The Most Important Interpersonal Skills (With Examples)

By Abby McCain - May. 23, 2021
Skills Based Articles

Find a Job You Really Want In

While you can’t get a job without relevant technical skills, you probably won’t be able to keep one without interpersonal skills.

No matter what type of job you have, you’re going to need to be able to relate well with your boss, your clients, and your employees. Your employers are going to be working with you day in and day out, and they want to know it will be an enjoyable experience.

Interpersonal skills will make you hireable and set you apart from other candidates who may have the same technical abilities that you do.

What Are Interpersonal Skills?

Interpersonal skills are what make you a pleasant person to work with and an effective employee with a chance to move up the corporate ladder. Interpersonal skills range from simply having a good attitude to managing conflict well.

Interpersonal skills are a subset of soft skills, as opposed to hard skills. While hard skills relate to your on-the-job technical expertise and are learned through instruction, soft skills relate to the intangible qualities and personality traits that make you a great employee.

Because interpersonal skills are harder to train and teach, hiring managers and recruiters value them highly.

In this article, you’ll find some of the most sought-after qualities so that you can see what natural abilities you should highlight and where you may need to improve. Put the skills you do have on your resume and provide examples of them in your cover letter and interview, and find training or mentoring that will help you grow your weak spots.

Types of Interpersonal Skills

  1. Communication. This is one of the most valuable skills you can have in the workplace. Being able to communicate clearly and effectively with your coworkers and clients is vital to both the organization’s and your success.

    This goes beyond crafting engaging presentations and well-written memos, though. Having good communication skills means knowing when to send an email and when to meet face-to-face, being able to share your concerns while remaining respectful, and understanding when to speak up and when to save it for later.

    The nuances of your communication style should adjust to fit the culture of your workplace, but having a general understanding of how to interact with others well will help projects run smoothly, keep you in good graces, and show that you are able to take on more responsibility in the future.

  2. Conflict management. No matter where you work, chances are you’ll encounter some conflict, whether it directly involves you or not. Knowing how to manage it well is a skill that many companies look for when they’re hiring.

    Your ability to be assertive, come up with creative solutions and compromises, and look out for the interests of all parties involved in the conflict is invaluable.

    While this is one of the most difficult interpersonal skills to master, it’s also one of the most teachable, as there are a number of classes and resources available to help you learn how to do this well.

  3. Empathy. Whether you’re working with customer complaints or just coordinating with your coworkers, being able to put yourself in another person’s shoes is vital.

    Before you get defensive about your boss’s complicated new formatting requirements or a customer complaint, take a moment to look at the situation through their eyes.,

    Maybe the extra five minutes it takes to format your report differently will save your boss hours of work, or maybe the customer is on a tight budget and really needed your product to come through for them, and it didn’t.

    This skill will help you not only be enjoyable to work with, but it will also make it easier for you to work with difficult people.

  4. Leadership. Having good leadership skills means more than being bossy. It means taking initiative, leading by example, looking out for your team and the organization, and being willing to have tough conversations.

    Even if you aren’t technically in a position of leadership, hiring managers want to know that if they put you in charge of a project or team, you’ll be able to lead it well. They also want to know that you aren’t just a yes-man or lazy worker, but that you will lead by example through hard work and ethical behavior.

  5. Active listening. You’ve probably been told, “You have two ears for listening and one mouth for speaking,” at some point in your life. Well, this is a skill that remains important from Kindergarten through adulthood.

    Being a good listener involves more than just not talking, though. Employers want to know that you’ll not only hear them, but that you’ll do what they ask you to do. They also want to know that you’ll listen to customers and colleagues as they bring up concerns and ideas.

  6. Negotiation. Like conflict management, negotiation requires assertiveness and creative problem-solving. Whether you need to negotiate with clients or just help resolve conflicts within the office, having this skill can help you stand out as an employee or manager.

    Being able to negotiate well can also help you individually when it comes to your job, especially if you create a lot of sales or contracts.

    Thankfully, this is also a skill that is relatively easy to find practical training for.

