Samantha Read, Head Editor, INALJ New Brunswick
De-Bunking Interpersonal Skills
You’ll see the phrase “interpersonal skills” on most job ads these days. Good interpersonal skills are essential for any position in any organization. What exactly constitutes being interpersonal, though? When it all boils down to it, what does it really take to confidently claim that yes, indeed, I am good at being interpersonal?
It’s quite simple to state that you have good people skills on a résumé or cover letter. Surely, we all get along with someone, don’t we? We all have friends, partners and families with whom we relate well. We’ve all interacted with a variety of people in different situations, from school to community groups to the workplace to a yoga class. We all generally like to avoid antagonism, and we all do our best to get along with others. Does this make us de facto “people” people, though?
Like most families, not everyone gets along all the time. It is no different in the workplace, where people of diverse backgrounds and levels of experience are made to work together on projects with others not chosen by them. Clashes occur, indeed office fights are the brunt of many popular sitcoms. So if/when we are face with such situations, how do we react? How do we resolve differences in opinion, either between employees or between and employee and his customer (in our case our archival researcher, our undergraduate student, our museum visitor, our library patron)?
In general, interpersonal skills are skills people use to properly interact with each other. Some of these basic skills include speaking, listening, following direction and general attitude. Built over one’s lifetime, these skills are usually in conjunction with personal character traits. It is our ability to get along with others and to maintain that relationship throughout its duration.
Of course, we must interact differently in any given situation and with any other individual. It may be a challenge for us to speak to a library client who doesn’t speak our first language, or one may be hesitant to speak to those with whom they don’t converse regularly (such as young children or the elderly). On a slightly unrelated note, many people claim to be “cat” or “dog” people, but can we afford to be that choosy when it comes to those with whom or for whom we work? The answer is likely no.
In my opinion, when pondering all this the best place to start is your own experiences. Thinking back on your years in school or on the job, how did you overcome sticky personality clashes with your managers or co-workers? Is there any way you might improve upon the way you handled a given situation the next time it comes around? Job interviews are full of questions and scenarios such as this one. It might be a good idea to keep a running journal of reflections on this subject matter if you feel that this is an area you really need to improve upon.
So, what interpersonal skills have you seen to be most important in your personal and professional life? Being a list person, I’d like to pick out specific characteristics I’ve most admired in others to answer this question. Patience, empathy, and the ability to not take things personally all jump out at me.
Thinking over your experiences you might find that you’ve changed over time. In what areas have you grown or improved when it comes to relating with others? Perhaps you’ve learned how to make small talk, or learned not to focus too much on procedural details when it comes to completing a project. What strategies, if any, did you use to grow more patient, less offended and more accepting of diversity? Did an experience of another teach you a valuable lesson, did you read a transformative novel? Did you finally start taking the time to listen to a co-worker’s body language as well as the words they were communicating?
I think that a reflection such as this one on your interpersonal skills is an important one for preparing for job interviews. Reflecting on your experiences, how might you highlight your excellent interpersonal skills and address your weaknesses in an interview?