What Are Interpersonal Skills?

Here’s what interpersonal skills are, why they matter and how you can develop them.

Written by Brooke Becher
What Are Interpersonal Skills?
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
Matthew Urwin | Dec 01, 2023

Interpersonal skills are the behaviors people demonstrate when effectively interacting with others. Commonly referred to as “people skills,” these communication tactics can be signaled verbally and non-verbally in both one-on-one and group dynamics. Highly transferable across industries, interpersonal skills are a part of a professional’s soft skill arsenal that builds and determines the nature of professional relationships.

Interpersonal skills come in handy when handling conflict, collaborating within a team or just generally relating to your coworkers throughout your career. While some are innate traits, others are learned over time and can be further developed to strategically navigate social settings.

What Are Interpersonal Skills?

Interpersonal skills are the traits people use to communicate and interact with others. They are also known as “people skills” or “soft skills.”

“Being a genius coder or a killer salesperson doesn’t mean much if you can’t get along with others,” Melani Gordon, a partner at executive coaching and culture development firm Evolution, told Built In. “Interpersonal skills help you build that trust, turning you into not just someone people have to work with, but someone they want to work with.”

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What Are Interpersonal Skills?

Sometimes referred to as ‘people skills’ or ‘social skills,’ interpersonal skills don’t just involve effectively communicating with others, but also reading others’ social cues and responding accordingly. 

Although interpersonal skills depend on one’s personality traits and communication style, they can also be developed through past experiences and repetition. As a result, employees can participate in more interactions to improve their interpersonal skills, which range from effective communication to active listening. 


13 Examples of Interpersonal Skills

While there is no official list of interpersonal skills to turn to, below are some office-friendly attributes that are sure to enhance anyone’s employability.

1. Communication

Nearly every aspect of business relies on communication — whether spoken or written. It should be clear, concise and consistent. Even nonverbal cues count as communication, especially in the age of remote work and video meetings.


2. Active Listening

Active listening is when someone reflects upon and responds to — rather than reacts to — what another person says. As opposed to passive listening, active listening requires concentration, critical thinking, comprehension and a bit of demonstration. Without this interpersonal skill, it’s entirely possible to have two separate conversations at once, without arriving upon a mutual understanding.


3. Empathy

Being in tune with what other people are thinking — and interpreting why they may be behaving a certain way — is the internal personal skill of empathy. It takes time to acquire. Achieving this level of insight involves listening, asking questions, recognizing feelings, avoiding judgment and sharing perspectives to authentically “walk in someone else’s shoes.”


4. Emotional Intelligence

Whether as an employee or leader of a company, having a clear understanding of your own emotions, motivations, triggers and behaviors is the first step in determining how to respond in any given scenario. The ability to recognize and regulate one’s own standings of emotional and social intelligence better informs where their strengths or weaknesses lay, and therefore what to embrace and where the work begins.


5. Positive Attitude

If an employee is capable of seeing the good in any situation, they are more equipped to stick it out when expectations fall short. Rather than complain or tally all that went wrong, these solution-oriented individuals are often the first in the room to switch on, ready to pivot. They have a certain energizing quality that rubs off, where just a greeting or brief catch-up conversation can leave coworkers feeling more capable of tackling the day.


6. Negotiation And Persuasion

Whether negotiating a deal or trying to persuade an audience, these processes involve articulating your thoughts in alignment with their needs while “selling it” altogether. Luckily, Aristotle determined the three pillars of persuasive speaking 2,300 years ago — ethos, pathos and logos — which suggests building a logical argument that appeals to an audience’s character and emotions.


7. Conflict Mediation And Resolution

Having a knack for designing win-win solutions and finding common ground translates well in a work environment. Listening to all of the facts, remaining calm and making sure people feel heard play a key role in resolving conflict. The pathway to peaceful resolution is to land on a compromise without either party feeling like they’re giving up anything.


