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How to improve interpersonal skills

October 9, 2018 - Gini Beqiri

People want to be feel that they have been understood and respected despite the content of a conversation. Poor interpersonal skills can prevent this from happening and lower the effectiveness of communication.

It’s important to develop these skills as they are required in your professional and personal life on a daily basis and a significant proportion of your life consists of interaction. In this article, we discuss techniques for improving interpersonal skills.

What are interpersonal skills?

Interpersonal skills cover the interaction and exchange of information between two or more people. This can be verbal and/or non-verbal communication.

Many soft skills require strong interpersonal skills, such as:

  • Conflict resolution
  • Negotiation
  • Teamwork
  • Empathy
  • Decision-making and problem solving

For more info, read our comprehensive list of soft skills.

Why it is important to develop interpersonal skills

It’s important to develop your interpersonal skills because:

  • You interact with others regularly
  • It’s essential for networking
  • Career development relies on this
  • Employees look for this skill

How to improve your interpersonal skills

Below we have gone through techniques to develop your interpersonal skills.

Practice empathy

To be empathetic means that you are able to identify and understand others’ emotions i.e. imagining yourself in someone else’s position. Understanding how people feel will help you communicate your thoughts and ideas in a way that makes sense to others and it helps you understand others when they communicate.

To develop empathy:

  • Imagine yourself in someone else’s position. Even if you have not experienced a similar situation, remember a situation where you have felt the same emotion your colleague/employee is experiencing.
  • Practice listening to your colleagues without interrupting them.
  • Observe your colleagues and try to gauge how they’re feeling.
  • Never ignore your colleagues’ emotions, for example, if someone looks upset don’t disregard this – address it.
  • Try to understand first rather than form a judgement. For example, you may initially feel annoyed at a colleague who seems cold and disinterested. However, after discovering they suffer from social anxiety you may feel more sympathetic.
  • To communicate your empathy keep your body language open and regulate your voice to show your sincerity.
Two people practicing empathy

Cultivate a positive attitude and work environment

People want to be around others that are friendly and have a positive outlook even when the company may be in a difficult situation. You don’t have to be incredibly sociable but you must develop some type of positive rapport with your team so that the workplace is pleasant for everybody. Also, offer your assistance to others if you have time to spare.

Recognize others’ expertise

A good way of building trust at work is to let colleagues know that you value their skills. Show this by asking for their help on certain tasks and projects. Also, let them know when they’ve done a good job so they understand that they’re appreciated.

Show an interest in colleagues

You will be working with the same people daily so it’s likely that you will learn about their personal lives. Get to know what’s important for them as this helps build positive relationships.

Become self-aware

Self-awareness is the ability to accurately recognize your: emotions, strengths, limitations, actions and understand how these affect others around you. By developing this skill you will be able to act more thoughtfully.

Improve self-awareness by:

  • Keeping a diary of the situations that have triggered disruptive emotions in you, such as anger, and your thoughts and behaviors during those situations. With this information you can form an understanding of your emotions and reactions and work towards self-regulation.
  • Receiving feedback from staff as this can highlight how others perceive you and it also helps you target unhelpful reactions.
  • Observing the response others have to your behavior.

Handling difficult colleagues

You may have a difficult colleague in your department but you shouldn’t let this get in the way of your performance and this type of issue frequently escalates and can disrupt the whole team.

Try to find one good professional characteristic in this person as it can become significantly easier to interact with them if you remind yourself of this trait.

Be assertive

Assertiveness is when you confidently express your needs and opinions in a fair, honest and calm way whilst considering the needs and views of other people.

People are more likely to like and respect you if you’re assertive in your communication rather than passive or aggressive. They will also trust you more and conversation will flow more smoothly.

Man being assertive

Be assertive by:

  • Telling the other person how you feel.
  • Listening to what the other person says and empathizing.
  • Speaking at a normal conversational volume.
  • Maintaining eye contact.
  • Avoiding words that exaggerate, such as, “always” and never”.
  • Using facts rather than judgements.

