Interpersonal Skills: What They Are and How to Develop Them

What are interpersonal skills and how do you develop them? This article explores these valuable people skills in detail and with examples of interpersonal skills, development tips and advice, and much more!

Millennials and Gen Z are often accused of terrible interpersonal skills. Different factors are demonized—too much screen time, too many hours spent on video games, too much time spent hunting the next dopamine hit from a social media like. 

Older generations often say that the ability to have an interpersonal conversation, in real life, has been ruined. Gen Z doesn’t make eye contact, doesn’t speak clearly, couldn’t hold a conversation if it had handles on it. 

Of course, these generalizations are often incorrect. Young Gen Z’ers, such as Amanda Gorman or Greta Thunberg, have captivated the world with their eloquence and communication. 

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What Are Interpersonal Skills?

How can young professionals mimic their success as they enter the workforce? The answer lies in developing interpersonal skills. 

Hard skills can be taught and tested. Whether it’s coding or graphic design, these hard skills are often the backbone of many job positions. But when it comes to connecting with coworkers, carving out a career, and networking within the workplace, interpersonal skills are what makes the difference between winners and losers. 

You can’t be graded on them. There aren’t classes that test you on your ability to be tactful, self-aware, or collaborative. It’s often why many people aren’t aware that they come across as ‘that coworker’, the one that’s difficult to work with. 

Often, they just aren’t self-aware enough to recognize the gaps in their skills. Like any other soft skills, interpersonal skills represent a muscle that can be flexed and developed over time. 

What do these skills actually look like? 

Developing Interpersonal Skills

Wondering how to develop interpersonal skills? To start, they rely on a certain level of emotional intelligence. Often, these are developed through regular social interactions. 

Here is a comprehensive interpersonal skills definition:

  • Self-awareness
  • Collaboration 
  • Listening 
  • Understanding nonverbal body language 
  • Humor
  • Empathy
  • Conflict resolution 
  • Tact 
  • Public speaking 
  • Respect
  • Timing 

Self-awareness can make or break your career in the long-run. You won’t always have people who can communicate how you come across. Being mentored is valuable because it’s crucial to have someone who will give it to you straight.

Self-awareness means setting a high bar for yourself. Could you have been kinder, more direct, more communicative? Did you really do the best job that you could?

The best employees are those that hold their personal bar higher than any employer ever could. 

In this new age of hybrid work, while some people are working remotely and others are headed back to the office, collaborators are on top of their game. Connecting over different mediums, whether it’s Slack or across a desk, is how projects get done. 

Related Read: 21+ Growth Mindset Quotes to Know for Success, Happiness & Fulfillment

Collaboration and Listening

Collaboration means refining the art of compromise. With new professionals, it’s easy to think that you don’t bring anything to the table. After all, the people you’re collaborating with may have decades of experience. 

Depending on your industry, they might have been in your current position before you learned to tie your own shoes! Don’t worry about it—your perspective and immersion in today’s world are invaluable. 

Collaboration is a game of give and take. Don’t fall victim to imposter syndrome, and make sure that you’re giving, too!

Listening can really set you apart. If we had to recommend two interpersonal communication skills, it would be listening and self-awareness. These two things can help you avoid pitfalls, avoid putting your foot in your mouth, and avoid unnecessary conflict. 

You need to hear what people are saying. Equally important, though, is hearing what they aren’t saying. This ties into the next skill, which is understanding nonverbal body language. 

Some people have trouble reading body language. It can tell you a lot about how someone’s feeling about the conversation, especially if they struggle with being direct. 

For instance, you might ask someone if they have the bandwidth to help you with a task. They say that they’ll need to check their calendar, while moving slowly, biting their lip, or avoiding eye contact. 

This might mean that they really don’t have the time, but feel bad about saying no. They don’t want to crush you and are trying to figure out a way to balance everyone’s needs. 

Picking up on body language cues can help you avoid awkward situations, and put you even further in the workplace as someone who’s understanding. 

Related Read: 15+ Best Educational Podcasts to Listen to for Everyday Learning

Oh, and don’t forget to…

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Don’t Misuse Humor

As an interpersonal skill, humor can be misused. We all love hanging out with a funny person, and a good joke can make the workday pass.

However, inappropriate humor is never funny. And we’ve all worked with someone who recycles the same joke a million times, subjects everyone to the same pun, and so on.

Use humor with good judgment, but remember it’s a great way to connect with other coworkers!

Types of Interpersonal Skills

Empathy is something that can’t be taught. There’s no way to fake the act of feeling what someone else is going through. Instead, it can be practiced. 

A good way to do so is to picture yourself in someone else’s shoes. Maybe a coworker is running late, and you have the choice of resenting them for it or letting it go. 

Picture a time you ran late. Everything went wrong–coffee spilled on your work blouse, your cat threw up, and your car wouldn’t start. They’re probably starting the day in a very frazzled state, just like you would be. 

In this case, being empathetic can really smooth over the start of their workday. Just like that, you’ve helped build team morale and started to form a connection. 

Conflict resolution is sometimes hard to tackle. Rather than bottling up your feelings, or simply escalating it to a manager, conflict resolution is really just an application of other interpersonal skills. 

Listening, empathy … these downplay conflict and ensure that everyone is able to exist and work together in a peaceful environment. 

Tact is also something that not everyone is blessed with. If it’s something you struggle with, it can be scary to venture into a new working environment. After all, you might not have a lot of experience under your belt, and you may have a tendency to stick your own foot in your mouth. 

