working in technology, finance or the public sector.
For people with great skills in adaptability, being able to work in a fast-paced environment where things can change in an instant is not a hardship; they can multitask and change direction when needed, and they do not need to have hard rules to follow or need to be micromanaged.
To improve your adaptability skills:
- Think about how comfortable you feel with change and working on different projects at the same time. If you can relax a bit at work and realize that you don’t necessarily need to do the same thing every day to get results, it can be quite freeing.
Conflict in the workplace can reduce productivity and cause negativity. Good conflict management skills include diplomacy, empathy, negotiation, assertiveness and compromise.
Being able to communicate your views, or defend the views of others, professionally and respectfully is a key skill in the workplace.
Developing skills in conflict management comes from experience, although you can take courses and get opportunities for learning and development in conflict resolution too.
More than just basic management skills, a leader is someone who inspires their team and helps them grow and develop.
Leadership skills are important for those who have responsibility for the work of others, and a good leader has empathy, can negotiate when there is a problem and can encourage employees to work harder.
Improve your leadership skills by:
- Understanding the difference between just managing a team and leading a team.
- Research different leadership styles and their pros and cons.
- Ask for more responsibility in your current role and use these experiences to learn and demonstate your potential.
- There are plenty of resources online about leadership skills that you can use.
Communication isn’t always on a personal level, and if you can speak confidently in public you will be able to deliver presentations confidently and might even be able to give speeches or become a keynote speaker at conferences.
Public speaking combines self-confidence, charisma and knowledge as a skill that allows you to be able to speak about a subject in public.
You can improve your public speaking skills by:
- Going to open mike nights at your local comedy club and having a go or joining a local amateur dramatics group and performing.
Much like self-confidence, self-awareness is a recognition of your abilities – but it also requires a deep understanding of your limitations.
Being self-aware means understanding what you can do, while also knowing where you might struggle or need some extra help and support to be successful.
People who have great self-awareness are not afraid to admit that they might not have the skills to complete a task, and these are the people who will be able to delegate when necessary.
If they cannot delegate, then they are more likely to seek training or find someone with the right abilities to show them what to do.
You can improve your self-awareness by:
- Considering your strengths and your weaknesses and deciding whether to pursue extra training
- Being ready to delegate any tasks that you are not capable of completing yourself.
Showing positivity, even in difficult situations, is important.
Never say anything negative about your current or past employer, even if you feel strongly.
Employees with a positive attitude are more likely to treat others positively, which creates a more harmonious working environment.
Here is how to improve your positive attitude:
- Practice positivity in your everyday life to get more from daily tasks.
- Some people find that a practice such as writing down things that you are grateful for every day can help bring more positivity to the day, or you might want to use positivity and gratitude as a weekly check-in with yourself as part of your self-care routine.
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 jewelry are suitable for the workplace.
Also, ensure that you demonstrate kindness and courtesy and arrive in good time every morning.
This ties in with being dependable and professional, and you can improve this interpersonal skill by:
- Ensuring that you are developing relationships that are work appropriate.
- You will find it much easier to follow the rules of the work environment if you know what they are, so make sure you find out about the dress code and employee expectations early in the recruitment process.
- You will usually get some idea about what is expected of you as an employee from the company website, or you can reach out to the recruitment team to find out more.
Being assertive is related to being confident, but in many ways, it includes being a bit more aggressive to get results.
An assertive person is not afraid to put their thoughts and feelings across in each situation, and they can be relied on to have an opinion.
There is a difference between being assertive and being rude, so it is important that when you are making a point you are still being respectful, and you have data and research to back up any points you are making.
You can improve your assertiveness skills by:
- Being confident that you have a valid opinion, this can take practice and can require working on your general confidence and self esteem.
- Some people find it much easier to be assertive on someone else’s behalf – you might be more likely to stand up for someone that is being given a hard time in public than you would for yourself in the same situation.
- Be your own advocate and don’t be afraid to stand up for what is right (in a work-appropriate manner, of course).
