People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” –Theodore Roosevelt
Take a moment to envision the following situation: An exceptionally skilled and highly intellectual executive is promoted into a leadership role only to fail at the opportunity given to them. Alternatively, someone with great – but not exceptional – skills and intellect was promoted into an identical position and flourished.
What sets the second individual apart from the first? It almost always revolves around the mastery of interpersonal skills! Although interpersonal skills are frequently referred to as “soft skills,” don’t let this description fool you. In our 21st century globalized and personalized service economy, leadership success rises and falls on the ability to connect, motivate and inspire high performance in others. Soft skills become powerful skills in driving organizational success through people.
When it comes to interpersonal skills, self-awareness makes all the difference in the world. “Self-awareness means having a deep understanding of one’s emotions strengths, weaknesses, needs, and drives. People with strong self-awareness are neither overly critical nor unrealistically hopeful. Rather, they are honest—with themselves and with others.”[i] Knowing how you communicate, what your values and behavioral tendencies are, as well as your emotional cues, helps you understand how others receive what you say and do. It’s critical to accurately assess one’s self without an over or under estimation of one’s capabilities, because either exaggeration will only hurt your ability to communicate effectively.
Consider both verbal and non-verbal communication. When speaking with others, do you find yourself focused on the other person or always talking about yourself? Do you genuinely listen and respond thoughtfully to others, or are you busy framing a different idea in your mind while the other person is speaking? Your non-verbal communication can be more indicative of your thoughts than you realize. Facial expressions, checking your phone/clock, fidgeting, and the extent to which you engage with body language all portray signs of your interest/disinterest.
The most effective communication style is the one that takes others into consideration first. With an attitude of genuine respect and kindness for others, and a willingness to adapt to others’ communication style, messages are conveyed with ease. Actively viewing situations through alternative perspectives demonstrates empathy and an appreciation for diversity. The more perspectives we welcome, the more our viewpoint is enriched. Our aim in communicating should be focused on mutual alignment rather than being “right.” Effective communication means all parties involved are moving forward on the best path together.
In order to move forward, one must speak with clarity so that the message is received and understood properly. Speaking clearly and simply reduces confusion and potential conflict. Don’t assume that people understand what you are saying because you may not be as clear as you think you are. Additionally, the most critical component of communication is listening. Listen twice as much as you speak. We have only one mouth, but two ears for a reason. In order to communicate successfully, we must speak, listen and affirm one another throughout the conversation. Without any of those components, communication falls apart.
The most productive way to develop one’s interpersonal skills is to pay attention to how others’ respond to your communication with an honest eye. Interpreting their reactions and welcoming valuable feedback is a quick and easy way to start improving one’s interpersonal skills immediately.
Utilize your interpersonal skills by maintaining ongoing and healthy business relationships. Make the effort to initiate conversations with others on a regular basis. Be generous with kindness toward others whether you see eye to eye with them or not, and refrain from jumping to conclusions too early. Every person has unique experiences and knowledge that influences their ideas and behavior in the workplace. Positive relationships are the life blood of every organization. Without healthy relationships, communication breaks down. When that happens, information does not flow and good decisions are thwarted.
The ability to relate interpersonally with others and establish meaningful relationships within your organization is what sets so many individuals apart from the pack. With effective communication brilliant ideas become goals and coworkers become more like family, enabling you, your team, and your organization to flourish.
[i] Goleman, Daniel. “What Makes a Leader?” Harvard Business Review, 1998.