What are good interpersonal skills? Interpersonal skills are primarily behavioral skills, such as punctuality, completing tasks as promised, polite manners, and doing required preparation, and are the types of behaviors that make people easy to work with. Every employer and every educational institution wants to encourage good interpersonal skills, but sometimes, they unknowingly do things that discourage and even punish the people who are using them!
For instance, let’s take the example of meetings at work. The people who arrive on time are demonstrating excellent interpersonal skills. But if you always wait to begin until those latecomers arrive, you are actually accommodating them and making the people with good interpersonal skills suffer. Better to start rewarding the people who arrive on time by starting exactly at the scheduled time, and find a way to make arriving on time a desired behavior. Perhaps the punctual employees can be given first choice of assignments or lead break-out sessions.
In school settings, students are often asked to prepare ahead of class by completing a reading assignment. If the professor learns that too many students have not done the reading, they may feel obliged to cover the material in lectures, which wastes the time of the students who did prepare. This may dampen the enthusiasm of the students exhibiting the best example of the desired interpersonal skill of getting things done on time. Perhaps the professor could put the prepared students into a group, assigning them an engaging activity to build upon the information they studied, while the professor reviews the reading material with the unprepared student. In other words, make class preparation a desired behavior.
Interpersonal behaviors within meetings are complex and harder to spot and change. People with good interpersonal skills may be dominated by the loudest person who pushes through his or her idea. The agenda may get thrown off course by a team member who ignores common courtesy. Other team members may not understand the expected interpersonal behavior of teams that encourages each member to share their opinions. They may be intimidated and prefer to sit on the sidelines rather than contribute to an intense discussion. If a balance in interpersonal behavior is not achieved, the group will not reach its maximum potential.
One technique is to assign a team member to be a process observer during the meeting, and another team member to be the timekeeper. Set aside five to ten minutes at the end of the meeting to review the flow of the meeting. During these final minutes, the process observer reviews how members listened to each other, elicited input, contributed ideas, focused on the issues, and if discussions were productive. Then, group members may comment on the effectiveness of the meeting process and agree on steps to improve the next meeting.
In summary, when we encourage employees and students to demonstrate good interpersonal skills, we can’t forget to support their efforts and reward positive behavior instead of tolerating and accommodating poor interpersonal skills.