When you think of the most important “soft” skills for achievement in work and in life, you probably think of interpersonal effectiveness skills. A loose definition of interpersonal effectiveness is your ability to interact with others successfully. Promoting these skills in your life can help you to build stronger relationships everywhere you go.
How Can Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills Affect Your Life
There are four primary things that interpersonal effectiveness can help you achieve in your life. It can help you attend to your relationships, balance demands and priorities, balance what you should do versus what you want to do, and build self-respect.
The above achievements are not categories of skills, but things that these skills will add to our lives. We actually divide these skills into three categories, and those are objective, relationship, and self-respect effectiveness.
Objective effectiveness focuses on achieving the goal associated with the interaction. Relationship effectiveness focuses on achieving that goal without conflict, and self-respect effectiveness is about assertively expressing your goals and values within the interaction without disrespecting the other person or persons with whom you’re interacting.
It’s important to remember that everyone has their own unique background and their own experiences, which come together to create a lens with which they see the world. Your lens is different from every other person you know, even your siblings and close friends from childhood because none of you have had the exact same experiences.
Interpersonal effectiveness skills can help you to understand how to work with your experiences and background to communicate with others who have a different worldview respectfully and positively. The field of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, also known as DBT, can help you to learn and embrace interpersonal effectiveness skills quickly and easily through practice.
What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?
DBT is a theory of neuro-therapy, also known as talk therapy, that can help you to communicate in a healthy way and demand what you need respectfully to avoid conflict and strengthen relationships. In order to successfully complete dialectical behavior therapy, you will need to master the three categories of interpersonal effectiveness skills.
One thing that DBT does that helps you to become a champion interpersonal communicator is it identifies the thoughts and assumptions that can make life more difficult. Thoughts about needing to be perfect at anything you try right away or about one bad trait or action, making you a bad person, can negatively affect your communication skills and your overall life.
DBT isn’t the only place interpersonal effectiveness skills come into play, nor is it the only way to learn them. You can practice these skills anytime on your own by merely paying attention to your communicative style and talking yourself down from unhealthy thoughts and beliefs.
Diving Further Into the Three Categories of Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills
We discussed above that the three categories of interpersonal effectiveness skills are objective, relationship, and self-respect effectiveness, but how can you address your strengths and weaknesses in each of these categories? It’s often much easier to see where other people struggle than where you do, but understanding each category better will help you to see clearly.
Objective effectiveness helps you to put a realistic plan into place to accomplish your goals in each conversation or interaction throughout your life. These goals can be as simple as getting to know someone better or as complicated as creating an effective business plan. Regardless of the difficulty of the target, your strategies for creating realistic plans can remain the same.
To master this set of skills, you can think of the acronym DEARMAN. The letters in the acronym stand for the following statements:
- D: Describe
- E: Express
- A: Assert
- R: Reaffirm
- M: Mindfulness
- A: Appear confident
- N: Negotiate
If you can describe your issue objectively, express your feelings without becoming overly emotional, and assert what you do and do not want as an outcome, then you’re doing well. Next, you’ll need to reaffirm why your wants matter, remain mindful and present in the conversation, appear confident throughout, and negotiate for a result that works for everyone involved; then, you have mastered objective effectiveness.
Relationships of all kinds can be complicated. You need to focus on your needs and another person’s needs in order for a relationship to remain healthy and well balanced. To do this, you’ll need to work on your relationship effectiveness skills.
You don’t want to only master objective effectiveness because it puts the focus on you; relationship effectiveness puts the focus on your partners in your interactions. The acronym you can use to identify these skills is GIVE, which stands for the following:
- G: Gentle
- I: Interest
- V: Validate
- E: Easy
Gentle refers to your ability to accept “no” from your requests without attacking, threatening, or judging your interactional partner. Interest means you need to show interest in what the other person is saying. To show interest properly, you’ll want to give them eye contact, face them when they’re speaking, nod along, and absolutely do not interrupt.
Validation is another fundamental point of relationship effectiveness. You need to validate the other person’s feelings and beliefs. It’s okay to disagree with them but to tell them that they are incorrect or have no right to feel the way they do is not going to help build a healthy relationship.
Finally, easy doesn’t mean that you need to find every conversation simple to deal with; in fact, that’s almost impossible. What it means is that you should do your best to keep the conversation light and open to help create an atmosphere in which all involved parties feel like their opinions matter and eliminate judgment from the interaction.
It’s easy for many of us to go against our beliefs or needs to please others or save face. To avoid doing that, we can work on our self-respect effectiveness skills. These skills will keep you balanced and help you to think more highly of yourself than you may have otherwise.
The acronym to help you remember the self-respect effectiveness skills is FAST. FAST stands for the following:
- F: Fair
- A: Apologies
- S: Stick
- T: Truthful
Without context, FAST might be the most confusing acronym of the three, but once you understand what each word represents, it will make more sense. Fair means that you need to be fair to others and to yourself. It’s easy to just look at what seems appropriate in the situation from another person’s point of view, but keeping yourself in mind as well is vital.
Apologies actually refer to not apologizing unless it’s warranted to do so. Many of us apologize for asking for what we need, and that’s not healthy behavior. We need to recognize that our ideas and beliefs are important and ask for them without feeling bad for doing so.
