Kai Dickerson
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Interpersonal skills: everything you need to know
Last updated: June 30, 2022
Kai Dickerson
Community Specialist
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Interpersonal skills: everything you need to know
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If you’re like most job seekers, you probably focus on your work history and hard skills when you write your resume and cover letter. Those details can include your knowledge of technology or your years of experience in the foodservice industry.

But hiring managers also want to know about your soft skills — personal behaviors or traits that help you succeed in any workplace. Interpersonal skills are some of the most in-demand soft skills. Twice as many companies are focusing on empathy and interpersonal skills after the start of the pandemic in 2020 compared to before.

Showcasing your interpersonal skills when you apply for a job is important, but it can be harder than demonstrating technical skills. This article will help you understand what interpersonal skills are, how you can use them in your career, and how to prove to potential employers that you have them.

What are interpersonal skills?

Interpersonal skills are the skills that help you communicate, interact, and collaborate with others. They include both verbal and non-verbal communication skills.

We all have these skills and use them in our everyday lives, but some people have more well-developed interpersonal skills than others.

Employers seek out people with these skills because communicating effectively and working well with others makes you better at most kinds of jobs.

Don’t worry if your interpersonal skills need work — it’s always possible to improve with practice.

Why are interpersonal skills important?

Most jobs involve communication, interaction, or collaboration. Even if you have a job that isn’t customer-facing, you usually have coworkers, and getting along with them is essential.

69% of businesses have increased their skill-building efforts to close skill gaps during the pandemic. But spending resources on skill-building can be expensive. So, if you’ve already developed interpersonal skills throughout your life and other jobs, hiring managers will see you as a highly desirable candidate.

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Employers want to know that you can work as part of a team or lead that team if the role demands it. They want to know that you’ll be able to communicate effectively with your coworkers, boss, or subordinates (the people who report to you).

If there are disagreements in the workplace, employers want to trust that you’ll resolve them in a positive way. And they want to foster a positive work environment, meaning they need you to be caring and respectful of others.

All of these things rely on interpersonal skills.

Types of interpersonal skills

There are nine main types of interpersonal skills. Most people will be stronger in some areas than others, but there’s always room for improvement.

1. Communication

Poor communication can be a disaster in any role.

Customers could get the wrong information about a product and leave a bad review. An email from a coworker could be misinterpreted, leading to a delay in a project. Or the whole team could be confused because their manager didn’t clearly communicate expectations.

In some jobs, poor communication could even lead to someone getting into physical harm. You can see why employers want employees with great communication skills.

Being a good communicator means you’re skilled at communicating ideas through speaking and writing. It also includes body language and other non-verbal communication.

2. Listening

Communication shouldn’t be one-sided. Active listening is another important interpersonal skill for the workplace.

It’s not enough to hear your coworker. Active listening means that you make a conscious effort to take in what the other person is saying and reflect on it.

Do you find yourself impatiently waiting for a team member to finish talking so you can make your point? If so, you’re not alone — it’s a bad habit that many of us have. But working on your listening skills can benefit you in your career.

Practice giving your conversation partner your undivided attention. People with good listening skills know how to stay engaged and remain open to the ideas they’re hearing.

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3. Conflict resolution

We all hope to get through our day at work without conflict, but some disagreements are inevitable.

You might be at odds with a teammate over how to complete a task or a project. If you’re a manager, you might have to mediate disagreements between coworkers.

Conflict management and resolution skills allow you to work through the problem without getting overly upset. You can empathize with all sides of a disagreement and find a positive way forward.

For example, maybe you’re frustrated because you feel your coworker isn’t completing a task correctly, leaving you to fix the problem. Your coworker feels they’re doing the task right.

Instead of getting angry and arguing, you talk to them about the issue and try to understand their point of view. Eventually, you come to an agreement about how to do the job.

4. Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and relate to the feelings of others.

It’s extremely important in customer-facing roles. Dealing with customers isn’t always easy, but if you empathize with their needs and problems, you’ll be able to provide the best service.

