Interpersonal Skills: Definitions and Examples

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published August 25, 2020

Interpersonal communication involves the face-to-face exchange of information, ideas, thoughts, feelings and emotions between two or more people. This includes both verbal and nonverbal communication. Identifying and developing can help increase productivity, build relationships and create a positive work environment. In this article, we explain what interpersonal skills are and why they are important, what careers rely heavily on strong interpersonal skills, how to improve these skills and how to showcase them on your resume and during an interview.

What are interpersonal skills?

Interpersonal skills describe the traits and attributes you use to interact and communicate with other people. These skills are essential in any environment that requires you to communicate and work well with others, especially the workplace.

Interpersonal skills allow you to communicate clearly and effectively and develop stronger relationships with others. They are often called people skills and tend to be influenced by your natural ability to interact with people and how you have learned to deal with various social situations. Strong interpersonal skills can be especially helpful during an interview. Many hiring managers look for candidates who demonstrate effective interpersonal skills, and these skills often have a positive effect on your career.

Here are some examples of interpersonal skills:

  • Listening attentively

  • Working in a team environment

  • Being responsible

  • Being dependable

  • Exhibiting leadership qualities

  • Motivating others

  • Being adaptable

  • Exercising tolerance

  • Practicing empathy

In the workplace, strong interpersonal skills can help you successfully problem-solve, adapt to change and handle daily responsibilities.

The importance of interpersonal skills

Effective interpersonal skills can be beneficial to you during a job interview. When employers are hiring, they often look for these skills to determine whether candidates can work well with others and fit into the work environment. These skills are useful in any job because they contribute to your understanding of other people and can help you adjust your approach to work with others more effectively. For example, while an account executive may spend the majority of their time overseeing a client's portfolio, she may need to collaborate with other account executives for a broader understanding of how her customer fits into the company's design.

Many careers require you to constantly interact and communicate with other people, whether they are your coworkers, manager or clients. This is the case even for careers that are more independent in nature, such as writers, computer programmers and auditors. Even if most of your job involves independent work, you may still need to communicate and collaborate with your team. Companies are searching for employees who both excel at the technical responsibilities of their job and work effectively with their colleagues.

Examples of interpersonal skills

Interpersonal skills are 'soft' skills, which means they are skills that are often considered innate personality traits or habits. This is in contrast to 'hard' skills, which are teachable abilities that you might learn in a classroom or on the job. You can easily transfer your interpersonal skills across a variety of positions and industries. Employers value these skills because they can help create more positive work environments, build stronger teams and maintain productivity.

The following is a list of valuable interpersonal skills:

  • Listening

  • Positive attitude

  • Empathy

  • Leadership

  • Teamwork

Listening

Listening is a skill that is closely associated with effective communication. While it's important to share your own thoughts and ideas, it's equally important to listen to others. Listening to your clients, coworkers, managers and others can help them feel understood and valued.

Positive attitude

Employers want employees who help create a more pleasant work environment. These employees have a naturally friendly and positive demeanor that can contribute to stronger relationships among colleagues.

Empathy

An employee's emotional intelligence demonstrates their understanding of the needs and feelings of others. Part of being a good employee or colleague means showing empathy for other people, listening to their concerns and being compassionate. Empathetic employees contribute to a much more positive workplace.

Leadership

Even if you are not a manager, leadership is an important skill to have. Effective leaders can make decisions and motivate and encourage others to achieve a company's goals.

Teamwork

Employers value workers who can collaborate with a team. Even if most of your job involves independent work, you still need to be able to work with others effectively. This includes listening to your colleagues, sharing ideas and resolving conflicts.

Careers that require interpersonal skills

Virtually any job that you apply for will expect you to have interpersonal skills. Here are some examples of careers that require stronger interpersonal skills than others:

Educational professionals

Teaching requires effective interpersonal skills to work cohesively with fellow educators and administrators as well as students and parents.

Administrative assistants

Interpersonal skills are a necessary part of the job for administrative assistants who regularly interact with clients or customers.

Healthcare providers

For nurses, doctors and other medical professionals, interpersonal skills are essential. In an industry that focuses on providing comfort and care to patients, empathy, compassion and patience are a must.

Marketing managers

Marketing involves a combination of soft and hard skills. While marketing managers should be able to complete the technical aspects of their job successfully, interpersonal skills are key, as marketing often requires working collaboratively with clients and other teams.

Customer service professionals

Working in customer service requires individuals to have people skills. These professionals spend the majority of their time with customers. In some cases, they interact with customers who may be feeling frustrated or angry. In this industry, strong communication skills, as well as empathy, listening and patience, are essential.

How to improve your interpersonal skills

Here are some ways to improve your interpersonal skills:

  1. Attend workshops or take classes. Consider attending workshops, taking classes or watching videos that can help you work on your interpersonal skills. Some of these resources are available for free, while others come at a cost.

  2. Find opportunities to build stronger relationships. If you work from home or in a role that does not provide many opportunities to use interpersonal skills, consider joining a networking group or volunteering.

  3. Be mindfully about how you can improve your interactions. Reflect on the interactions you have and think of ways you could have improved those interactions to be more effective. Consider your word choice and body language.

  4. Ask for constructive criticism from someone you trust. It may be helpful to get an outsider's perspective about your skills and how you can improve. Ask a close friend or trusted colleague to provide you with feedback about your interpersonal skills.

  5. Observe others' positive interpersonal interactions. Watching other people use interpersonal skills may also help you learn and improve your own.

  6. Find a mentor. Seek out someone you trust, respect and admire to teach you how to develop and improve your interpersonal skills and succeed in your career overall.

As you work on improving your skills, it may be beneficial for you to set goals for yourself. This can help provide you with structure and make developing these skills more efficient.

Highlighting interpersonal skills on your job application

When applying to a job or during an interview, you can showcase your interpersonal skills by including them in your resume and cover letter. Once you get the job, it's essential to continue to work on improving your interpersonal skills and developing new ones.

Including interpersonal skills on a resume

Include a few key interpersonal skills on your resume's 'skills' section. Make sure the references you provide can confirm these skills if contacted by the employer. Carefully read the job description to determine which of your skills are the most relevant to the position.

For example, your resume skills section may appear this way:

Technical skills: HTML, JavaScript, Adobe Software

Additional skills: Effective leader and team player, excellent communicator, attentive listener, reliable with a positive outlook

The 'experience' section of your resume is another place you can provide examples of your interpersonal skills. Here, you can include examples of how you interacted with others and the results you achieved. For example: 'Collaborated with strategists, copywriters and the sales team to develop a new-to-market initiative that resulted in a 60% increase in internet traffic.'

Including interpersonal skills on a cover letter

In your cover letter, you may want to prioritize your most effective and most relevant interpersonal skill and explain how that skill can benefit the company. This shows the employer what you believe is one of your strongest assets.

A section showcasing your interpersonal skills in a cover letter may look like this:

'My previous employer often requested my assistance in putting together collaborative teams. My supervisors noted my ability to listen intently to and understand my colleague's strengths. These skills allowed me to decide how best to assign roles effectively.'

Relating interpersonal skills during an interview or on the job

Interpersonal skills are essential both during your interview and while you're on the job. During your interview, the hiring manager will likely be observing how well you listen, whether you maintain eye contact and how courteous and respectful you are.

You will continue to use interpersonal skills even after you get the job. By demonstrating these skills, you can earn a reputation as an effective and collaborative team member.