8. Problem Solving

Problem solving begins with being able to identify a problem, then brainstorming a solution. From there, it’s a matter of analyzing the possibilities and implementing which works best, whether it’s project-specific or a company-wide matter. Strong problem solving can inspire better strategy and time management, but also instill confidence and build motivation.


9. Leadership

An employee with leadership qualities knows how to leverage the best out of their team. They listen to all sides before making a decision while motivating and inspiring others to work toward a shared goal — especially when the going gets tough.


10. Resilience

Having the ability to cope with adversity and pivot as the plot changes will serve someone well, especially in the workplace. When someone can maintain their own psychological well-being amid a high degree of stress, it communicates that they do not need things to go as planned in order to excel in their job. These individuals are dependable, and can roll with the punches.


11. Creativity

Problem solving, writing, analytical or critical thinking, communication and open-mindedness are all creative attributes fit for the workplace. Creative thinkers approach tired tasks in imaginative new ways, generating original ideas that can lead to innovative solutions.


12. Humor

Cracking a (well-timed, work-appropriate) joke can create a positive atmosphere even when handling difficult tasks, like high-stakes negotiations, presenting a sales pitch or delivering a down-market report. Humor diffuses tension, boosts creativity and increases one’s likeability.

Leaders with a sense of humor are seen as 27 percent more motivating and admired than those who don’t joke around. Their teams are 15 percent more engaged, and twice as likely to solve a creativity challenge — translating into higher productivity.


13. Small Talk 

The ability to have informal, polite discourse about light, non-work-related topics helps establish rapport with colleagues. Small talk eliminates the need for stale, overdone conversation starters.

“Have you ever been in one of those company mixers where it feels more like a middle-school dance? Nobody’s mingling,” Gordon said. “Now, a person with killer interpersonal skills walks in and suddenly, the energy shifts — conversations spark, people laugh and ideas start flowing. That’s interpersonal skills in action.”

Related ReadingHow Interpersonal Skills Help You Be a Stronger Tech Player


Benefits of Interpersonal Skills

A solid set of interpersonal skills makes for a more harmonious — and more efficient — workplace. As employees become better colleagues and leaders become more effective at the helm, a positive and productive team culture is often a byproduct.

“Technical skills are important, but they aren’t the only skill type we should be focused on,” Koma Gandy, vice president of leadership and business at corporate-education platform Skillsoft, told Built In. “Success depends on a workforce that can understand, practice and apply both [technical and soft] sets of skills.”

Below are some of the benefits of interpersonal skills.

1. Stronger Relationships

By definition, interpersonal skills are how we relate to others. It’s how we build trust, collect understanding and learn how people prefer to communicate. Great interpersonal skills are the bread and butter to effortlessly building deeper connections with your coworkers, resulting in a tighter team and pleasant work environment.


2. Higher Morale

Flexing your interpersonal skills to create a sense of understanding, belonging and recognition — as well as a space capable of facilitating change — boosts office morale and contributes to a culture of camaraderie.


3. Better Business

For every customer won, there’s a master of interpersonal skills at work. Anticipating the needs of a client is impossible without actively listening, exercising empathy, solid communication, patience and perhaps a sprinkle of witty banter.


4. Increased Productivity And Collaboration 

Interpersonal skills are the lubricant of a well-oiled organizational machine — with good communication, there are fewer misunderstandings and mistakes. According to research conducted by team messaging app Pumble, 86 percent of employees and executives cite insufficient collaboration and communication as the main causes of workplace failures. But when communicating effectively, a team’s productivity may increase by as much as 25 percent.


5. More Problem Solving

When a team takes the time to understand one another, they are better equipped to find a solution that works for most everyone involved. This leads to more compassionate office dynamics where “problems” become team-building opportunities.


6. Supportive Work Environment

When employees walk into a work environment that is more concerned with empowering them rather than putting them in their place, it’s immediately felt. Interpersonal skills can help leaders lighten their team’s workload and alleviate work-related stress by just setting the right tone. Keep the doors open, check in, pay credit where credit is due and listen before you lead.


