In any business environment, whether dealing with a customer or a fellow employee, interpersonal skills are indispensable. People who lack interpersonal skills are like fingernails on a chalkboard, or sand in the gears. They make all interactions more difficult.
What are these skills?
- Verbal communication–Which words we choose and how we express them
- Nonverbal communication–Body language, hand gestures, and facial expressions
- Listening–Paying attention to correctly process information
- Negotiation–Professionally discussing, and then reaching an agreement
- Problem solving–Firefighting vs. Predictive Analysis
- Decision-making–A professional environment requires a professional solution
- Assertiveness–Self-confidence is vital; others must trust your decisions
Clarity of speech is essential; no mumbling. Maintain an even and level tone; no yelling allowed, despite any provocation. The most effective communicators understand the principles of common courtesy. Applying that knowledge automatically makes you a better communicator. Most importantly, remember that what you have to say is not a monologue or a diatribe.
The best way to interact with other individuals is not to lecture, but rather to utilize open questions. Closed questions usually generate a “yes” or “no” answer and are essentially useless. Asking someone: “How do you think we can improve X in the next Quarter?” will be much more productive. They feel like they’re contributing to the conversation, that their input is valuable, that you consider them an asset.
Stand at ease and keep your hands off your hips; avoid crossing your arms, which looks defensive and distant; don’t loom over other people. If you’re particularly tall, stay just a little further back to reduce the intimidation factor.
Use your hands as a visual aid to explain concepts. Keep a pleasant expression on your face whenever you can. A smile goes a mile in a business environment.
If a fellow employee tells you that a client is waiting for you in your office, and you then leave for lunch, the repercussions could be very damaging to the whole business. You might even be terminated for such a blunder.
Being very focused in a conversation with someone is no excuse for not registering important information from an interruption. “Harry…Mike is waiting in your office.” Do something uncharacteristic, such as holding your keys, to remind you that there is another task waiting; grab a piece of scotch tape and put it on your palm…just about anything will work.
I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening —Larry King
The days of the Iron Fist are gone! When employees or clients complain or seek favors you must listen, discuss, and then develop a fair solution for everyone. And of course you can’t capitulate to every demand or request:
“I understand, Jacquie. We have tried that strategy before. What I’d like you to do is speak to Bruce about it and figure out why it didn’t work last time. Then you can have a chance to implement it next month. For now we’ll stick with what does work—does that seem fair?”
Firefighting is a fantastic skill, but great problem solvers seldom need it. At the first sign of smoke they’re already working on a solution; they don’t wait for flames before they start considering whether a bucket of water will suffice, or if they should start looking for a fire extinguisher. The most desirable skill you have in this area is the ability to recognize a problem in development.
“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
― Albert Einstein
Word of warning: If your department runs like clockwork, if everything is always done ahead of schedule, and if the employees think you’re the greatest thing since the Internet, watch out. Make sure people know about all your good work to keep it that way.
Higher-ups have been known to come to the mistaken conclusion that the department is “easy”; that it “runs itself”, when it seems to work flawlessly. You can miss out on raises or promotions that way. File reports and toot-your-own-horn periodically!
Split-second decisions can result from familiarity with factors in other problems someone has experienced previously. Given the time, however, it’s very seldom that you cannot provide a better, more comprehensive solution when you dedicate some time to research and thought.
This is the time where you get to break the problem down into its components, examine options, and work out strategies and objectives. Snap-decisions are good for emergency situations; in almost every other circumstance thoughtful decisions are better.
Louder is not assertive; it demonstrates an inability to think clearly and insecurity issues. People do not respect a wishy-washy leader.
Self-confidence is vital; others must trust that you trust your own decisions. Stick to your plan, and if you’re obliged to change your plan, make sure you have prepared a new and better plan, and explain the reasoning and changes to your staff.
Developing interpersonal skills is vital in every occupation. The ultimate secret is to be courteous, attentive, supporting, communicative, and a team player.