Artwork by: Olga Aleksandrova
Interpersonal skills are just as important – if not more important – than technical skills if you want to gain or keep a job. If you want to be hired for a new position or distinguish yourself at a new position, the tips and tricks in this article will help you master essential communication abilities such as active listening and cultivating empathy.
Humans are an innately social species – one of the most social species on the planet, in fact. That said, as individuals, we don’t always appreciate how much interpersonal skills can help us thrive in workplaces, in job interviews, and other career-related spaces.
The art of building rapport and winning cooperation can seem intricate beyond belief…but with the guidelines of this article, you can learn social graces that’ll serve you well during job applications and a career’s daily grind.
In this blog, we’ll discuss:
How to communicate by listening
How to get recruiters/colleagues interested in you by expressing genuine interest of your own
The importance of remembering personal details people share
How to check your comprehension of recruiter’s or colleague’s explanation
How to show recruiters and bosses that you’re listening
How to increase your awareness of people’s feelings and motives
How to promote yourself without coming across as self-centered
How to be assertive, but not to the point of aggression
The importance of expressing gratitude that’s genuine
How to reach common ground when you disagree with someone
Businesses are almost always looking for employees who are “intelligent” in some specific way. Financial groups will want to hire people with logic-focused intelligence, while sports teams will seek out athletes with intelligence related to mind-body coordination.
Nearly every business, no matter their speciality, will be impressed by soft skills like communication or emotional interpersonal intelligence – that is, the ability to understand people’s feelings and motives and convey their own sentiments in turn.
This 2022 Search Engine Land article discusses the importance of communication to companies with “hybrid” workplaces where employees have remote AND on-site schedules.
According to data from a survey of business leaders and knowledge experts, poor communication can cost a business $12,506 from the yearly revenue generated by a single employee.
This average loss in revenue stems from declining productivity, disruption of work schedules, and a lack of confidence leading to deals falling through – each a consequence of misunderstandings or breakdowns of communication protocols.
It can be hard to develop presentation skills, persuasive methods, or other interpersonal abilities. Still, even the most technically talented job seekers should put effort into mastering the fundamentals of social interaction for their job interviews and the jobs they currently possess. Grasping the interpersonal guidelines listed below can make all the difference for professionals who want to win the respect of their interviewers or the trust of their colleagues.
To be a good author, you need to write and read a lot of books. To be a good musician, you need to practice your musical scales and hear a lot of music. And to be good at talking to other people, you need to master the art of listening. Many interpersonal skills are situational, but listening can help you in almost any situation.
Proper, active listening is more than just standing by silently while another person talks. Pay close attention to the information they share, identify the most important details, and take mental or physical notes for later. During natural pauses in the conversation, ask the speaker concise questions about what they’re discussing – not just to clarify, but to encourage the speaker as well.
During a job interview, these listening skills will let you identify the values of potential employers and create relevant questions that demonstrate your professionalism to recruiters. In a workplace, the same listening skills are a vital tool for understanding your assigned responsibilities and completing tasks that fulfill the spoken (and unspoken) needs of clients and colleagues.
If you want to be listened to, then listen to others. If you want people to be interested in you, then be interested in them.
Of course not everyone has the same interests. A topic that one person finds fascinating will be utterly boring to another. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, it’s important to learn how to express your interest in what other people have to say and genuinely mean it.
This doesn’t mean you have to lie or mislead the people you talk with. By employing your listening skills to absorb information and ask good follow-up questions, you’ll often learn things that’ll pique your interest in what your conversation partners have to say. If that doesn’t work, one alternative mental trick is to imagine a person who would be interested in the topic being discussed, then ask questions from their hypothetical perspective.
Sample follow-up questions to ask recruiters and supervisors:
- How did you learn about this subject?
- When did you start working on this?
- Where do these products come from?
- What is the next step?
- Why is it important to do things this way?
During job interviews, it’s essential to be interested in what your interviewer has to say, since recruiters probably won’t hire you if they sense you’re not excited about the job. Expressing genuine interest is a slightly less vital skill in a workplace but still a very useful way to leave your supervisors and colleagues with positive impressions.
Few people can recall the names and faces of every person they ever meet. Even so, sharing your name with a stranger is an act of trust, while greeting someone by name acknowledges their personhood and agency. For this reason, remembering names is an important part of forming strong personal connections with the co-workers and recruiters you meet.
Aside from a recruiter or co-workers name, it’s also important to memorize any other personal details they share with you during formal or casual conversations – phone numbers, email addresses, birth dates, personal affiliations, upcoming vacations, etc. Record these details in a notebook or the contacts list of your smartphone as a backup you can consult when your memory fails you.
Listening to what people say is important, but perceiving the feelings and desires behind their words is an even more essential skill. Pay attention to cues such as eye contact, the hunching of shoulders, the twitches of the hands, and the volume and tone of their voice – body language that indicates whether a person is feeling happy, melancholy, calm or stressed.
Being aware of what a recruiter or manager feels is a valuable safety gauge in discussions and meetings, letting you make sure your words aren’t agitating or offending others. Cultivating empathy can even help you realize when a colleague desperately needs help or support but doesn’t know how to ask for it.
Awareness of body language helps you understand other people’s feelings AND teaches you to be mindful of your own body language and how it might be interpreted. Maintaining eye contact, for example, shows colleagues that you’re earnestly listening to them, while averting your gaze or turning your body away can suggest apathy or disdain.
When you listen to a recruiter ask behavioral questions at an interview or receive instructions from a manager at a workplace, it’s important to check your understanding of what they’ve said to make sure you haven’t misheard it. The most straightforward way to catch these misunderstandings is simply asking them to repeat or rephrase statements you’re unsure about.