7. Opportunities For Promotions

Office politics are a factor whether we want to admit it or not. When vying for a position, promotion or project, interpersonal skills can get you the job — even if you’re not as technically qualified as other candidates.

“[Office politics] is a game everyone says they don’t want to play, but guess what, you’re already a player,” Gordon said. “Interpersonal skills are your cheat code to navigate this tricky terrain without selling your soul to the corporate devil.”

Related ReadingUpskilling: What It Is and Why It’s Important


Why Are Interpersonal Skills Important?

According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report, eight of the top 10 core skills required of workers today are interpersonal skills. Surveyed companies identified soft skills like analytical thinking, creativity, empathy, motivation and leadership as integral qualities to a workforce that works.

“To be effective in your workplace and career, it’s critically important to manage yourself, manage your network and manage your team — in that precise order,” Gandy said. “Interpersonal skills help us identify and navigate our emotions as we become more self-aware. When we are equipped with these skills, we make better leaders and colleagues to one another and help drive real business success.”

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How to Improve Interpersonal Skills

1. Get to Know Yourself

To start, it’s important to understand your own natural behaviors when interacting with others. Are you more chatty and extroverted? Or do you struggle with attention, deflecting the conversation while mentally mapping out an escape plan?

Psychologist Leslie Dobson, who specializes in mental health in both individual and group therapy settings, said that this can be done with a simple self-assessment. By asking yourself how assertive you feel you are at work, and the manner in which you assert yourself — aggressively, passively, or passive-aggressively — can be a great exercise in self-awareness.

To put it to the test, try videotaping yourself. This can be in pretend conversations or more naturally, while out with friends, Dobson recommended. Despite an inevitable aspect of ‘cringe’ that comes with this tried-and-true exercise, it offers instant, indisputable feedback from a third-person perspective that provides a better understanding of your own habits.

“In the tech world people tend to be a little more introverted,” Dobson said, noting that, when learning new techniques and trying out different approaches to communication, these individuals may feel like they’re being aggressive.

As you reflect, you may notice that you have a tendency to overshare and could probably pull back on personal anecdotes, or you may find yourself blurring into the background a bit, and could use it as a green flag to increase your level of participation in a group setting. 


2. Pay Attention to Your Body Language

Small things, such as walking tall, shaking hands, holding eye contact and keeping an even, steady tone, can add up, and ultimately contribute to creating a more relatable presence in the workplace. Start by taking a proper posture and relaxing your shoulders. Keep your arms uncrossed and slightly lean in when others are talking to you. Study what others are doing, and try out what feels most natural to you.

“If we can name our interpersonal skills — both what we have and what we’re lacking — then we can externalize them and operationalize them,” Dobson said.


3. Enroll in Career Development Programs

For those seeking a more formal course correction, enrolling in career development classes may be the way to go. Any workshops that specifically focus on public speaking, leadership or networking in their curriculum are worth looking into, Dobson said, as well as supportive therapy groups such as social skills training.


4. Stay Curious

And it doesn’t stop there — as Gandy noted, developing professional-grade interpersonal skills is not a “set it and forget it” type of endeavor. Sharpening relational techniques is a life-long practice that can help build your career and enrich your life.

At Skillsoft, Gandy assists business leaders in identifying skill gaps in their teams via objective assessments. The results are then used to inform curated programs, with transferable credentials, that are in alignment with the needs of the organization.

“[Building interpersonal skills] is a consistent and constant journey of … continuous learning and growth,” Gandy said.

Related ReadingTech Hiring Madness! The ‘Elite 8’ Skills to Look for in Recruiting.


How to Use Interpersonal Skills at Work

It’s one thing to know about interpersonal techniques and their benefits. It’s another to actually apply them to your daily routine. The following includes a few hacks to work in during your next series of workplace interactions.

1. Stay Positive

Try to cultivate a positive mental attitude at work. This will allow you to become both a part of and a contributor to a more harmonious work culture. While it may be a matter of ‘fake it until you make it,’ looking for the good in any given scenario — especially stressful ones — reflects positively on you as an employee and coworker.