As an interpersonal skill, professionalism is about treating people with respect and being aware that you are a representative of the company your work for and for yourself whenever you are dealing with customers, potential clients, suppliers, managers or even other colleagues.
Being professional means taking pride in your work, your appearance and your ability to get the job done, treating everyone in the same respectful manner, and taking the role you are in seriously.
Developing professionalism as a skill is something that comes with the experience of being in a professional environment, but you can improve your professionalism by:
- Ensuring you are respectful of other people.
- Consider the impression you are making in your interactions.
- Think about the image you are putting across at work, and make sure you are always the best of yourself.
- Complete your work to the best of your ability.
This is an interpersonal skill that important to help develop relationships and is very important for leaders.
People with great empathy skills are good at developing relationships, can help their colleagues grow and can use their skills for problem solving.
Empathy is the understanding of the way a situation might affect someone, or how they might be feeling. It differs from sympathy as you do not have to put yourself in the same position to understand someone’s feelings.
You can improve your empathy skills by:
- Really listening to other people and the way they describe how they are affected by a situation or a problem.
- Caring for others and thinking about what they might be going through outside of work.
- Learn to be curious about other people's lives and spend time getting to know them, especially those outside of your normal experience. Following a range of different people on social media is a nice way to do this.
- Examine your ingrained biases and judgments and work through them.
Whether you are working with colleagues, members of the public or customers, patience is a sometimes-undervalued interpersonal skill that can have a profound effect on relationship development.
People who have excellent patience skills can communicate effectively, can deal with problems and conflicts without escalating, and make their colleagues and customers feel listened to and that their opinions are valid.
You can improve your patience skills by:
- Really concentrating on what other people are saying and trying to take an interest, even if the conversation doesn’t feel that exciting to you.
- Manage stress, anxiety and frustration by practicing deep breathing or mindfulness.
Being patient can pay dividends when you are working on building new relationships.
Now that you understand what interpersonal skills are and the industries in which they are most useful, you should be able to identify which ones you possess.
Once you have, be sure to emphasize them in your application documents and then, if successful, at interview.
Here are a few tips to help you emphasize 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.
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.
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:
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-analyze, so don't be afraid to ask those who are close to you for their 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.
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.
There are also many books and articles on this topic you could review.
Interpersonal skills rely on reading others correctly and having empathy.
Good emotional intelligence will help you accept others' differences and understand their point of view.
If you are normally reserved at work, try to put yourself out there and practice your newly learned communication skills.
This will give you the confidence to keep improving.
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:
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 real estate, 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 its 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.
Interpersonal skills are the skills that we use every day when we interact with other people.
Interpersonal skills can include normal things like speaking clearly and listening, but also skills like leadership and positivity.
Some examples of good interpersonal skills include:
- Being aware of a situation and how you can deal with it, using teamwork and communication skills as well as empathy for the right resolution.
- Being able to communicate ideas to other employees using great public speaking and excellent leadership skills.
- Completing a work project using interpersonal skills like communication, delegation, and teamwork to ensure deadlines are met.
The top five interpersonal skills that employers are looking for include:
- Verbal communication
- Active listening and non-verbal communication
- Conflict resolution
A combination of the abilities mentioned in this article will give an individual well-rounded interpersonal skills, but focusing on the following nine is a good start:
- Active listening
- Emotional intelligence
- Decision making
- Conflict management
There are several different types of interpersonal communication, including:
- Verbal (speaking with a colleague or customer)
- Non-verbal (body language, gestures, facial expressions)
- Active listening
- Public speaking (speaking for an audience, giving a presentation)
Interpersonal skills can be defined as how a person interacts with other people around them, whether that is in the workplace, in public or at home.
Interpersonal skills can be developed and grow with you as you move forward in the world of work, and employers look for different interpersonal skills from their employees depending on the nature of the role.
Showing that you have the required level of interpersonal skill on your resume and throughout the application process will make it easier for you to land that dream job.