Examples of Interpersonal Skills: How to be a Better Leader and Not Make These Mistakes

Examples of Interpersonal Skills- How to (1)

Have you ever wondered why everyone around you seems to be overreacting? Or over-emotional?

Frequently I find that work means different things to different people and that can be the source of disconnection between colleagues at work.

For example: some people feel that work is the place you go to be “professional.” Personal lives are just that. . . personal – not to be shared or commented on. Other people find that work becomes a second home to them – it’s where they spend most of their time and they enjoy getting to know their peers and chatting intimately about their life with them.

Which are you?

The truth is that no matter which camp you fall into, interpersonal skills or “soft skills” are essential when it comes to leadership roles. Often very technical leaders are surprised at how many more interpersonal demands there are on them as they move up in the organization. From being able to communicate clearly using verbal and non-verbal cues to being a good listener and negotiator, interpersonal skills are what will set you apart and help you lead your team successfully. Even if it wasn’t valued earlier in your career as an individual contributor, there’s no time like the present to focus on it!

Here are some examples of different interpersonal skills:
(and how using them smartly can make the strongest impact)

1. Plan Your Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication

How you communicate via language and non-verbal cues will say a great deal to your team and help them feel comfortable, confident and clear about what’s expected of them.

Example of What Not to Do:

It’s team meeting day. You arrive just in time and look and feel stressed because the traffic was crazy and you didn’t get a chance to pick up your coffee.

First item on the agenda, you present a new strategic direction you want your team to focus on moving forward. You’ve been working on this plan for a few months now and you feel confident it’s the best next step to meet the updated organizational vision announced earlier this year. Your team meets your announcement first with silence then starts in with their questions and concerns.

What’s your reaction?

My guess is that you might be feeling defensive at this point – ready to defend your new plan and frustrated that your team isn’t “getting right on board.”

What do you think the results of that team meeting will look like?

My guess is there will be frustration on both sides, yours and your teams, lack of confidence in the next steps, and in all likelihood, several difficult conversations that follow in the following weeks.

What’s another option?

Instead, if you planned not just your day ahead of time, but how you wanted to communicate this important information to your team, you might have left the house earlier than before, stopped to pick coffee, and composed and centered yourself BEFORE walking into the meeting. Once you walked in confidently, greeted everyone and asked about them, then you could began with your important agenda item. That would have been a presentation that conveyed confidence, clarity and commitment to the team. And you would have been able to be more calm than irritated as you responded to the inevitable questions about this new direction.

2. Listening Skills: Are you hearing the subtext?

Are you paying attention to what your team is telling you?

Do you have a way of keeping track of important information so that it doesn’t fall through the cracks?

Listening “in” to what is said, as well as what is not said, is equally important when it comes to people management. Listen to not just their words, but also what they’re feeling on an emotional level so you can handle them accordingly.

Example of What Not to Do:

Your assistant comes into your office to tell you that you have an important meeting later that day that’s been rescheduled to Wednesday next week. She also mentions that she’ll be taking that Wednesday off because her mother’s going in for surgery.

You barely look up from your emails and nod absent-mindedly. Then on the day of the meeting, you notice it on your calendar and realize you’d forgotten all about it and hadn’t prepped accordingly since your assistant wasn’t there to remind you ahead of time.

You get stressed and furious about coming unprepared to an important meeting and share this with your assistant when she returns. Your assistant feels unhappy at being ignored and an important personal life event being overlooked. Not a happy situation for either one of you.

Another way?

What you might need to practice, is pausing and giving someone your full attention and brain when they are speaking to you (that means no glancing at your phone as you talk or even looking at emails during a call.) If you had paused for a minute to listen to your assistant, make a note on your planner and calendar about the reschedule, asked about her mother and wished her the best or even, scheduled to send flowers on the day of the surgery, you’d have done a better job at work and building the stronger relationships that make your team work.

3. Take Time Out To Resolve Conflicts and Hone Your Problem Solving Skills

Negotiation, conflict resolution and problem solving are all leadership skills that are constantly called into play when one is managing a team with different skill sets, personalities and even loyalties.

Example of What Not to Do:

One team member complains to you about another team member. You’ve been hearing troubling reports about this person from other members of the team as well. Maybe it’s about their tendency to complete work late and hold other people up, or their lack of responsive communication that’s bringing the whole team down.

You bring all of everyone together and have a public discussion of team norms and responsibilities. Everyone knows you are targeting this individual. This individual however might possibly be completely embarrassed in front of their colleagues or alternatively, leave the room having no idea you were even talking about or thinking abouttheir performance.

Another option:

Instead of just hearing the complaints and piling them one on top of another, take the time to listen to the problems everyone’s having in one-on-one conversations. What threads do you notice that are similar? Where are the experiences different? Note your observations about what these interactions say about the individual in question and what they say about these other team members.

After gathering and synthesizing this information, take the time to have a leisurely one-on-one discussion with the team member in question. Allow first for the opportunity for small talk and relaxed conversation before diving in. This will enable both of you to be more open and less defensive once you are discussing the tougher items. Make sure to find out how these work interactions are feeling to this person before offering constructive solutions.

The chances of seeing a solution and coming to a happier resolution to this conflict are much higher when you can start to see the different assumptions of and forces acting on each team member before jumping into action.


You might be reading the examples above and think “I would never do that!

Great! Are there times though when you’re not as tuned into others as you could be during your workday? When does that tend to happen and why?

See if you can notice any of your own patterns during the next week at work. . . .

Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

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