  7. Positive attitude. No one likes a complainer, especially if you have to work with them consistently. You can easily be the bright spot in someone’s day by accepting assignments and facing obstacles with a smile on your face.

    You can and should still be realistic, because over-the-top optimism can be just as annoying as constant complaining, but responding graciously no matter how you feel will set a pleasant tone for the whole office. It helps you feel better about the situation as well.

  8. Teamwork. Even if you’re the only person in your department, you’re still a part of a larger organization, and you need to be able to show that you’re willing to support it.

    Being a team player doesn’t mean you have to roll over and neglect your personal needs, but you do need to give your team your best effort and be willing to make some personal sacrifices for the good of the group.

  9. Dependability. It may sound obvious, but your employer should feel like they can trust you to do your job. This includes showing up on time and giving consistently good results. It means that when you say you’ll spot-check that report, you’ll do it, and you’ll do it thoroughly and promptly.

    You want to be someone who your boss and coworkers can rely on to make their jobs easier.

  10. Desire to grow. Most good managers want to help you succeed at your job, and great managers want to help you grow into new roles and responsibilities. They can’t do that if you get defensive every time they try to help you improve, though.

    Being coachable is vital to being a good employee and coworker, as well as opening doors for future roles and promotions. Show that you want to learn by seeking out relevant training opportunities, asking for feedback on your work, and thanking those who give you constructive criticism.

How to Improve Your Interpersonal Skills

You’ll use these interpersonal skills for the rest of your life, so it’s worth putting in the effort to develop them. Get in the habit of looking for ways to hone your strengths and improve your weaknesses, as this will help you be sure you’re always growing and make you an even more valuable asset to your employer. Here are some ways to do this:

  1. Ask for honest feedback. Find a trusted coworker or manager and ask them which areas you are naturally gifted in and where you might need to improve.

    They’ll be able to show you your blind spots so that you can work to grow in those areas, as well as point out strengths that you might not realize you have. These are just as important as your weaknesses, because you can be intentional about finding ways to use those strengths to their fullest potential.

  2. Find a class or workshop. There is no shortage of articles, classes and lectures on the internet. Find some reputable ones and put together your own training regimen.

    Look into local in-person classes and workshops that you can attend on your lunch break, or sign up for a conference that covers these topics.

    Ask your employer what professional development opportunities they provide as well. Companies are often more than happy to help their employees grow, and they may even pay for your training.

  3. Ask for help. If you have someone you look up to who has strong interpersonal skills, consider asking them to mentor you. This can be over the span of several years or just a day of watching them in action and asking questions.

    If you have some specific areas you want to grow in, find one or two people you admire who demonstrate these skills and ask them for advice. Usually, people are more than willing to offer a helping hand.

  4. Practice empathy. We could all stand to focus a little less on ourselves and a little more on those around us. To practice empathy, start putting yourself in the shoes of those you work and live alongside.

    When you’re listening to people, actually listen — don’t just wait for your turn to talk. Ask why others think and behave the way they do, and try to understand their underlying motivations. People with high emotional intelligence are often better at getting things done than those with book smarts but no people skills.

  5. Boost your confidence. Feeling good about yourself helps you treat others well. Start keeping a brag book of all the compliments you’ve received at work, and note down any major accomplishments you’re proud of.

    Confident people are more comfortable sharing their ideas and opinions. As long as you temper your confidence with the empathy we discussed above, you’ll come off as a well-rounded individual; you’ll value others and believe in yourself.

  6. Ask more questions. Not just during on-the-clock, professional conversations (but certainly do ask questions that relate to your job performance), but also during less formal conversations. When you express interest in other people’s ideas, you become more likable.

    Take time to ask thoughtful follow-up questions that show you’ve been paying attention and are still interested in the subject. If you’re not sure what to ask, remember that everyone’s favorite topic is themselves — ask your coworker’s about weekend plans, vacation ideas, and anything else that gets below surface-level conversation.

Resume

When it comes time to showcase these skills during the job application process, start by incorporating them throughout your resume. You can list them under the “skills” section or find ways to weave them into your “experience” sections. Check the job description and make sure you include the ones specifically listed there, as this can often get you through the initial screening.