2. Control Your Emotions

Conduct yourself professionally at work, even when others aren’t. Communicating in a calm, patient manner is key to maintaining an appropriate workplace persona conducive to trust, respect and integrity. If personal matters are too big to be compartmentalized, it may be worth taking a personal day or seeking help.


3. Give Praise to Colleagues

People love to hear about themselves. The next time an opportunity arises, when a coworker provides illuminating insight during a presentation, makes a great save or when receiving help on an issue, paying a compliment can be a simple way to vocalize appreciation and build trust. While it’s best to deliver kudos from a place of authenticity, celebrating someone’s expertise — even when competing in office politics — is still a nice gesture.


4. Take Interest in Others

There is no need to climb the workplace social ladder as if it were the same one in high school; however, there’s no harm in inquiring about the personal lives of the people you work side-by-side with on a regular basis. Typically, what they talk about is what they care about most. With this information, you get a better understanding of who they are and the people you work with at large. Bonus points for committing a few notes to memory and then following up later.


5. Practice Active Listening

Nod along, hold eye contact, repeat back what the speakers said in your own words, ask questions to learn more about their perspective and respond thoughtfully to let them know that they’ve been heard.


6. Be Assertive

Voice your needs, thoughts or boundaries with confidence. Letting others know where you stand eliminates confusion, if there is any, and is a strong demonstration of self-respect that may inspire others to follow your lead. 


7. Practice Empathy 

Simple exercises like giving others the benefit of the doubt, putting yourself in other peoples’ shoes and drawing parallels out of other peoples’ circumstances to your own are a few ways to practice empathy. In the context of work, these practices may also aid in problem solving and conflict resolution, when applicable.


8. Maintain Relationships

Whether in or out of work, having a supportive network of healthy relationships is an enriching way to demonstrate that you value and prioritize others. Prioritize connecting with friends and colleagues on a semi-regular basis. This reflects well on you in a professional setting, as it demonstrates qualities like dependability, honesty, respect and that you understand mutual give-and-take.


Common Jobs That Require Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal skills are crucial for jobs that require high levels of human interaction, including the following positions: 

  • Social worker 
  • Teacher
  • Journalist
  • Politician
  • Salesperson or customer support representative
  • Human resources manager


How to Highlight Interpersonal Skills on Your Resume

Interpersonal skills might seem more subtle than technical or hard skills, but there are ways to ensure they get plenty of attention on your resume.

Showcase Interpersonal Skills in Past Projects

Include projects or roles where you spearheaded an initiative, worked with members of other teams or cultivated client relationships. Focus on skills like leadership and collaboration. 


Emphasize Interpersonal Skills Through Volunteer Work and Extracurriculars 

Volunteer work and extracurriculars can also reveal soft skills. Helping plan a community event, volunteering at a library and running a fundraiser for a senior care facility are all scenarios that require emotional intelligence, problem solving and other interpersonal skills. 


Add Interpersonal Skills in a Skills Section

If there’s room on your resume, include a skills section that provides a bullet list of specific skills. In addition to hard skills, you can include interpersonal skills like empathy, teamwork, creativity and conflict resolution. 


Choose Interpersonal Skills That Match Keywords

Keywords in job descriptions often hint at what skills to include in your resume. For example, if a job calls for someone who can collaborate across departments and is comfortable handling complex challenges, drive home your communication and problem-solving skills. 


Make Sure References Can Back Up Interpersonal Skills

Select interpersonal skills that you’ve been complimented on and can be confirmed by colleagues, mentors, teachers and other important figures in your career. Having an extra vote of approval can add more weight to any interpersonal skills you mention in your resume.


Frequently Asked Questions

Communication, active listening, conflict resolution, creativity and problem-solving are a few examples of interpersonal skills. 

Interpersonal skills enable professionals to become better coworkers and leaders in the workplace. As a result, many jobs require skills like empathy and leadership, making interpersonal skills essential for a successful career.

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