Stick means to stick to your guns or values. You should be willing to compromise to come to a solution, but not willing to give up your values to get there. For instance, if a friend wanted you to drive them home because they’ve been drinking, you wouldn’t do so even if you had also consumed them. You would instead stand up for yourself and tell them to walk home with you instead.
Finally, truthfulness is essential to self-respect. It means that you aren’t manipulating the other person in the interaction or blatantly lying to them. It also means you shouldn’t exaggerate or use excuses to get what you want from the situation. These are tactics that many people use regularly, but know that other people doing so means they haven’t mastered self-respect yet.
Individual Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills– Beyond the Categories
Now that we’ve discussed the broader categories of interpersonal effectiveness skills and talked about DBT, it’s time to turn our attention to individual skills that you can practice to help improve your interpersonal relationships and communication.
Interpersonal communication is any interaction that you have with another person. In the field of communication, interpersonal communication refers only to verbal or written communication, but in our case, we’re going to include non-verbal messages and cues in the discussion.
There are so many skills and traits that you can master to improve your communication skills, both professionally and personally. We won’t be able to go over every single skill, but we can talk about some of the most vital. We’ll especially focus on skills employers look for in almost every position for which they hire.
Why Are Interpersonal Skills Important?
Interpersonal skills can help you interact with your team on the job, with your partner and family at home, and with potential employers at a job interview. These skills are vital to creating the appearance of confidence and kindness, even if you may not feel those emotions all the time. If you have good communication skills, it can make your life a lot easier.
Interpersonal skills go beyond just communication, though. Some interpersonal skills focus more on who you are as a person, how you address challenges, and your coping mechanisms. We’ll talk about a variety of individual skills both based on communication and not to help you understand what we mean by interpersonal skills.
The skills we are going to focus on today include the following:
- Active listening
- Effective speaking
What is Active Listening?
If you’ve ever heard that there’s a difference between listening and hearing, then you’ve heard of active listening. To listen actively means that you are engaged in what the speaker is saying for the purpose of gathering information from them. You aren’t just hearing them talking, but instead are taking in everything they’re saying.
Active listening is an important skill because it can stop misunderstandings before they start. Quite often, when we say there was a communication issue in a relationship or on a team, it’s a result of someone or many people not actively listening. That’s not always the case, but it does happen a lot.
Why is Leadership Important?
Employers seek leadership skills above almost everything else when they are hiring candidates. Not only do leadership skills mean that you could potentially receive an internal promotion someday, but they also mean you will take charge when necessary and make choices that promote what’s best for your whole team.
Leadership skills don’t mean you’re bossy, but instead, mean that you are able to listen to a large amount of feedback and choose a path that will benefit everyone involved. Leadership skills include active listening, persuasiveness, responsibility, flexibility, the ability to remain calm when you’re upset, eloquence, and more.
There’s no I in Teamwork
Teamwork is the other biggy for employers when they are interviewing candidates. Larger corporations often have the first round of group interviews so that they can have individuals take part in team exercises to see who works well with others and who doesn’t. If someone is rude during the exercise, refuses to participate, or is otherwise unpleasant, they won’t get the job.
So what is teamwork? It’s the ability to listen, understand, and contribute to a group discussion and a group’s goals. You can see where interpersonal effectiveness skills intertwine with teamwork skills in their definition. Teamwork skills require you to keep an open mind and work with people from various backgrounds to create the ideal outcome for your company or group.
The Importance of Responsibility
Responsibility can mean a variety of different things depending on the context. For instance, the responsibility might mean that you’re in charge of something and have authority over it. It could also mean that you are to blame should something go wrong. In our case, responsibility means that you are able to commit to your duties and prioritize effectively to get the job done right.
Responsibility, at its core, is an interpersonal skill, because your failure to make things happen on time and correctly could affect many people beyond you and your immediate co-workers.
For example, a trucker who doesn’t load his product correctly may cause an accident or injury to the unloader after he drops his trailer off. The unloader’s injury could slow down production at the facility in question, and it could also cause managers to have to stop working to handle the situation. It could even cost the company money toward a worker’s compensation case.
If the trucker in the above scenario had taken his responsibilities seriously, then the rest of the domino effect never would’ve happened. What he communicated to the others involved was that he didn’t care if anyone got hurt as long as he got more jobs in or was able to get done loading sooner. He didn’t communicate that other people were important to him by behaving that way.
Always be Flexible
It’s hard for a lot of us to be flexible. Sure, some people go with the flow like champions, but many of us aren’t like that, unfortunately. We need a plan, and we need that plan to have a backup plan. If those plans all fall through, then we can’t handle it. Some people get angry, some people panic, and some people disappear because they’re afraid to deal with the situation.
The problem with the negative responses to messed up plans is that the end result still needs to happen. Just because it’s raining and you can’t go outside to play doesn’t mean your kids will have any less energy to burn. Just because the copier stopped working doesn’t mean that your flyers can wait another day. So we have to learn to roll with the punches.
