How strong are your people skills? Do they come easily to you or do you get dinged on interpersonal skills in performance reviews?
The good news is that everyone has the capacity for interpersonal savvy — building and maintaining solid working relationships with colleagues, superiors and direct reports.
The key is to learn behaviors that demonstrate valued people skills, such as good listening, empathy, sincerity and trustworthiness. Honesty, supportiveness, a team orientation and a willingness to share responsibility are also part of the interpersonal skills mix.
A new CCL guidebook, Interpersonal Savvy: Building and Maintaining Solid Working Relationships, offers a practical approach for improving how others view you and experience your people skills. Rather than digging deep into your emotions or personality, it focuses on behaviors that make a difference.
To improve your interpersonal skills, try these steps:
Set a goal. Figure out what — specifically — you’d like to improve. Maybe you know you interrupt or override others in meetings, sending the message that you don’t listen. Or you’d like direct reports to know they can trust you or that you are willing to share responsibility. If you’re not sure where to start, ask yourself: How do I want others to perceive me? What qualities would I like others to see in me? Do I have a reputation to overcome? Ask a trusted colleague to help you see the positive ways and the negative ways others perceive you.
Focus on behaviors that will help you meet your interpersonal improvement goal. What can you do to change perceptions? For example, to promote trustworthiness you should guard information that was given to you in confidence. You could also find sincere ways to talk positively about others — both to them and to others. Trust others — share your own experiences and feelings.
Identify red flag scenarios. What situations get you into interpersonal trouble? When are you most likely to undermine your best efforts? Often red flag scenarios are tied to feeling rushed or boxed in. You might need results in a hurry and start issuing orders rather than listening carefully to understand or hear the ideas of others. Or if you feel the stakes are high or that you are personally vulnerable. If you know what is most likely to have you behaving in ways that don’t help your interpersonal goals, you stand a chance of stopping yourself before you react.
Enlist help. Find one or more sources of support for your efforts — people to help you clarify what you are doing, encourage you and point out when they see improvement (and when they don’t.)
To learn more about specific interpersonal skills and how to improve, read Interpersonal Savvy: Building and Maintaining Solid Working Relationships.