First Things First: What The Heck Are Interpersonal Skills?
Let’s face it. No matter what we want out of life, we’ve got to interact with others. Either online, on the phone or *gasp* face to face.
And unless you’ve got some secret voodoo to unleash on the world, your ability to mingle effectively, without coming across as a manipulative con artist, is highly dependent on your people skills.
Skills to get them to want to help you. To get them to want to hang around you. To get them to enjoy interacting with you.
Bottom line is the better you are at this, the easier life you’ll have.
Why Are They Important?
If you’ve ever had a job, you know the kind of boss that pretends everybody’s his friend, but they secretly hate his guts. I once had a boss like that. We loved her because she gave us an envelop full of cash once a month. She thought it was because of her winning personality.
She thought it was her mad people skills, not her monthly cash giveaway. In reality, if the money stopped, so would her love.
The real reason you need strong interpersonal skills is so you don’t be that person. You don’t want people interacting with you because they have to. You want people interacting with you because they want to. Because they enjoy it. Because they feel better when you’re around.
No matter who you are, or what your experience is, getting these skills that will get you these results is pretty straightforward. It may take some time to get your black belt, but it’s not rocket science.
What Do You Get?
When you DO have powerfully attractive interpersonal skills, everything is easier. Even if you don’t have all the skills needed for a job, they’ll gladly train you because of your people skills. If you want to create or enhance your romantic relationships, these skills will make it easier. People will be much more likely to give you a chance, give you the benefit of the doubt, and give you a hand when you’ve got these skills.
Let’s cut to the chase. Here are the ten most important impersonal skills to have.
One – Social Intelligence
This is one of those vague terms that’s hard to measure, but you certainly know when it’s there. It’s boils down to not being clueless around other people. Here are the basic building blocks.
You’ve got to be clued in to other people’s emotions. Nobody likes the goof who keeps talking when somebody’s on the verge of tears. Nobody likes the guy who walks into a room thick with tension and blatantly asks, “Hey guys, what’s going on? You seem stressed!” Social awareness is knowing when to keep your yap shut, or when change the subject.
Women are naturally good at this. Guys, not so much. This is being able to quickly scan a room, and find out who’s doing who, who’s fighting with who, and who’s chasing who. If you’re a guy, you may have gotten into trouble by “flirting” with a girl who was “all over you” when you thought it was just simple conversation.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t go without saying. Say please and thank you. If you bump into somebody, excuse yourself. If you ask for something and they say no, thank them for their time. If somebody gives you a compliment, thank them for noticing. If somebody goes out of there way to help you out, be sure to go out of your way to let them know you appreciate it.
Able to Discern Emotions
If you are a clod who keeps telling jokes when she’s about to start crying, you might want to brush up on your emotional radar. Few people will come out and tell you they are angry, or sad, or depressed. It’s your job to pick up on it, and behave accordingly. Don’t put them on the spot. Just adjust your behavior slightly to accommodate their emotions
Two – Listening Skills
Listening and hearing are two different things. Some people confuse the two. Some people confuse listening with being able to spit back a few of the words that were said. But listening requires focus, and an understanding of what’s not being said just as much as what is being said. Here are some keys.
Listen For Key Information
On the surface, you’ve got to start with the information being given. Understand the bigger picture, as well as the fine details. Stop thinking about what you’re going to say next, and construct a picture in your mind of what they’re talking about.
Listen for Difference Between Advice Asking and Complaining
Some people talk just to pass time. Some people generally want help, and hope you can give it to them. Others just like to complain. If you can’t tell the difference, you’ll blow it. They’ll be asking for advice, and the best you’ve got is, “Wow dude, that sucks. I’m glad I’m not you!”
On the other hand, they could be blowing off steam, and you come galloping to the rescue.
Either way, they are asking for something specific. A passive ear, genuine sympathy, or some real help. Know what it is, and know how to give it to them.
Three – Questioning Skills
Just as important as listening skills are questioning skills. Unless you want to walk the Earth and be the global shoulder to cry on, you’ve got to put yourself in the mix. Consider it your job to elicit from whomever you’re talking to the best information possible.
Ask Open Ended Questions
Open ended questions are generally better. These allow for longer answers, and answers that give your conversational partner the most flexibility. Closed ended questions, on the other hand, can easily put them on the spot, as there’s only one way to answer them.
