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Great Interpersonal Skills Can Be Learned

07/22/2015 05:06 EDT | Updated 07/22/2016 05:59 EDT
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If you feel you just don't have that gift of natural connection, don't worry. Great interpersonal skills can be learned.

You can become aware of others and engage them more naturally and easily than you think. You first need to get over your belief that you're "just not a people person" and that it's not your responsibility to foster teamwork -- just results. You can choose to stick to generating results, but I guarantee they will arrive with more effort and stress than if you had interpersonal skills in your corner in addition to your high intelligence.

Consider Carrie, a successful director of marketing who had been recently hired by a smaller firm from a competitor at great cost. It didn't matter to her new employers that Carrie had changed jobs several times recently because her resume was enviable and her references checked out. She was to marketing what U.S. athlete Jordan Spieth is to golf.

Clients loved her at first, as did her new bosses. However, cracks started to appear shortly after she arrived. Although assertive, focused, and possessing great business instincts, she quickly alienated several younger marketing managers who left to go to other firms.

She once said to a friend, "I'm a marketer. I can't stand managing people and don't have time for small talk."

Sadly for Carrie, her new job came to an end after just three months, not because she wasn't delivering good early results, but because her disinterest in what she called "small talk" had managed to disaffect most of her subordinates and many peers on whom she had to rely to do her job.

Clearly, Carrie was a great hire as long as she could work in essential isolation and have contact with few people.

The days when most businesses would choose to tolerate employees and managers like Carrie are gone. Social media and other forms of digital communication that leave us constantly connected shed light on a growing emphasis on civility and teamwork in hyper competitive markets.

Interpersonal Skills vs. Emotional Intelligence

Other measures of a person's worth to a company increasingly include their "soft skills" and ability to motivate and win the trust of others by relating to them on an authentic and personal basis. These qualities fall under Interpersonal skills and Emotional Intelligence.

Interpersonal skills influence our "likeability" and involve our ability to help ensure our interactions with others result in a mutually positive experience.

According to Dr. Travis Bradberry, Emotional Intelligence, on the other hand, is... the "something" in each of us that is a bit intangible. It affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions that achieve positive results."

Enhancing your interpersonal skills

Choosing to focus the attention on learning great interpersonal skills, I invite you to consider these strategies.

  1. Appreciate soft skills and how they are important to your professional and personal success.
  2. Build plasticity (the ability to change) by getting in touch with your rational brain by teaching your brain new skills. This type of brain training requires you to, among other things, think carefully about your response before you offer it.
  3. Remember that likeability has nothing to do with being easily influenced, being too nice to everyone, and constantly seeking approval. You will alienate people if you constantly put their needs before yours. Likeability is about being empathetic, trustworthy and having an interest in other people's views, whether or not their views mesh with yours.

Train Yourself In the Key Soft Skills

Put yourself in the other person's shoes. Rather than force your ideas or solutions on others because you think they are right, consider the effect of those solutions on your audience.

Consciously choose to smile. I don't mean look perpetually silly or distracted, but gain from studies that confirm people who smile around others win their trust faster and are more likely to attract others to them and their ideas.

Fight the urge to complete other people's sentences. It's natural to want to add your opinion in a discussion. When you let others finish a thought, you are showing respect for their professionalism and views. When you do respond, make sure you aren't just waiting to speak and that you are adding to the conversation at hand.

Praise other people's efforts. Even if you are in competition with them for a promotion or they see you as a threat and want to harm your professional reputation, take the high road. You will be amazed at how effective this can be when done with sincerity.

Be aware of what's going on in your colleagues' lives. You don't need to get nosey, but be aware of important events in their lives. The positive energy you will get in return makes this easy and wise.

Address issues between your team members before they affect others. By drawing on your leadership and active listening skills (plus your business experience) you can help resolve differences between team members on most business-related matters. Rather than stepping aside and letting them square off, show your leadership and confidence to make them part of the same team again.

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