Interpersonal skills are highly regarded in the workplace. Type interpersonal skills meaning, into an Internet search, and a definition along the following lines will appear: a person’s ability to interact or communicate well with other people.

Interpersonal Skills Defined

Call them what you like - emotional intelligence, soft skills or people skills – employers value these skills in an employee, to the extent that they are even referred to as employability skills. Interpersonal skills are also be referred to as people skills and interpersonal communication skills.

Interpersonal skills, what are they? A good interpersonal skills definition would state something along the lines that these skills are personality traits and other skills that people employ when engaging with others, in all kinds of environments - the workplace being one of them – which serve to build relationships and minimise conflict.

When an employer interviews several candidates to fill a particular post and all present similar training or qualifications and experience, the quality that will set them apart is their emotional intelligence (interpersonal skills). This will be an indication of how well this individual may interact with colleagues, managers, clients and suppliers, regardless of the kind of role that they will play within the company.

These employability skills are so important that certain employers would really shy away from an individual who does not display them.

The workplace often requires regular, if not continuous, interface with others, be they clients or colleagues. This even applies to jobs which may appear to be isolated, like design (graphic, architectural, software engineering) or writing. While aspects of your core functions will have you working alone, you would still have to communicate and hold discussions with your team.

Even if you are brilliant at the technical aspects of a job, companies might be reluctant to employ you if your social skills make you almost impossible to work with.

Now that we know what interpersonal skills are, in broad terms, let’s have a look at several skills that would be great to have in your personal armoury and consider why you may need them.

Let’s Take a Closer Look at Interpersonal Skills

Success, in today’s workplace, demands more than having an abundance of hard skills – the skills that can be studied, learnt from a textbook or gained by attending classes/ courses. These skills would include technical, marketing, analytical and presentation skills, to name a few.

Today’s work environment also places a high premium on what are called soft skills, which would include listening and communication, etiquette and getting along with others. These are the traits that are desirable in an employee and a number of preferred ones, in today’s workplace are:

  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Teamwork
  • Flexibility
  • Communication skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Good work ethic
  • Leadership skills

Traditionally, these are considered to be skills that you are going to develop as opposed to learn. Included in this set of skills would be personality traits such as, a positive attitude, assertiveness and self-confidence.

Interpersonal Skills are Important. But Why?

people chatting in a group
Success in the workplace requires that you display interpersonal skills. - Source: Jopwell on Pexels

Some deem interpersonal skills as essential in the current working environments. The reason for that is that the workplace has transformed vastly in a number of ways. Today, there is greater academic interest in what company culture is like. At the same time, academia (colleges and universities) is casting light on business aspects such as work structures, culture and psychology. People have come to realise that there are many important things, which have been overlooked in the past, which should receive greater priority.

Businesses now realise that they are not islands unto themselves – they interact with other business and often share clients. This has led to organisations looking at how to best co-operate and collaborate with like-minded entities.

Employees and employers agree: they want their company to be a great place to work in. Through the development of interpersonal skills, an uplifting workplace culture can be created, which benefits all role-players and, in a sense, the world at large. If staff have participated in positive personal growth sessions, the company will grow stronger as its people become happier at work and want to remain there (as opposed to seeking greener pastures). This is where a great workplace culture can trump a fat salary!

Different Kinds of People Skills

Let’s have a look at some of the skills that make up the interpersonal skill set. When you apply for a position, these will be the skills which employers will be keenly keeping an eye out for. Further, these skills will be of advantage to you, not only in the workplace, but in the outside world too.

Interpersonal skills can roughly be grouped into two groups or categories: those that can be nurtured in skills training sessions and those that are, fundamentally, personality traits.

So, once you have a good understanding of which proficiencies or skills make up desirable interpersonal skills, you will then be in a position to grow your own (set of skills).

Let’s examine them a bit closer.

Emotional Intelligence

The first set of attributes we can consider, can be referred to as emotional intelligence. This is the basis or foundation of effective communication and all interpersonal skills.