Do you like chocolate? How much do you make? How old are you? They’re also great conversation killers. Sure, you need them from time to time, but getting the other person talking is the name of the game.
Ask Easy to Answer Questions
Nobody likes being suddenly put under the spotlight. Sure, if you’re being interviewed for a job, it’s their job to make you qualify yourself. But in social life, that’s a big no-no. You want them to enjoy talking to you, not looking for the nearest exit. Ask questions they have a good chance of answering without any problems.
How do you do that? Two ways.
One is to simply pay attention to their energy and emotions when they’re talking. Ask them questions based on things they obviously like talking about, according to their voice or facial expressions. Don’t ask them details about how their grandmother died. Ask them details about the last time they went to an amusement park. (Or any other ride they took!)
Elicit Their Good Points
Everybody likes talking about themselves. Dale Carnegie, the original guru of social mack, said everybody’s favorite radio station is WII-FM, or “What’s In It For Me.” Take this one step further, and get them talking about things that make them look good.
Most of us feel uncomfortable bragging, but we feel fantastic when the bragging comes from in the form of an answer to a questions.
Four – Eye Contact
This one’s easy. At least to understand what it is and how to do it. Here’s the basics.
Don’t Be Shy!
People like eye contact. We are highly social animals. Eye contact feels good. It feels like somebody notices us and cares enough to give us their attention. When you give others your eye contact, you’re not imposing.
Apply The 80 / 20 Rule
Of course, nobody likes being stared at. So try and look at them most of the time. Let your eyes wander a little bit, from time to time. Just enough to avoid staring. And when you do look away, try not to look at other people. Look at the wall behind them, or a picture or something. The best time to look away is when you are collecting your thoughts, during the pauses when you are speaking. Don’t look away when they are speaking.
Combine With Facial Expressions
If you sit there and stare at them with a blank face, they’ll get creeped out in a hurry. While they’re talking, hold a soft gaze while reflecting the feeling of their words in your face. While you are talking, hold eye contact while expressing the feeling of your words in your face.
Start With Soft Eye Contact
What, wear some foam rubber glasses? Nope. Just keep your gaze as relaxed as possible.
You know how when you look at a really cluttered desk in search of a small item? Don’t do that when looking at people.
Keep a wide open focus. Take in the whole picture at once. The person talking. The scenery behind them. Don’t squint like Clint, and you’ll be fine.
If You’re Too Nervous
Look at their eyebrows, the bridge of their nose, or their forehead. (Not their boobs.) They won’t know the difference.
Five – Physical Touch
Humans crave human touch. All kinds of experiments show that when baby monkeys are raised without constant affection, they turn into Republicans. OK, maybe not, but you get the idea.
Of course, you can easily take this too far. If you touch somebody in the wrong way, or somebody that doesn’t want to be touched, you’ll end up in jail. Then YOU’LL be the one being touched!
However, appropriate social touching is an incredible skill that will take your interpersonal skills to the Jedi levels of love.
Don’t Be Afraid
People aren’t going to explode when you touch them. They are not going to throw a drink in your face. They aren’t going to do a spinning ninja kick and send you to the hospital. At least they won’t if you touch them correctly.
How do you know when to touch somebody? When they are feeling you, and you are feeling them. When their body language is open. When they are giving you the majority of their focus. When you feel that deep rapport. The ultra connection.
So where and how do you touch them? Quickly, softly, and gently. And only on appropriate, safe areas. If you are touching somebody of the opposite gender, the shoulders or forearms or backs of the hands are a pretty safe bet. Don’t squeeze them, but don’t touch them with a completely open palm. The whole connection should last about one second. Very soft connection, followed by a slight bit of pressure, followed by a soft release.
When you do touch them, don’t stop talking, and don’t make the touch the focus of the conversation. Imagine it as you would your voice tone or facial gestures. Use your to emphasize a point. When you’re giving a compliment or support in the middle of a sentence.
Measure The Response Of The Touch
This is just as crucial as the touch itself. How they respond will give you tons of information. If they slightly close off their body language, you’ve gone too far. Don’t say anything, as this will make them feel more uncomfortable. Just make a mental note. If you’re on a date this is a great way to gauge interest. If it seems to enhance the connection, good job. If they touch you back within a few minutes, great job.
Six – Reading The Air
This has a lot of overlap with some of the other skills, but it deserves its own category. It means understanding the subtext of the conversation. Guys are generally clueless about this.