Empathy is also an important skill for working with colleagues. Caring about their feelings makes you a more respectful and helpful coworker. Empathy is especially important when you have a management role — you need to see things from the perspective of your higher-ups and the perspective of the team you’re leading.

5. Leadership

You don’t become a leader just because you’re a boss — and you can step into leadership without becoming a boss.

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Leadership is about inspiring and empowering others to succeed.

When you have strong leadership skills, others look to you to make decisions and map a path forward for them.

Employers are always looking for candidates and workers that show leadership skills — and strong leadership skills can lead to promotions and better compensation.

6. Negotiation

Negotiation means you can work with others to find an agreeable solution that benefits everyone (not just one person).

In some jobs, negotiation involves reaching formal agreements or creating contracts. But even if your work doesn’t involve official negotiations, being able to negotiate is an important interpersonal skill.

For example, you might have to negotiate with a coworker over the work distribution for a project. Or you might negotiate with your employer to get a higher wage in return for increased responsibilities.

7. Motivation

It’s hard to stay motivated all of the time. No matter how much you like your job, work can get tedious.

Motivated workers are able to stay engaged with their job and the people around them.

There are techniques to help you stay motivated on the job. For example, break your work into smaller tasks so that it feels more manageable. Or take a short break if possible.

8. Teamwork

Collaboration is important in most jobs, even those that involve a lot of independent work. If you’re part of a larger organization, you’re part of a team.

That’s why 86.3% of recruiters say they look for the ability to work in a team on students’ resumes.

Great teamwork is the combination of listening, negotiation, empathy, and other skills. You communicate well with your teammates and listen to their ideas. You negotiate effectively and help motivate the whole team to do good work.

9. Positive attitude

A positive attitude is a huge advantage in the workplace. That’s because it’s not just desirable for you — it’s desirable for every person who will interact with you, whether they’re customers, colleagues, or managers.

Having a positive attitude helps you deal with the inevitable challenges you’ll encounter at your job. It’s difficult to stay motivated and focus on finding a solution when every bump in the road brings you down.

Positive attitudes also keep the work environment harmonious. A single person with a bad attitude can sour the entire mood of a team. That’s why a positive thinker is an attractive candidate for hiring managers.

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10. Reliability

You can have all the hard skills in the world, but can others count on you to get the job done?

Reliability is often more important than raw skills. A talented employee who’s the best at what they don’t won’t be valuable to a team if they’re not reliable.

On the other hand, reliability shows your commitment to your employer. It communicates that you’re willing to show up despite the challenges you might encounter.

It doesn’t mean that you’re not reliable if you take a sick day or arrive late once in a blue moon because you got stuck in traffic. But make it a habit to stick to your word, do what you say you’ll do, and consistently deliver good work.

What are some examples of good interpersonal skills?

You use interpersonal skills in every interaction, big or small, that you have at your job. Strong interpersonal skills make a good impression on your customers, coworkers, and employer. These people are all important to help you advance your career.

Some examples of things people with good interpersonal skills might be able to do are:

  • Work with a colleague to develop a plan

  • Provide constructive criticism without being hurtful

  • Motivate others to work harder

  • Compromise with a coworker

  • Talk through a disagreement without getting emotional

  • Help a colleague solve a problem

Unfortunately, people with poor interpersonal skills often don’t realize they have those things to work on. But, reflecting on your interactions with others at work can help you identify where you excel and where you could improve your interpersonal skills.

Which part of your job usually goes the smoothest? Do you get angry and frustrated with your coworkers? Do you remember what people say after you talk to them?

Everybody has some strengths and weaknesses. Emphasize your strengths in your job search and work on the weaknesses.

How to show interpersonal skills in your resume, cover letter, and interview

Most employers are looking for someone with interpersonal skills, but job seekers struggle to demonstrate that they have these important abilities.

To best leverage your interpersonal skills in your job search, make sure to include them in your resume, cover letter, and interview.

