What are interpersonal skills?
Interpersonal communication can be defined as the verbal and nonverbal exchanges of ideas, information and feelings between two or more people. Interpersonal skills, then, are the tactics and strategies individuals use during their interactions with other people.
At a basic level, interpersonal skills can be appraised based on two things: accuracy and appropriateness. Primarily, effective communication should get the intended message across; after all, the ultimate goal of any interaction is mutual understanding. However, proficient communicators can do this while following cultural norms and situational expectations. In the workplace, this involves showing respect for team members, accommodating customer needs and exuding a sense of professionalism that aligns with your company’s values.
Why are interpersonal skills important and why should you look for them in your candidates?
Social skills are often taken for granted. While all people communicate in their daily lives, far fewer people can actually do it well. Interpersonal skills have become even more valuable in our modern virtual world. As we engage in less face-to-face communication, habits like maintaining eye contact and using expressive body language don’t come as naturally to the average person.
A team of competent communicators is a necessity for any organization to succeed in its operations. In fact, professionals with education and expertise in the field of communications are highly sought after because they understand how to form connections with people. This is a transferable skill that should be practiced by all. At the end of the day, human relationships are what keep our businesses afloat — relationships with customers, among team members, within the community and with any other potential stakeholders.
Examples of interpersonal skills
Now that we have a general understanding of why effective communication is so important, the next question is: What are examples of interpersonal skills? This is by no means a comprehensive list; however, we’ve highlighted a few abilities that will come in handy at any workplace. When considering new candidates, it’s helpful to identify what skills are most crucial for your team so you know exactly what to look for.
Clear and concise communication
The most basic interpersonal skill is the ability to articulate ideas in a way that others can comprehend, also known as communication accommodation. For example, professionals may use industry jargon among themselves, but when engaging with less experienced individuals, they should break down complicated concepts into simpler, more digestible terms. This skill becomes increasingly important when dealing with people from diverse cultural backgrounds and demographics.
Listening is different from hearing. A good listener pays close attention to what’s being said. They’re empathetic, they absorb and apply constructive feedback and they give signals to ensure the other person knows they’re being listened to. These can be nonverbal (such as nodding or taking notes) or verbal (such as asking the speaker to elaborate or clarify their ideas).
Influence and persuasion
It can be difficult to strike a balance between confidence and modesty, but those who do are typically regarded as both credible and trustworthy. People with these leadership skills have a way of impacting those around them, and you know them when you see them. These individuals might be the ones who get the team fired up or whom everyone looks to during a meeting for new ideas. They may also have a way of captivating customers and consistently making sales.
Conflict is bound to arise in the workplace. It may take the form of tension between coworkers, an unsatisfied customer or negative forces from the outside, but in any case, handling clashes and disputes with grace is an invaluable skill. A person with this ability may act as a mediator or voice of reason when others are in conflict. If they’re personally involved, they’ll react with composure and seek out solutions that have everybody’s best interest in mind.
Last, but definitely not least, is the skill of nonverbal communication. This is a broad category of interpersonal skill that encompasses many aspects of a person’s self-presentation. It’s not about what they say, but how they say it. Nonverbal communication also includes body language, such as facial expressions, gestures and posture. Finally, a person’s appearance is a medium of nonverbal communication. “Looking the part” can be indicative of a candidate’s level of professionalism and often results in positive perceptions from others.
How can you assess a candidate’s interpersonal skills throughout the hiring process?
There are a few things you can do to get a sense of your candidates’ interpersonal skills, starting with the application materials.
Reviewing the cover letter and resume
First and foremost, assess their writing skills. How does this person sound on paper? Is the document easy to read? Free from grammatical errors? A polished cover letter demonstrates strong writing skills, a fundamental qualification for nearly any position.
You can identify interpersonal skills on a resume by scanning through the candidate’s previous work experience. Look for job titles and keywords that indicate interaction with others, such as “manage,” “collaborate” or “customer service.” Do they mention any major accomplishments they achieved as part of a team?
Conducting the interview
The next step is meeting the candidate in real time. You can start assessing their interpersonal skills upon first glance.
- What are they wearing?
- Do they appear professional?
- Did they make a good first impression?
During your interview, take note of how they interact with you and anyone else who might be present.
- Do they communicate effectively and appropriately?
- Do they demonstrate engagement through eye contact, smiling and asking questions?
- How does this person make you feel?
Make a point to discuss what you found in terms of the interpersonal skills on the resume. You might ask them about their role on a team, the group dynamics and how they overcame any challenges.
Another tactic that can be very useful during this stage of hiring is the use of structured interviews. Come up with a list of hypothetical scenarios and ask how each candidate would handle the situation. By giving everybody the same question, you can compare and contrast their answers and decide whose approach is most suitable for your team, your goals and your organizational culture.
After the interview
Be sure to reach out to references for a more objective take on your candidate’s interpersonal skills. Ask about their relationship to the applicant, how they would describe their personality and any experience working with them — good or bad.
Remember: Skills can be learned
Like most other skills, interpersonal communication can be learned and improved upon through practice. If you have a qualified candidate who’s not quite up to par, placing them in a supportive work environment could allow them to gain confidence and emotional intelligence and get more out of their interactions. You might even find it useful to implement some form of communication training for existing employees. Though it may seem some people were born with “the gift of gab,” interpersonal skill is something that anyone can work on.