The “Interpersonal Skill” is defined in many ways from multiple sources. My own definition of the skill is as follows:
The “Interpersonal Skill” is not a skill that enables you to “win friends;” rather, it is a skill that is best described by how others view you after you have worked with them on the job or in some sort of project. If you have it, then others feel that you have contributed effectively toward achieving the goals of the team. Accordingly, it is like a “Teamwork” skill.
You can determine if you have the “Interpersonal Skill” through your behavior working with others, you have demonstrated that you:
- Are attentive, listen to and acknowledge the ideas, opinions, and concerns of other members of the team;
- Are willing to accept feedback from others in the process of completing the work;
- Give sincere acknowledgement of the skills, ideas, and contributions of other team members;
- Are tactful in stating your opinions and thoughts when disagreements arise;
- Demonstrate support for group consensus decisions – even though you may disagree with some of the decisions;
- Build positively on the ideas brought forth by other members of the team;
- Give credit where credit is due, and accept credit when it is given to you;
- Leave others with a sincere feeling that you are and have been an effective team member.
In a sense, by demonstrating effective “Interpersonal Skills” you have convinced others that you have been and always will be an effective member of a team and have added value to the process. You have justified your compensation.
Other definitions of the “Interpersonal Skill” generally point at the same characteristics as defined above. Some examples are:
The Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) defining the Interpersonal Skill as:
- “They can work on teams, teach others, serve customers, lead, negotiate, and work well with people from culturally diverse backgrounds.”
One of Howard Gardner’s “Multiple Intelligences” is the “Interpersonal Skill” defined as follows:
- “Understanding, interacting with others. These students learn through interaction. They have many friends, empathy for others, street smarts. They can be taught through group activities, seminars, dialogues. Tools include the telephone, audio conferencing, time and attention from the instructor, video conferencing, writing, computer conferencing, E-mail.”
There are other derivations or subsets of the Interpersonal Skill that have gained in popularity. One is the concept of “Emotional Intelligence.” This concept has evolved over time, and in 1990 Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer have been the leading researchers on emotional intelligence. Their article, “Emotional Intelligence,” defined emotional intelligence as, “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions” (1990).
While there is some debate regarding emotional intelligence as an inborn characteristic vs something that can be developed and strengthened over time, the concept has gained wide interest and there are multiple organizations that have built businesses on conducting workshops and extended programs to assist executives in polishing their emotional intelligence abilities. From testimonials from participants, these workshops and programs seem to enhance an individual’s overall interpersonal skills.
The Interpersonal Skill is a “learned skill” and must be practiced in order for one to achieve a high level of competency. There are abundant opportunities to learn and practice the Interpersonal Skills starting at a very early age – even in Kindergarten through group activities.
Throughout the K-12 experience, many opportunities exist for students to engage with other students in group projects, classroom discussions, extracurricular activities, and the like where interpersonal skills are practiced. Team sports require teamwork and interpersonal skills; participation in musical activities – choirs, bands, etc. – require teamwork; participation in performing arts – plays, musicals, etc. – require teamwork.
In college experiences, multiple opportunities exist to enable students to develop interpersonal skills. The college experience itself – where students must integrate themselves in a community of other students requires interpersonal skills. Class participation, extracurricular activities, fraternity and sorority experiences, and the like enable students to develop these skills.
One of the most effective means of teaching teamwork and interpersonal skills at the high school level is to engage students in “Field Studies.” Field Studies are explained elsewhere in this book, but they consist of teams of students who must work together collaboratively to address and solve a problem or issue for a client. This process involves team meetings where information is reviewed, data analyzed, and a written and oral report produced.
For those who may have missed the opportunities to develop and nurture interpersonal and teamwork skills during the K-12 and college experiences, there is an entire industry devoted to workshops and seminars to develop these skills as well as countless self-help books. The point is: The Interpersonal Skill is essential to one’s success in a career as well as in life. Take advantage of the opportunities to learn this skill well.