Listing interpersonal skills in your resume

Many job ads list interpersonal skills that employers are interested in. For example, you might see a job description looking for a “team player” or someone with “leadership ability.”

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Use the words from the job description on your resume. You can list them in the skills section or work them into your resume summary.

Listing interpersonal skills in your cover letter

When writing your cover letter, don’t just list your interpersonal skills. Give examples of times you’ve used them in the past and, if possible, connect those stories to the job you’re applying for.

Keep each story short — the whole letter should only be a few short paragraphs.

Showing interpersonal skills in the interview

Much like in your cover letter, you can use stories and anecdotes to demonstrate interpersonal skills in the interview. You can go into more detail than you did in your cover letter, but don’t go overboard. You don’t want to spend too much time on any one interview question.

The most important way to prove you have interpersonal skills in an interview is to use them.

Communicate well, listen attentively to the interviewer, and show your future employer that you would be easy to get along with.

What jobs require interpersonal skills?

Honestly, we can’t come up with a single job that doesn’t require some level of interpersonal skills.

Most jobs come with coworkers or customers. Even if you’re in a position where you’re working alone from home for your entire shift, you still will have a boss you need to interact with on occasion, at the very least.

Some jobs are very people-focused. For example, good communication is at the heart of customer service.

But you don’t have to be in a customer-centric job to need interpersonal skills. If you have to collaborate with your coworkers, lead a team, or get along with your boss, interpersonal skills will make you better at what you do.

How to develop interpersonal skills

Here are five ways to develop your interpersonal skills and improve your career outlook.

1. Practice assertiveness

Assertiveness can help you develop your communication skills while maintaining healthy boundaries with your coworkers. Practice expressing your needs clearly to other people in your life to develop your assertiveness.

Set clear boundaries and hold them. For instance, let’s say you have to pick up your child from daycare after work. From the start of your employment, you’ve made it clear that you have this responsibility and that you cannot do overtime. If you’re asked to do overtime, remind your manager of your boundaries in a firm but polite manner.

You don’t have to start practicing assertiveness at work if you don’t feel ready yet. Start with the people who are closest to you. It can be as simple as saying “no” to attending an event you’re not interested in.

2. Show your interest in your coworkers

Start building relationships with your coworkers by taking an interest in their work. But you can also ask about their personal interests and get to know them.

You don’t have to become best friends with every colleague. But getting to know them a bit more will help you build trust with them.

3. Listen actively

Active listening doesn’t come easily to everyone. If it doesn’t come naturally to you, schedule it into your day so that you can practice.

Add a reminder for yourself to listen actively at a specific time of the day. Start outside of work hours at first.

During your active listening period, pay attention to how you’re listening to others around you. Focus on what they’re saying instead of trying to think of what you’ll say next.

4. Practice mindfulness

Take care of your mental health while at home, and you’ll see benefits in your work. Activities like meditation and breathing exercises can go a long way, even if it’s just a few minutes each day.

Become aware of how you feel — and why you feel how you feel. Avoid judging yourself for feeling this way and instead try to understand it.

This type of mindfulness can help you control outbursts or frustration at work. If you feel at ease with your thoughts and emotions outside of work, it will come more naturally while you’re on the job.

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5. Observe what others do

One of the best ways to develop interpersonal skills is to learn from those who already have them. That’s why you should find ways to be surrounded by people you consider successful. They can be people from work or people in your personal life.

When you’re spending time with these people, observe how they interact with others. How do they listen to others? In what way do they share their frustrations when they come up? How do they overcome daily challenges? There’s so much you can learn from observation alone.

The importance of interpersonal skills

Interpersonal skills are something most employers are looking for in a new hire.

Identify your strongest interpersonal skills and showcase them in your resume, cover letter, and interview. Once you land the job, great interpersonal skills are sure to give you a career boost, regardless of your field.

For more tips on boosting your career, check out the Jobcase Getting Hired Resource Center.

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