To be more active in the conversation, you can instead summarize their statements using your own words, then ask the speaker if your interpretation was right. Pilots aboard ships and planes use a similar method, repeating commands from their officers to make sure their content wasn’t garbled.
To get a job and keep it, you need to self-promote when the situation calls for it – describing the skills you’ve mastered, the tasks you’ve completed, and the aspirations you hold to recruiters, hiring managers, supervisors, or co-workers. If you don’t “toot your horn” from time to time, the people around you may never know what you’ve accomplished.
At the same time, excessive self-promotion can come across as self-aggrandizement, making you come across as vain or self-centered to the colleagues around you. Egotism (or the impression of egotism) may not get you fired from your job (nearly everyone has a story about an obnoxious boss). It will, however, damage the bond of trust between you and your co-workers, increasing stress and lowering productivity.
Besides actively listening to others and giving them space to talk, you can avoid sounding self-centered in conversations by carefully calibrating the grammar in the sentences you construct. Avoid using pronouns like “I” or “me” in excess and use conditional phrases such as “it seems,” “it looks like,” or “it would appear” when expressing views others might have reasons to disagree with.
Whether you’re describing your skills during a job interview or pitching a proposal at a business meeting, showing your conviction is essential.
Assertive, confident language resonates with listeners, inspiring faith in your ideas and a desire to help you accomplish your goals. The line between assertiveness and arrogance can blur at times, but understanding their distinction will help you make speeches and arguments that rally people rather than browbeat them.
To be assertive is to have self-respect – to believe that your opinions and feelings are valid, and to express those opinions and feelings with statements that are honest and non-judgemental. To be assertive is to also have respect for others – to acknowledge that the opinions and feelings of others are valid, even when you disagree.
To be aggressive, on the other hand, is to lack respect for the people you talk to, treating them as tools or machines that must obey you rather than people with their own life and agency. Two classic examples of workplace aggression are the stereotypical “evil boss,” a tyrant who shames his staff into performing unreasonable tasks, and the stereotypical passive-aggressive employee who plays the victim card when called out for bad behavior.
To come across as assertive and not aggressive, your language needs to express your self-respect for others. Speak in the active (rather than passive) voice, use phrases that are clear and direct, and never hide the true intent of your statements behind allusions and insinuations. Once you’ve expressed your views and aims in full, encourage the people you respect to express themselves as well, asking non-rhetorical questions that show you value their perspective.
Do use sentences like these when trying to speak assertively:
- Can you perform this task for me?
- I can’t perform that task right now.
- I feel we should do it this way.
- I don’t think this is the best approach.
- How do you feel about this?
Don’t use sentences like these when trying to speak assertively:
- I could really use some help with all these tasks.
- I can do this, but first I need to get all these other tasks out of the way.
- Do it this way, and do it now!
- Are you sure this is the best approach?
- We don’t have time to debate!
Respect goes to those who offer respect, and you’re more likely to receive gratitude for your efforts in the workplace if you offer gratitude of your own.
When expressing your thanks to recruiters during a job interview or colleagues in a workplace, it’s important your gratitude not be false or exaggerated. Ethical issues aside, lies and disingenuous compliments are easy to spot, and a recruiter or colleague who realizes you’re misleading them will quickly lose their trust and respect for you.
Thankfully, careful observation is usually all you need to find real reasons to commend the people you interact with in workplace environments.
To impress hiring managers during interviews, you can always compliment them for the time they spend evaluating your resumes, answering your questions, and treating your application seriously.
A co-worker in an office can be praised for aiding you with tasks and sharing information you need to complete your own endeavors.
A manager or supervisor, even if their leadership style is stern and distant, can be lauded for offering useful feedback and guidance.
By expressing gratitude for these services and others, your colleagues will realize you pay close attention to the work they do, and be more interested in paying attention to the work you do.
Few interpersonal skills are as challenging as the art of delivering a critique to a workplace associate. Studies have shown that criticisms of behaviors, beliefs, and methods can feel like a personal attack on your dignity and well-being.
Even if a critique is well-intended and backed up by logic, a co-worker or manager may reject it on an emotional level, clinging to their viewpoint even harder than before. (This is why political debates during holiday get-togethers rarely end well.)
For all the psychological challenges surrounding it, constructive criticism is a vital part of learning from your mistakes and growing more competent at your job (especially when you’ve just been hired).
To critique co-workers and managers in a palatable way, use phrases that acknowledge the subjectivity of your opinions:
“It feels like…”
“To my understanding…”
Not presenting yourself as all-knowing or infallible makes the critique you offer more palatable to your listeners.
Active listening isn’t just paying attention but asking questions that enrich the conversation.
If you’re struggling to maintain interest in a conversational topic, think of what a genuinely intrigued person would say.
Remember and record the names, dates, and contact info your colleagues willingly share; you never know when they’ll come in handy.
Practice empathy by observing and analyzing people’s voices and body language.
If you learn something complex from a job recruiter or work associate, repeat it back in your own words to check your understanding.
To promote your ideas without sounding egotistical, use language and phrases that focus on the idea, not on you.
The difference between assertive and aggressive statements lies in the respect you show to others . . . and to yourself.
Take note of the times where job recruiters, co-workers, or supervisors help you and express your gratitude wholeheartedly.
Never hide the truth when critiquing someone’s work, but use conditional language to acknowledge that your opinion is subjective.
Coleman is a professional writer specializing in creating standout resumes & cover letters. Aside from helping job-seekers create documents optimized for getting results, Coleman writes career advice blogs covering a wide range of in-demand career development topics. Whether providing clients with their perfect resume or comprehensive insights into trending professional topics, Coleman is there to lend his invaluable expertise.