Teaching soft skills in the workplace: improving interpersonal relationships
For many of us, our weekly routine means spending more time at work than we do at home with our loved ones. Even with the rise of remote and flexible working, it is increasingly vital to foster strong relationships with those we spend so much time with at work.
There are many quotes out there about the importance of working together but my personal favourite is:
“Never look down on someone unless you’re helping them up” – Jesse Jackson
Although this wasn’t originally meant in the context of work, there is a lot we can take away from it. Managing interpersonal relationships in the workplace, more than in other areas of our lives, often comes down to power dynamics and your colleagues, employees, and managers feeling appreciated. We all want to feel that our contribution is valued, so finding ways to treat others equally and help them feel appreciated goes a long way to keeping the peace and fostering a more positive workplace culture.
So, I’ve pulled together some top interpersonal skills to help level the playing field and create a more harmonious workplace.
Top 6 interpersonal skills for working relationships
In no particular order, here are some of the top interpersonal skills needed to foster positive relationships in the modern workplace.
1. Openness and honesty
Transparency is increasingly high in demand in the modern workplace. This applies at an organisational and individual level. People don’t like being left in the dark, so being honest and open about current activity and potential bumps in the road is vital to keep things ticking along the way they should. There is also a certain level of respect that comes with being honest, and the more honest you are with your colleagues and employees, the more likely they are to trust you.
2. Clear communication
We covered communication in part one of our soft skills series, but similarly to openness, communicating clearly can go a long way to nurturing a positive relationship at work. For example, using a lot of jargon, specific to your department or job role, when speaking to someone from another area of the business can cause a certain level of distance, known in linguistics as “divergence”, which changes the power dynamics in any given conversation.
Communicating clearly by explaining (or avoiding) jargon and ensuring everyone is on the same level of understanding creates a more democratic approach to discussing ideas, helping everyone in the conversation to feel valued and appreciated, as well as making yourself more approachable.
3. Positivity and realism
There is a fine balance to strike between these two. While many articles, motivational talks, or even training on this topic will focus on the importance of a consistently positive attitude, there is a place in work for realism as well. Sometimes, you may come up against a problem that may take several days or weeks to solve. Being realistic with your team/colleagues about this will improve your working relationships far more than being what is known as a “time optimist” (assuming it will be done in less time) and then having to stretch out the project further than originally planned for.
Bringing a positive attitude to work is always important for morale, but equally so is expectation management. The ideal scenario is to find a good balance of the two, in which, for this example, you can set expectations but remain positive that the best solution will be achieved.
4. Active listening
Active listening is the art of paying close attention to the other person in a conversation, really taking in what they’re saying, not talking over them, and making sure they feel heard in the process. Not just for psychotherapists and HR professionals, active listening is a key component of fostering strong interpersonal relationships.
As I said earlier, fundamentally, many people wish to be heard and appreciated as part of a group. A fundamental need to be valued is in our instinctual nature, dating back to the earliest days of human civilisation. Active listening is a great way to both better understand those around you, and ensure they feel heard and valued in the workplace.
5. Patience and adapting to the needs of others
With ever-increasing workloads and ever-decreasing time, patience is a virtue more than ever in the workplace. We live in a world dominated by instant gratification, so being patient is becoming less and less in our nature. However, being patient with your colleagues, freelancers, managers, and employees will give them space to flourish and produce good work as well as improving your ongoing relationship.
When it comes to training or onboarding for example, some people may take longer than others to grasp different concepts and ways of working. This doesn’t mean they are less valuable as an employee, it may simply mean they have a different way of learning and processing information. As Albert Einstein famously said:
“If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing is a stupid”
6. Empathy and understanding
Similarly to the point above, empathy and understanding are key to evolving and nurturing strong interpersonal relationships. Everyone brings a different context to any given situation, from personal experience to job role to time in the organisation, and it is vital to remember that. While we can’t understand everyone’s view point all of the time, it’s important to remember that you never know what’s going on in someone’s life and to be aware that there will always be things about someone that you do not know or understand.
Emotional intelligence fits into this too. Being able to understand and adapt to the emotions of others in how you communicate, teach, listen, and collaborate will make a huge difference to their working lives and your working relationships.
People both in and out of the workplace are intrinsically motivated by being heard and valued within a group. Therefore, forming and keeping strong interpersonal relationships in the workplace often comes down to how you treat and value other people. Active listening, empathy, and patience in particular are absolutely key when it comes to maintaining these strong working relationships, regardless of seniority.