Learning to be flexible will help to make you calmer, and it will communicate to those around you that you’re a mature and easy-going person. It will create ease in the workplace where there was tension before, and that’s something we should all strive to achieve.
Learning persuasion skills will not only help you in a sales job but also in life. You need to understand how to persuade without manipulating or exaggerating effectively. Of course, those things work well to persuade others to change their minds, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay. If you learn to ask for what you want or need and explain why you’ll be much more respectable.
Empathy Has a Place
If someone is empathetic, we often see them as kind and friendly. Sometimes, though, people take advantage of those with lots of empathy. It’s a fine balance trying to be kind while also being tough. Empathy is a skill that falls under both relationship and self-respect effectiveness for that reason.
Being empathetic will help you to build relationships because you can work to see things from the other person’s point of view instead of just your own. It will help you to compromise more effectively, listen more readily, and figure out how your wants and needs will affect someone else before you ask for them.
There’s not a true definition for speaking effectively. Part of it is eloquence, which means you are able to persuade or speak fluidly in any situation. Part of it is also active listening so that you are able to take into account what was said when it’s your turn to speak. Another part of it is confidence. If you aren’t confident in what you’re saying or your values, then others will notice.
Communication classes that focus on speeches can help you to become a more effective speaker. They can help you to learn persuasiveness and active listening, but they can also help you to organize your thoughts more cohesively so that you don’t ramble on or give too little information.
Effective speaking is also something you can learn by practicing in your everyday life. You can go to networking events or strike up a conversation with new co-workers. You can make it a priority to have a chat with your spouse every night, where you give them your full attention, technology, and child-free time.
Effective speaking comes after most of the other skills because you need to master, or at least understand, most of those skills before you’ll truly be an effective speaker. Don’t worry, though. It’s all about practicing and small steps to get where you want to be.
The Professional World and Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills
There are plenty of jobs out there where interpersonal effectiveness skills will help you to succeed. Some may even argue that you would have a tough time finding a job where you don’t need this skill set, and that’s probably true. Let’s take a look at a few of the jobs where these skills are the most important and discuss why that’s the case.
Teachers and School Administrators
Talk about a job where interpersonal communication and interpersonal effectiveness are important skills! Being a teacher is a tough job because you need to interact with your students, their parents, other teachers, and school administrators regularly. All of these people need different types of communication and at different levels of professionalism too.
You also need to be very focused on not giving up your values and beliefs in a school setting, because some students might find it fun to bait your, your administrators may ask of you what you are unwilling or unable to do, and parents may do the same. You need to have self-respect and the ability to speak effectively in response to succeed here.
Teachers often have to mediate conversations between students as well. Effective mediation requires a strong understanding and good use of interpersonal effectiveness skills. In these scenarios, you’re almost teaching these skills to those you are mediating, and to do so requires that you know the skills very well.
Customer Service, Sales, and Marketing
At their core, customer service and marketing jobs are really just different pieces in the customer service chain, and that’s never more obvious than when you talk about the interpersonal skills you need to succeed in them. These jobs require you to give customers what they need without giving away the farm. They require some persuasion and lots of flexibility too.
Each of these jobs requires communicating all day every day. If you aren’t effective in your ability to communicate or don’t have the confidence to do so, then you won’t succeed.
Law Enforcement Officers
You may not think of communication or interpersonal skills when you think of law enforcement, but it’s actually an incredibly important part of their jobs. These officers mediate fights, talk people out of suicide or homicide, communicate with one another or other emergency services professionals in intense situations, and write up reports on all of their daily activities.
In a job where you aren’t exactly everyone’s favorite person, it’s more important than ever to have great interpersonal effectiveness skills. Self-respect effectiveness might come easily to these officers, but they might struggle with relationship effectiveness and objective effectiveness because they feel like their always on the defense.
In reality, the ability to mediate a situation and to create trust where there wasn’t any before are signs that someone has mastered interpersonal effectiveness. Not all offices are there yet, but they all work on it regularly. This job calls for more of these skills than most others.
We’ve discussed what interpersonal effectiveness skills are broad, broken down into categories, and broken down further into individual skills. We’ve also talked about some careers where these skills are more important than in others, and how to master some of these skills.
We’ve thrown a lot of information at you, but we hope you can see how vital these skills are to your success in your personal life and professional life. Understanding interpersonal effectiveness skills will help you to build and keep relationships in every scenario. It will also help you to feel better about yourself and get what you need from friends, family, and co-workers.
Remember, you can always use the acronyms DEARMAN, GIVE, and FAST to remember your interpersonal effectiveness skills categories of objective, relationship, and self-respect effectiveness, respectively. These acronyms help to give you a map to follow to utilize your skills in interactions without having to struggle while you’re learning.
You can also practice these skills using worksheets, close friends, support groups, or even a therapist. Many talk-therapists utilize dialectical behavior therapy or DBT, and interpersonal effectiveness skills to help people who struggle with any of the skills we’ve discussed here.
Regardless of your way of learning these skills or your reasons for wanting to do so, interpersonal effectiveness skills play a vital role in living your best life. Understanding the difference between your wants and needs or your shoulds and want tos can help you to achieve personal understanding and to build strong relationships in all aspects of life.