Seven tips for improving your interpersonal skills
Working in an office inevitably brings with it a set of social challenges, as you interact and build relationships with your co-workers. Every day can bring its own set of challenges which require tact and diplomacy to handle: how do you draw out that super-shy colleague you’re partnering with on a project? Or how to remove the sting from your words when you’re annoyed with a colleague? Quite apart from business, there are also personal issues to tackle, such as showing a co-worker who’s going through a stressful time that you’re there for support.
Having interpersonal skills is vital if you’re to do well in- or even gain- a job. With 60% of employers saying that most applicants do not exhibit enough evidence of social skills to be considered for a role, it’s time to brush up on your social skills and bring what you’ve learned outside work to the office.
1. Cultivate a positive outlook. People naturally gravitate towards a colleague who is upbeat and optimistic. These workers more likely to respond in a positive manner to challenging situations within the office, thereby lifting the mood of fellow co-workers; additionally, they also happen to be 12% more productive. With that in mind, teach yourself to be positive. Look for solutions, rather than challenges; if you’re feeling unhappy or stressed at work, speak to a co-worker or your supervisor for support. Take the time to help out co-workers, and even mediate for 2-3 minutes a day. Take care of yourself; invariably, this attitude will transfer to your work and create a positive relationship with your colleagues.
2. Acknowledge others’ expertise. One of the best ways to build trust at work is to let your co-workers know you appreciate their expertise. Ask for their help on projects, and be sure to give credit where credit is due. Feedback is vital in raising other people’s morale and in building a good working relationship with them: don’t be afraid to give constructive criticism, or praise somebody when they’ve done a good job. Build a reputation for yourself as a caring person.
3. Show a real interest in your colleagues. You work closely with colleagues for eight hours every day, so it’s only logical that you’ll learn something about their lives. For example, someone might be planning to get married while another colleague is learning a new skill outside work. Take the time to get to know what’s important to your co-workers, either during the day or by having a chat with them during your coffee breaks. Take advantage of work nights out to bond and make friends; work will progress much more smoothly and efficiently if you get on well with your colleagues.
4. Be an active listener. Practicing active listening is an excellent habit to maintain, whether in your personal or professional life. Active listening is about showing the person that’s talking that you hear and understand them: you can do this by maintaining eye contact with the speaker, nodding your head, and repeating what they say in your own words. Not only will you develop a better understanding of them, but your colleague will feel respected and understood; in addition, you’re more likely to be able to recall the conversation more easily afterwards.
5. Be assertive. Navigating the trials of office life successfully- and in a way that may even earn you a promotion, as well as your colleagues’ respect- is all about being assertive. Be confident in your abilities, and don’t be afraid to express your needs and opinion, as well as your limits. Assertive people often walk the perfect middle ground between imposing their view on others and bending to peoples’ opinions; they will find the perfect solution that fits everybody clearly, and won’t be upset if their opinion isn’t the one that is finally chosen. Being confident and assured also means that they are able to view their work objectively, without letting pride get in the way: by being more assertive, you’ll gain a reputation for being an efficient worker, rather than an abrasive or passive one.
6. Practice empathy. Being an empathetic worker can be invaluable when it comes to building relationships with colleagues. Gain a well-rounded view of things, and of people’s behaviour, by putting yourself in their shoes. This will help you develop empathy for others and better understand their needs. It’s also important to examine your own attitude: are you being too subjective, or are you more concerned with getting your own way? By being open-minded, and bearing other people’s needs in mind, you will be better equipped to find solutions that work for all involved.
7. Maintain your relationships. Don’t let “out of sight, out of mind” ruin the relationships you’ve carefully built up over the years. With 380 million people on LinkedIn and 968 million on Facebook, the internet makes it easier than ever to stay connected with others. Connect with school friends and former colleagues, send them emails, and try to set up face-to-face meetings now and then. Not only will you be able to swap advice and even set up meetings with other people, but keeping in touch shows your connections and friends that you still value your relationship—and that can go a long way in helping you advance your career.
Even if you don’t work in customer service, sales, or PR, interpersonal skill will form an integral part of your professional toolbox during your career. From collaborating on a project with an insecure colleague to liaising with an important external stakeholder, you need the confidence, empathy, and communication skills to make the most of every interaction. By doing so, you’ll gain allies and simultaneously demonstrate to your supervisor that you’re capable of bringing out the best in others. And that’s a key aspect of career advancement.