Agreed, these are things that can be learned. Nevertheless, they are also character traits which have to be cultivated in a far more profound way. These skills reflect on your work ethic, your skill to understand other people and your outlook on others.

Generally speaking, these would be attributes you would look for in a good person. These are traits which people are valued for, irrespective of the position they hold in the workplace. No-one, however, expects you to display all of them.


This is commonly considered to be the power of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes – being able to appreciate other people’s ways of thinking, seeing things from their perspective and understanding their emotions.

A very important interpersonal skill, empathy enables you to connect to others in a very positive, supportive way. Without empathy, you could be moving around in your own little bubble, disconnected from those around you – not ideal for a team-player or leader!


All people are different and, so, making allowances for those differences is an important skill for employees and managers to possess, as it will lead to positive forms of communication.


This trait is a wonderful indicator of an individual who is at ease with him- or herself and is comfortable and open to the ideas and opinions of others.

It, further, relates to admitting when you have erred, to collaborate with others and to accept different points of view and criticism.

small team of women collaborating
The ability to collaborate well with your colleagues will improve everyone's motivation levels.- Source: PICHA Stock on Pexels

Communication Skills

Good communication skills will be listed as prerequisite for any job which you apply for, because, inevitably, you will have to interact with other people.

In the workplace, it is extremely important for people to communicate clearly and accurately, because mistakes in multi-million-rand projects are expensive to fix. So, instructions must be clear and pointed and people receiving those instructions must understand exactly what is expected. This will be clarified by good communication – both ways. Good communicators will shine in collaborative environments.

Verbal Communication

The most common form of communication is verbal – i.e. when we communicate via speaking.

However, there is far more to verbal communication than just the ability to speak. It also involves your intonation, choice of words and delivery (including how and where you place stresses). Asking questions, for the sake of clarification, is also important.

Non-Verbal Communication

More so than verbal-, non-verbal communication is extremely important to interpersonal relations. This relates to body language: facial expressions, eye contact, distance between two people, posture and gestures. Generally, these are ways in which you communicate with others, without using words, although they can help to amplify what you’re saying. More than eighty percent of what we communicate, when in direct contact with others, is non-verbal.

Listening Skills

Good communication is a two-way street. Each speaker requires a good listener who listens without interrupting. In a good exchange, each speaker listens to the content of the other, seeking clarification before responding, if necessary. Oftentimes, arguments arise simply because someone has misinterpreted what has been said. How many times have we not heard someone say, “Oh, is that what you thought I’d said?”

Presentation Skills and Public Speaking

Important to many employers is a candidate’s ability to address audiences of various sizes. This requires quite a host of skills, such as good organisation and writing skills, self-confidence assertiveness, clarity and the ability to handle pressure.

Leadership Skills

people fist bumping each other
Good leaders recognise, encourage and motivate their teams. - Source: Mikael Blomkvist on Pexels

Leadership skills are key in any organisation, where individuals have to steer an organisation in a particular direction. Someone has to identify key issues that need to be addressed, make a decision in their regard and guide people in the execution of the company’s response … and take responsibility for the possible outcome. At all levels, individuals display some form of leadership.

Motivation and Inspiration

A sound leader inspires people to deliver their best while being there to motivate them on a daily basis. He or she inspires them via his or her presence, positive energy and affirming responses and guidance.

Decision Making

In a leadership position it’s important to decisive. You have to make good, informed decisions which are beneficial for the company and its employees.

Teamwork Skills

These skills are important because every in a company is part of a team which has the success of the company as their common purpose. So, even if you work on your own most of the time, you are part of a larger collective.

The skills which are imperative to hone, in any organisation, are team-building, collaboration and discussion facilitation. These help to keep everyone energised, appreciating one another and focussed on their core purpose within the organisation, whilst appreciating the contribution of others.

Employers, in recent times, have come to realise that the people who work within their organisation have to feel safe, comfortable, respected and valued. For many, these aspects have a greater impact on their daily interaction, in the workplace, than a big, fat salary cheque at the end of the month. For some employees, interpersonal skills and relations are everything!

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Career teacher turned writer. Passionate about family, running, and the great outdoors.