A girl walks up to a guy in a bar, and asks him about the music. What she’s really saying is, “I think you’re interesting. Talk to me, ask for my number, and take me home.” But he thinks she’s asking him about the music.
Understand What’s Not Being Said
Often times, what’s not being said is much more important than what is being said. If you can’t tell, then you’re missing out on the whole reason for the interaction.
Most of us have a hard time talking about difficult subjects. So we beat around the bush, and hope people will understand us. If somebody forces us to say what’s really on our minds, we’ll run away screaming. Generally speaking, these tend to fall into a couple of broad.
We aren’t very good at expressing fears or anxiety about what we hope won’t happen. It’s your job to understand unspoken tension and fear, and make sure it doesn’t happen. All while playing the game of not talking about it.
Here’s a crude example. Say you’re with your friend. You know your friend has a bad feeling around redheads. But your buddy doesn’t like talking about it. So while talking to your buddy, you notice he suddenly gets a little withdrawn. You covertly look around and notice a group of redheads just came in. You know what’s up, and make up an excuse to go somewhere else, without ever letting your friend know you knew what’s up.
We’re also incredibly shy about asking for what we want. Back when I was in first grade, I had to pee really bad. But I was afraid to ask permission. So I sat their holding my crotch. Luckily my teacher noticed and told me it was OK to leave.
When talking to others, it’s your job to sniff out what they want, figure out how to give it to them without saying it, so they don’t feel put on the spot.
Here’s another crude example. You’re on a date. She’s on a diet, and orders a salad. After you both order, you notice her noticing the waiter carrying by a tray of delicious appetizers. Instead of putting her on the spot and asking about the appetizers, you go ahead an order them, without mentioning that you noticed her noticing them. Knowing she’ll feel a lot more comfortable eating from your plate than ordering it on her own.
Seven – Optimism
This one’s easy. Nobody likes a pessimist. Despite how evolution has somehow hard wired our brains to always be on the lookout for monsters and zombies with machine guns, talking about them will get you nowhere. Unless you’re making money from your doom and gloom blog.
Give Yourself The Benefit Of The Doubt
Everybody makes mistakes. Get over it and look forward. Whatever happens, just assume you’ll bounce back stronger. We love a success story. Even more we love an underdog, against the odds story.
Whenever talking to others, and the conversation moves toward negativity, show you understand by giving examples of past failures. But also give real examples (rather than vague wishes and hopes) about how you bounced back or plan to bounce back.
Give Others The Benefit Of The Doubt
Always assume others have good intentions. Your job as a social ninja is to uplift people by your presence. If they start talking about problems, help them find solutions. Or at the very least, make some jokes in a “we all suck” kind of theme.
Show them your faith in them that no matter what, they’ll find their way out of whatever hole they think they’re in.
Leave Them Better Off
Make a game of every interaction to leave people better than you found them. Look for ways to give the gift of your presence. A great way to do this is get them thinking about their future, in a little bit better terms than before they met you.
Eight – Responsibility
The easiest thing in the world to do is blame others for your problems. In fact, it’s so easy that everybody does this, often times without even knowing it. Cognitive Dissonance, a well known psychological trait we ALL have (not just those other people), is based on ignoring reality in order to protect our ego.
It would seem that we are hard wired to avoid taking responsibility. However, blaming others won’t win you any friends. And it will make you feel powerless.
Don’t Blame Others
While often times it really is somebody else’s fault, when you blame them you basically put your life in their hands. You want and expect them to come and “fix it.” Nobody wants to hang around somebody who’s always expecting other people to swoop in and make things right.
Ask “What Can We Do?”
Whenever I start to complain, one of my good friends invariably asks me:
“What are you going to do about it?”
This is a good habit to get into. No matter what terrible situation you find yourself in, always ask “What can we do to improve this?”
When I first started out in the business world, I was always surprised by the lack of blame from upper management. Instead of asking who was at fault, or who we could blame, they would always listen to problems and then ask, “OK, what can we do to fix this?”
Forgiveness Is Crucial
Forgiveness is often misunderstood. People tend to think it’s about giving others a free pass.
It’s not. It’s totally selfish.
Letting go of the past is a powerful way to free up your energy and your positive expectations. If somebody has harmed you, forgive them. Let it go.
But don’t be a doormat. Sure, you may have to avoid that person for the rest of your life, or never lend them money or whatever. But don’t hold any grudges.
