How often have you heard someone say, “I don’t care if they like me, as long as they respect me”?
With friends and family, we seem to understand the importance of caring, compassion and connection. We grasp that exhibiting interpersonal skills can go a long way toward building effective, lasting personal relationships. But what about at work? Why is it that some, in the professional realm, think that the components of successful work relationships are somehow different, often replacing rapport, empathy and authenticity with stiff, formal mannerisms we label as professionalism?
Interpersonal effectiveness is a competency of emotional intelligence and is vital to connecting with others. It means being attuned to others, showing sensitivity and understanding in their interests, putting them at ease, and being able to relate well to all sorts of personality types. Those with strong interpersonal effectiveness are empathetic and seek to understand others. This competency involves using diplomacy and tact — in other words, learning people skills and putting them to use.
Those who are good at getting along well with others have an understanding about how the social world works. They know what is expected in social situations and pick up quickly on social cues. They know how to take a genuine interest in other people, what they do, and why they do it. They are curious about how others think and have developed excellent listening skills.
“The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.” — Theodore Roosevelt
You can tell you’re good at this if you stop and listen to yourself in conversations. Do you ask more open-ended questions than closed ones, and let others do most of the talking? If so, you’re probably demonstrating strong interpersonal effectiveness. You most likely are good at building new relationships and mending broken ones. You respect differences in others (religious, gender, political, socioeconomic, communication styles, etc.) and know how to mirror others to build rapport. People strong in this competency have a contagious, positive, enthusiastic outlook and others want to be around them.
Do you know anyone like this in your workplace? If yes, do you like being around them and working on projects with them? If you could name one quality you appreciate most about them, what would it be?
On the other hand, some have difficulty connecting to others. These are the type we describe as being a little ‘rough around the edges.” They may come across arrogant, insensitive, unapproachable, or cold. In meetings, they may demean others’ ideas and be quick to jump in with their own opinions and solutions before hearing others out. They may keep to themselves and not take the time to build rapport, because they’re either too busy or don’t see the need.
Can you think of anyone like this in your workplace? If yes, do you like being around the and working on projects with them?
“I will pay more for the ability to deal with others than for any other ability under the sun.” — John D. Rockefeller
But does it matter if our colleagues like us? It does. According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, vibrant social connections at work help you be more productive, and can even ramp up the passion you have toward your work — causing you to be less likely to quit. In another study, by Officevibe, researchers found that 70% of the participants said having friends at work is the most crucial element to a happy working life, and 58% of men said they would refuse a higher-paying job if it meant not getting along with coworkers. (https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/workplace-friendships).
Relationships are relationships, whether personal or professional. And all relationships require nurture and effort in order for them to be successful. Whether you are a good team player or not, you’re not going to get far trying to go it alone.
“Each contact with a human being is so rare, so precious, one should preserve it.” — Anais Nin
Interpersonal skills are something we can all develop, if we devote some time and energy into learning a new way of interacting. Here are a few ideas to get started:
- Self-awareness is always a good starting point. Consider completing a 360 assessment that measures your social and emotional intelligence skills to serve as a launchpad to your growth.
- Notice how others respond to you when you walk in the room or open your mouth to speak. In order to do this, you’ll need to make eye contact. Do others seem nervous, speaking quickly or stumbling over their words? Are they too quick to agree with you (out of fear of upsetting you) or rarely speak their mind? Watch for verbal and non-verbal signals. This practice of noticing will help you begin to focus on others in each moment.
- Seek to understand. When you speak, is it all about communicating your own ideas, or are you open to hearing what others have to say? Asking open-ended questions which draw others out will help you understand the why behind their behaviors and actions.
- Get rid of distractions. Put down your phone when you talk with others and stop multi-tasking when others speak. Show them that you can make time to listen to them and that what they have to say is important.
- Share about you. You don’t have to tell every person your entire life story or the play-by-play of your current drama, but let your teams and colleagues know the why behind your decisions, or the methodology of how you got there. Splash conversations with bits of your personal life and ask about theirs. As you model authenticity, you’ll encourage others to feel safe in opening up to you.
- Be open to learning. It’s OK to admit your interpersonal skills may be lacking. If needed, take a class, read a book, or talk to a coach about how to grow in this area. Think of someone who is good at getting along with others and seek advice from them.
- Start today. Even if your interpersonal skills need work, you can still get started today by taking small steps. Simple things like smiling, expressing gratitude, putting down your phone in conversations, and using appropriate humor are a few ideas you could try as you get started.
- Practice, practice, practice. Practice your new-found skills with everyone you meet, whether it’s your boss, a coworker, or the janitor who cleans your office. The more you try out your people skills, with all types of people, the more natural they will feel and become.
Remember, to begin to interact with others on deeper levels, you’re going to need to slow down. If you normally work through lunch, consider asking a colleague to join you once a week. If you work with your door closed, try leaving it open sometimes so others know they can pop in if needed. Take an extra five minutes each day to ask your coworkers and employees about their personal lives — their kids, their dogs, their last vacation, what are their holiday plans? People feel valued when you take the time to get to know them and it builds trust.
You may think you don’t care if others like you. And you may think all that matters is that you have others’ respect. Yet I find that often when people like you (and know you, and understand you), the respect comes naturally, as a next step, and they begin to value the real you. If you have any hopes of being a leader–a good one, that is–growing in interpersonal effectiveness is an invaluable skill set you simply must take the time to develop.
“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.” — Mahatma Ghandi