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How to Improve Your Interpersonal Skills with These 6 Tips

Interpersonal skills are crucial to success at work and in life. While they seem to come naturally to some, they can also be learned. Here’s how.
by Tania Strauss | Dec 29 2022

Interpersonal skills are the ability to get along and communicate with others effectively: if you have good interpersonal skills, important points will be clearly conveyed, and everyone will leave an interaction feeling good about what transpired. Even if you need to deliver bad news, having good interpersonal skills can soften the blow and make sure the person on the receiving end feels respected and cared for. 

This is crucial in all sorts of situations, whether you want to make new friends, advance your career, or deal effectively with challenges and conflicts that come up in any area of your life. And while we tend to think of things like charisma as an innate personality trait, this is only semi-true – like many aspects of behavior, interpersonal skills can be cultivated. You also don’t have to be naturally outgoing to be a good communicator. 

So if you’re feeling a bit insecure about your ability to make a good impression, or simply want to take your social skills to the next level, here are some things you can do: 

Pay attention to people whose interpersonal skills you admire

Pay attention to people you admire, and who you see as likable and authoritative –  whether they’re people in your own life, or public figures or even TV characters. How do they speak and use their bodies? How do they treat people around them? What perspective do they bring to the table?  

You don’t want to be someone other than yourself, because coming across as insincere is the opposite of having good interpersonal skills. But it can be useful to have a model (or two or three) and to examine what they’re strengths are. Think about whether you might also have those strengths, or whether they possess skills you can practice while still being true to your own personality. You may be naturally introverted, but you can still practice being warm and articulate and a good listener – all of which will help you in your interactions with people. 

It can also be very useful to pay attention to negative interactions, whether they involved you directly or happened between other people. See if you can pinpoint why these conversations went south, and what you can avoid doing in the future.

Focus on the positive

Positive people are generally seen as more likable, and are more likely to approach an interaction in a way that will lead to positive outcomes. If you expect to be disappointed, or angry, or bored, another person will likely sense that negativity and be put off, leading to a disappointing or frustrating interaction. 

Instead, try to approach an interaction with an eye towards what you hope to accomplish, rather than what could go wrong. Speak from a place of curiosity, openness, and enthusiasm, and don’t be afraid to praise and give compliments – as long as they’re genuine. 

Take a genuine interest in the people around you

On a similar note, if you’re dismissive or disinterested in the people around you, this will definitely come across in how you treat them. Remember that even if you’re not crazy about everyone you meet, they probably have some sort of interesting perspective or personal history, or worthwhile personality traits. Also, like you, they may feel a bit awkward in a given situation and need some encouragement to shine. Assume the best about people, and go into the interaction with the intention of drawing that out. 

Practice active listening

While people tend to think charisma is about being interesting yourself, a huge amount of it is actually about your ability to make other people feel interesting. So in addition to assuming the best in people, you also want to cultivate your active listening skills.  

When you talk to someone, you want to really take in what they’re saying, and you want them to feel you taking it in – think about what a turn-off it is to talk to someone who seems bored, or like they can barely be bothered to pay attention. 

Approach a conversation with the assumption that the other person has something worthwhile to communicate, whether about the topic, or about themselves.  Look at people when they’re talking, and punctuate they conversation with acknowledgements of what they’re saying (even if it’s just as simple as an “mmmhmmm”).

Wait to respond until you’re sure you’ve grasped what they’ve said – and even better, ask them questions that will push the conversation further. Don’t jump in with something irrelevant or presumptive, or act like you’re waiting for your turn to speak.  

Cultivate Empathy

Another important part of active listening is connected to empathy – that is, looking beyond the surface meaning of the words someone says, for clues that might give you insight into their point of view or emotional state. Having some background on a person’s life or past experiences may also give you insight into where they’re coming from. 

Empathy is an extremely important interpersonal skill, and empathy can be honed. Being able to see things from someone else’s perspective, rather than your own, will allow you to address their concerns effectively – especially when dealing with conflict, when you have to balance competing interests, or deliver bad news with grace. 

Be aware of your emotional reactions

During a tricky or heated conversation, try to slow down and process how you’re feeling – especially if an interaction stirs emotions like frustration, anger, or anxiety. All of these feelings, though completely natural, can cause you to lash out or act from a reactive place rather than a considered one. 

Instead, try to figure out what is at the root of your emotional response – is it due to your own baggage, or due to someone else doing something genuinely problematic? If the former, remember to take responsibility for your own feelings rather than make others responsible for them; if the latter, figure out how you can address the other person from a place of calm. This will allow you to diffuse a situation, rather than escalate it. 

Choose your words carefully

Similarly, the ability to think before you speak can stop you from saying something destructive in a heated or vulnerable situation. Choosing your words carefully, from a position of positivity and fairness, can deescalate a situation and make you come across in a better light.

More generally, reflecting on the language you use is important in all sorts of situations – including, but not at all limited to, conflict. You generally want to tailor your manner of speaking to your audience: the language you use with an employee will be different than the way you’d talk to your boss, or your best friend, or your spouse.

Keeping the needs of your audience in mind, as well as your own goals in your interaction with that person, can focus a conversation and make sure that the most vital information gets across, in a style that will get the best results. 


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