As Nelson Mandela famously said, “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.”
Nine – Assertiveness
This is another easy one. Simply ask for what you want. Don’t demand, don’t bully, simply ask. When you can do this, and make others feel comfortable doing this, you’ll be money. So money and you WILL know it.
When You Want Something
Whatever you want, all you’ve got to do is ask. Sure, you’ll often be told “no,” but so what? So long as you ask in a non-demanding way, that allows the person to say “no” without feeling uncomfortable, you’ll be surprised how many people will go out of your way.
How do you do this? Simple just say so. “Hey, I was wondering if you could do X for me. It’s no big deal if you can’t.”
Then watch their face. If they look uncomfortable, like they’re having a hard time saying no, just say “No worries,” and then change the subject as if you never asked.
Sometimes you’ve got to assert yourself to defend somebody else that’s either too shy, or may not even be there. If they’re there, simply speak up for them. Speak in terms of your own experience, rather than saying things about them that may put them on the spot.
If they’re not there, just say whatever positive things you can about them. They don’t even have to contradict what’s being said. If somebody says, “Hey, I think John is a terrible bookkeeper.” Just think of something positive to say, whatever it is. “Maybe, and I also think he’s a great cook.”
We’ve all got our good points and bad points. Don’t let anybody focus purely on anybody’s bad points when you’re around.
Don’t Be Afraid To Disagree
Sometimes you’ve got a dissenting opinion that must be heard. You can say this without sounding like you are picking a fight. How?
“I understand your point about X. And I think that Y is also a viable viewpoint.”
Restate their opinion so they know you understand it. Say “and.” And then say your dissenting opinion. Easy peasy.
Ten – Non Verbal Communication
This is essential. And easy. You are a natural reader of people. In order to get better at doing this, you’ve simply got to get out of your head and pay attention. But in case you need some reminders, here are the basics.
Closed vs. Open
In general when people act as if they are guarding themselves, they are. Crossed arms, crossed legs, not facing you when speaking. These are all signs that there’s an imaginary barrier between you.
You could spend a lot of time memorizing all the myriad eyebrow angles and mouth scrunches, but if you let your gut be your guide, you’ll be fine. One way to find out is to simply mimic whatever facial expressions your seeing, and see how that makes you feel.
When it comes to body language, form follows function, and function follows form. When you’re happy, you smile. And if you force yourself to smile, you’ll be happy.
This just means that when you really don’t know what the people’s body language means, you’ll get a pretty good idea if you just copy it and pay attention to your own feelings.
You’ll be much easier to be around if your body language is more open than closed. Don’t go overboard, and spread your arms and legs to everybody you see. But don’t defend yourself. This can be tough if you’re shy, so simply fake it till you make it.
Summary and Advice
If you can do well in a few of these categories, you’ll have a fantastic social and business life.
People will enjoy being with you, and people will enjoy doing business with you. Making a commitment to develop these interpersonal skills you take you far. Your bank account and social calendar will overflow with goodness.
Too Much To Remember?
While there is quite a lot of information here, they all boil down into two main ideas.
One is to simply relax, and enjoy yourself. Let your guard down. Open yourself up to others.
The second is to always start with the other person in mind, rather than yourself. If you can keep at least part of your mind focused on the other person’s needs, wants, and fears, you’ll have no problems.
Focus On One At A Time
It can be helpful to scan this list in the morning, and pick one to practice for that particular day. This way, you’ll keep from getting confused in the middle of a conversation. A lot of these don’t require any kind of interaction to practice, as they only require you go somewhere and watch people. Leave your iPhone in the car, and just enjoy other human beings. There’s a ton of treasure out there.
These are basic core skills upon which many other skills are built. You’ll never perfect them. It’s not like golf, where you can get a hole in one, or bowling, where you can score three hundred.
No matter how good you are with these, you can always get better. See having great people skills as an overarching goal to all your other life goals.
No matter what you want in life, these skills will help. Even if you are content to live in a cave and talk to trees all day, you will need to talk to people once in a while.
Wouldn’t you rather be known as the cool guy who lives up in the cave, instead of that crazy dangerous whack job who’s always muttering nonsense and throwing rocks at people?
If you’re a regular person in the regular world, these skills will make you more money, get you more love, and bring you more happiness.
Why not get started now, and become an interpersonal love ninja?