If that’s the case, follow this rule of thumb: when in doubt, don’t say it. If you want to say something a little edgy or slightly ‘rude’ because you think it’ll be funny, avoid it. Chances are, you’ll avoid digging your own grave.

Related Read: 5 Daily Habits to Incorporate Into Your Job Hunting Routine for Success

Public Speaking and Respect

Are you one of the many people that would rank public speaking as one of their top nightmares? It’s a skill that you’ll likely need to develop over the course of your working career. 

If you’re lucky, it’s something that you were able to practice in school. Whether you were giving presentations at the front of the class or reading an essay at an award event, school is a great place to hone your skills. 

If you weren’t lucky enough to have these experiences, though, consider practicing. You may need to start with lots of notes. Then, you can work your way to giving a seamless, stress-free presentation. 

Respect is something that everyone deserves. It’s not just something that’s reserved for your boss. One of the most important tips for young professionals that are coming into the workforce is this: everyone knows each other. 

If you disrespect the receptionist, chances are your boss will eventually hear about it. And even if they don’t, everyone you see is worthy of basic respect. This attitude tends to launch people far ahead in their careers, as they build connections with people who they might not have originally anticipated. 

Related Read: How to Choose a Career: The Complete Guide to Picking One You’ll Love

How to Build Your Skill Set

Knowing interpersonal skills’ meaning is one thing. But how do you build them? In this case, practice makes perfect. 

The first step is to avoid negativity. Everyone has bad days, and that’s okay! But don’t fall into the trap of badmouthing your workplace with your coworkers. 

It’s easy to stand around and complain about management, or how messed up your schedule is thanks to someone else’s mistakes. This type of complaining lowers workplace morale, and subconsciously solidifies the idea in your head that you do, indeed, work in a terrible, mismanaged place. 

This is no way to come to work! Instead, remind yourself of things you love about your job. What’s your favorite part? What positive impact can you make each day?  

Remind yourself why you were so excited to graduate college and start this job in the first place. Make a handwritten list, if you need to! This can give you the energy and motivation you need to build interpersonal skills with your coworkers. 

Learning about your coworkers is another way to assist with conflict management and network with them. You’ll spend the majority of your life at work. For most people, they spend more time with their cubicle neighbor than they will with their partner. 

That’s a lot of time! Take a moment and listen when they’re talking about their lives. Learn the name of their pet, their daughter, and ask them about it later on. 

This accomplishes a few things. Everyone loves to be listened to, and it’s even rarer to be remembered. Remembering some personal information in this fashion is touching, and it can really build rapport. 

Related Read: How to Make Friends Online: 5+ Strategies & Tips for Virtual Friendships

Networking with Others 

It’s also important because you simply won’t like every coworker that you connect with. Some will be annoying, others will get on your nerves, and you will get frustrated. 

Learning about your coworkers will help you identify their positive traits. When you focus on their attention to detail or their impressive patience, it’s easier to overlook the fact that they microwave pungent fish every single day. 

The next tip is a little more challenging, especially if you’re new in your career. It can be easy to stumble into the workplace, wide-eyed and filled to the brim with imposter syndrome. 

Part of becoming a full-fledged member of the workforce, with awesome interpersonal skills, is being assertive. This doesn’t mean being arrogant or riding roughshod over all your coworkers. 

Instead, it represents knowledge of your own abilities and what you bring to the table. If you know you can fix something that’s wrong with the web site’s coding, be assertive and offer your skills before the task is even assigned!

This will position you as a team player, and as someone who truly cares about the future of the company.

Related Read: Why Volunteer? 5 Great Benefits of Volunteering & Community Service

Adding These Skills to a Resume 

Not to lie, building interpersonal skills is challenging. And practicing these skills is best done when you’re at an actual job. 

Nailing your first job out of college is tough, though! There are so many ways to go about it. The magic starts, though, with polishing your resume. 

In many cases, your resume is the equivalent of a first impression. It’s the place where you can confidently pitch yourself. 

When you’re adding these skills on a resume, don’t undersell yourself. Being able to negotiate conflict and be an active listener is something that brings great value to the company. Those skills can’t be taught, learning Salesforce or Adobe Acrobat can be. 

However, avoid the temptation to just copy-paste a list of interpersonal skills into your resume. Anyone can say they have active listening skills. How can you prove it?

When writing something on your resume, what you want to do is frame it in a results-oriented way. For instance, did your active listening prevent a disaster that would have cost your company (Whether it was an internship, a volunteer position, or a previous job) X amount of money?

Resumes are all about results and numbers. That proves that you have what it takes to translate these soft skills into hard cash. 

Related Read: How to Use the Feynman Method to Learn Skills Fast & Effectively

Developing the Skills You Need 

When you’re developing interpersonal skills, give yourself some grace. You’re early in your career, which means you have plenty of potentials, and plenty of mistakes, ahead of you. 

It’s important to learn where your weak areas are. For instance, you might be great at remembering all sorts of details about your coworkers that allow you to build camaraderie. Interested in more tips to help launch your career? Check out our blog here!

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Goodwall Team
Written By Goodwall Team
This article was written by the Goodwall team or by a contributor for publication on Goodwall. Goodwall is dedicated to helping students, entrepreneurs, and young professionals reach their full potential. We'll share thought-provoking and supportive articles on career advice, self-improvement, navigating the college landscape, climate action, social impact, and more. On the business side, we'll talk about SMB subjects related to community, diversity, talent acquisition, case studies, and enterprise.

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