No distractions

Before engaging in conversation put your phone away and ensure that it’s not visible to make it clear that you’re fully focusing on the discussion. Be respectful and give those involved your full attention.

Avoid interrupting

Interrupting disrupts the thought process of the person speaking and it’s disrespectful. If it’s necessary to make an interruption then make a gentle interruption – ask the person if you can interrupt and apologies, for example, “Sorry, can I quickly interrupt/add something?”.

Avoid talking over others

This suggests that you’re not listening or not willing to listen.

Become mindful of your body language

Your body language may be sending out negative communication signals, for example, hunched shoulders, hands in pockets and looking down suggests you don’t have much confidence in what you’re saying, folded arms might seem like you’re not open to the other person’s ideas and pointing your finger may look accusatory or defensive. Your body language needs to show that you’re engaged and open to the conversation.


  • Be aware of what you are physically doing during the conversation.
  • Keep your body language open.
  • Maintain eye contact with the person you’re speaking with as this keeps you connected with them.
  • Reduce physical barriers to reduce distractions and to make communication as comfortable as possible.
  • Assess the other person’s body language – if they’re not in a receptive position think about how you can adjust so they feel more comfortable.
Body language diagram

Think before you speak

Consider how your words are going to affect the others in the conversation before you say anything. You must be honest but you must also remain respectful.

Actively listen

Active listening is when you listen beyond the words being spoken – you understand the message being communicated. During conversations, a lot of the time the “listener” is thinking about how they’re going to respond rather than concentrating on what the speaker is saying.

By really listening you can provide a more thoughtful answer that takes the speaker’s thoughts and opinions into account.

To develop active listening you should practice the following:

1. Pay attention

Give the speaker your complete attention:

  • Look at them directly and maintain eye contact.
  • Don’t think about your reply whilst they’re speaking.
  • Interpret their body language.
  • Try to avoid being distracted by what’s happening around you.

2. Show the speaker that you’re listening and that you’re interested:

  • Use your body language to highlight you’re engagement, such as, nodding, smiling, maintaining an open posture etc.
  • Use prompts, such as, “uh huh”, “yep” etc.
  • Clarify your understanding…

3. Clarify your understanding

You need to ensure that you understand what the speaker is saying without your judgments and beliefs getting in the way:

  • Reflect on what you have heard by summarizing and paraphrasing, for example, “Sounds like you’re saying…”. Ensure you do this periodically in a conversation as it helps with your understanding and it’s also another way to show the speaker than you’re listening.
  • Ask questions to ensure that you understand everything, such as, “What do you mean when you say…” Ensure that these questions are non-judgmental.
  • Ask whether you’ve got it right and accept if you need to be corrected.
  • Ask for specific examples.
  • Admit if you’re unsure about what the speaker means.
  • Ask the speaker to repeat something if you think it will help.

4. Don’t interrupt or redirect the conversation

Interrupting is not helpful as it’s irritating for the speaker and it reduces the time for you to understand the message:

  • Before saying anything ensure that the speaker has finished a point.

5. Provide a suitable response:

  • Be honest when you respond but avoid attacking or making the speaker feel bad because this is unhelpful.
  • Provide your opinions politely.

Be open

Being open allows you to understand what’s being said by positively receiving feedback and providing honest feedback in return. This gives everyone a fair chance to share their views and opinions and it prevents you from becoming defensive or attacking.

Avoid finishing others’ sentences

You may think that finishing other people’s sentence is helpful or that it shows your understanding. However, others may interpret this as though you think they’re not worth listening to or that you’re impatient.

Respect others’ thoughts and opinions

Even if you disagree with what someone else is saying you should have the courtesy of letting them speak before respectfully expressing your opinions. Even if you both don’t agree at the end of the discussion at least you’ll both have an understanding of a different viewpoint.

Interpersonal skills may seem like a simple concept as it essentially involves just speaking with others but as you can see there are many factors to be aware of. It’s important to practice these skills whenever you can as the best way to improve is by applying them as much as possible.