  • Interpersonal skills in your resume’s skills section. You might naturally think that the skills section is the best place to include your interpersonal skills. While you’re correct to think this makes a good home for them, we don’t recommend simply listing “Interpersonal Skills.”

    Instead, think about which of the types of interpersonal skills listed above most apply to you and the job you’re applying for.

  • Interpersonal skills in your resume’s work experience section. Now is when the “show, don’t tell” mantra comes into play. Instead of simply listing your tasks with phrases like “Organized X event” or “Communicated Y data,” look for professional accomplishments you owe to your interpersonal skills.

    Giving real examples of your skills in action, along with quantifiable achievements that bring in real numbers and data, will give hiring managers and recruiters a much fuller picture of who you are and what you have to offer. For example, you could write something like “Welcomed and trained new recruits, reducing onboarding time by 12% and training costs by 6%.”

  • Interpersonal skills in your resume’s summary statement. You can also lead your resume with a vibrant picture of yourself as possessing top-notch interpersonal skills. Something like “Compassionate caretaker with 5+ years experience helping patients understand, cope with, and manage the stress of illness” helps sell both your experience and your value as an interpersonal wizard.

No matter where you choose to incorporate your interpersonal skills into your resume, be sure to tailor your qualifications to the job. Read the job description carefully and note which interpersonal skills are mentioned multiple times or otherwise emphasized.

Then, look for ways to honestly and naturally use that same language in your resume.

Cover Letter

When you write your cover letter, feature your top one or two skills that make you an ideal candidate for the position you’re applying for. Don’t just say you have them, though; show how you’ve used them in the past and how they’d help you with this position.

A cover letter is a great place to add personality to your resume’s technical qualifications. In short, it’s a great opportunity to show that you’re friendly, personable, and able to communicate clearly via the written word.

As always, try to bring in great results that you owe to your interpersonal skills. For example, if you’re applying for a customer service role, you might write about a time when your positive attitude and solutions-oriented mindset brought about a great resolution that helped create a happy return customer.

Interview

Before your interview, go through this list and think of one or two anecdotes for each skill that demonstrates your abilities. If you do have a weak spot, explain what you’re doing to grow in that area.

This is also a great answer to the ever-popular interview question, “What’s your greatest weakness?” Hiring managers know that no one is perfect, and you have a better chance of being hired if you show that you’re self-aware and actively working to grow.

Many questions that relate to your interpersonal skills are behavioral interview questions that ask you to describe an example of your past behavior. They often start with phrases like “tell me about a time” or “give me an example of a time when.”

The best method for answering these common interview questions is to use the STAR method. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result, and it’s a great way to organize short stories that pack a punch. Let’s take a look at a couple of common interview questions designed to test your interpersonal skills to the test, as well as example answers using the STAR method:

  1. Tell me about a time when you had a conflict at work.

    At my last job at XYZ Inc., I had a coworker who would often turn in work late and fail to communicate their progress with teammates. We all did our best to work around the problem, but eventually, it became too much. I stepped up and had a frank conversation with our coworker about how our projects were being delayed because of him and asked if we could work out a better communication system. We agreed to morning meetings every other day to establish how far along he was and get him resources if he was stuck. Overall, the increased accountability led to fewer delays, and the delays that did happen were much more manageable, since we were more in-tune with his progress.

  2. Give me an example of a time when you had a difficult customer.

    The seasonal rush is a big thing in retail and, sadly, many customers become irate with all the stress of the holidays. Last year, a few days before Christmas, a customer came in with a jacket she had purchased but turned out to be the wrong size. She wanted it fixed before Christmas day, but we were out of stock of her desired size, and our website was also showing out of stock. She became really upset, but I looked into creative solutions. I found that one of our outlets had the same jacket from the previous season in the size she wanted it. Not only did she get the product she wanted, but at half the cost!

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Author

Abby McCain

Abby is a writer who is passionate about the power of story. Whether it’s communicating complicated topics in a clear way or helping readers connect with another person or place from the comfort of their couch. Abby attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she earned a degree in writing with concentrations in journalism and business.

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