So many job postings these days require a person to have well-developed interpersonal skills because so many jobs involve working with and on behalf of others. Customers want to feel valued, acknowledged and recognized. Others you work with need your involvement, co-operation and open communication in order to move forward with projects, campaigns or to get their own work completed.
Interpersonal skills are no longer optional, but as close to be a mandatory requirement as they’ve ever been. Now if you are fortunate enough to say this is one of your strengths, you can count this among the many transferable skills that can propel you forward in your career to new jobs, promotions and dawning challenges.
However, when interpersonal skills is way down on your list of skills, it can be daunting to know this is an area of weakness and wonder how you go about improving. For if you were lacking in accounting skills or computer skills, you could sign up and take a course to acquire those. However, interpersonal skills can seem more difficult as to many people it appears more internal than an external thing, and how do you change something more innate and part of who you are?
Well of course, there are workshops, classes and courses you can look into that will improve your interpersonal and communications skills. An organization such as Toastmasters for one, is a group where you learn how to speak in public, develop your verbal presentation skills and are supported with others who like you, are there to improve upon what they’ve got.
And while I could give examples of other specific groups or courses that can specifically assist with your interpersonal skills, I’d rather suggest a different approach. But just in case that’s what your after, call any school of higher education, or social service agency in your part of the world, and within a short period of time you’ll get the information you need.
But here in this blog, I’d rather suggest a different approach which I can sum up in two words: get involved. You see it really doesn’t matter whether it’s a knitting class, volunteering at a community fun day, playing poker with some friends or taking a photography night class at a local community centre. When you get involved in anything where others are present, you have the opportunity to talk, listen, comment on, share and speak with others.
The single-most important thing you should remember is that no one who meets you for the first time, has the slightest idea of what shortcomings you have. This is a powerful bit of knowledge that is so critical and can help you improve. You’ve got a choice you see; acknowledge to others that you joined the group to improve on your interpersonal skills as well as learn the camera, or how to knit etc. You can also keep your weak interpersonal skills to yourself and just start slowly until it does become natural, or thirdly you can ‘fake it’ and act assertive and chatty until it becomes second nature.
However, some practical tips and advice might help get the ball rolling if your lost for how to begin. For starters, a smile – even if it feels forced, some eye contact and a clear, “Hello”. Practice when you’re alone and yes it will feel weird if no one is around except your reflection in the mirror. Look at yourself as you extend your hand and say hello, and catch yourself if you say, “This is dumb”. It’s not. It’s Interpersonal Skills 101; the beginning.
If you are out on a walk with the dog and someone is approaching in your direction, don’t look down as they pass, but rather look at them briefly and just say, “Hi”. In other words, it’s like taking those first baby-steps; it feels awkward, unnatural and you’ll think you’ll never get used to it, and then all of a sudden you’ll grow in confidence.
Any opportunity you can get to start a conversation is a chance to grow your skills. I once had a person who lived in an area with many tall office buildings around them, who found it difficult to initiate conversation and therefore had weak interpersonal skills. What I suggested was to go from tower to tower and ride the elevator up and down. Why? People on elevators are only in your presence for a few moments at the longest. If you say hello and a conversation does start, it will be confined to something brief, like the floor you want, the weather and then ‘ding!’ they get off. So we contracted that he’d ride those elevators for three weeks, for an hour and a half each day.
What happened? Well in the beginning, he’d just get on and get off without saying anything. Then he got on and said to another person, “Third floor please”. He’d get off, sweat a little and then calm down and get back on and go up another three or four floors, again saying nothing more than, “Seventh floor please”, but then added a, “Thank you” each time. Eventually it became easier and less stressful to add, “Nice outside today isn’t it?”
Of course if you join a club, or get involved with some group, the advantage is you see the same people and they get to know you. You may find that if you tell others you are working on your interpersonal or communication skills, they will have sympathy for you and draw you in to conversations and activities, and you’ll feel more welcomed and included.