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What does smiling have to do with it?

Evaluating both hard and soft skills are necessary when we talk about job performance. While the former is more-or-less a straightforward checklist, some argue that the latter can’t be taught, even though miscommunication and even conflict are possible consequences of poor interpersonal skills. While the means of improving interpersonal skills is less methodological, it’s nonetheless essential for success in the workplace, as the fabric of a company is made up of its employees and their ability to work together.


JUST A FORMALITY

The first and foremost factor to consider when developing interpersonal skills is to understand where to direct your efforts. An employee’s formal role is their position within the company, and the responsibilities that comes with it. This means that your role is somewhat rigid, or guided by hierarchy. On the other hand, the scope of power derived from your informal role is flexible, and relates to your ability to lead by example, unify, work in a group, etc. Only when you’re comfortable with your informal role in the company will you feel at ease and yourself around colleagues. Making this distinction is important because they emphasize different elements of interpersonal skills. For example, clear communication is key for your formal role, so read up and practice sending professional emails if you need to improve in that area. Conversely, settling into your informal role calls for empathy, which leads to the next point.

EMPATHY IS EVERYTHING

Let’s start by this point by drawing the parameters of what interpersonal skills constitute: verbal & non-verbal communication, active listening, negotiation, problem solving, diplomacy, and building rapport (Source). This list may seem intimidating to tackle, but it’s actually very simple in application. One word: empathy. While our parents may have taught this valuable lesson to us when we wee tots, it’s sometimes surprising to see the lack thereof in a workplace environment. Innate competiveness can lead to envy and even aggression when negativity exists within the team. So before you blast an email about your stolen sandwich to the entire company, reconsider how it’ll make the innocent feel about you. Being considerate, appreciative, and smiley sounds cheesy, but that what it all comes down to.

ALL TALK, NO ACTION

Around 60% of our communicationis actually done through non-verbal cues, which includes facial expressions, touch, tone, dress, and posture. These factors may seem secondary, but just imagine someone who likes to stand 2 inches from you when in a conversation. You’re probably not doing to be jumping on the opportunity to be their best friend. Being mindful of how people respond to your body language, avoiding an abrasive tone, and maintaining a presentable & appropriate appearance are ways to alter nonverbal perceptions of you. At the end of the day, such dynamics are constantly changing depending on the fluidity of the team. Every company is different, and time will give you the experience to find your place.

I’M SENSITIVE THOUGH

Okay, so you’re a super nice person already, and you know how to talk to people. But if you’re constantly say the wrong thing, then even your formidable wit won’t keep the lunch invites coming. Understanding cultural and gender cues are essential for avoiding misunderstandings. For example, while it’s rude in Western culture to not make eye contact, the opposite is true in Japan. And while being open and friendly is great, you definitely don’t want to be the person who accidentally harassed a colleague. No one likes that person. If you’re on the fence about whether it’s acceptable to say something, then it’s best to leave it. Know it’s okay to not talk.

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