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Written by Paul DruryPaul Drury

What are interpersonal skills: definition + top examples

14 min read
What are Interpersonal Skills: Definition + Top Examples
Artwork by:Veronika Kiriyenko
Getting on with others is the key to business success, but how are interpersonal skills defined and how might we use these examples in our resume to make it stronger? Which interpersonal skills does the job require?

Interpersonal skills help us to find common ground with others, navigating complex situations, communicating our needs and collaborating to make the most of any opportunity. 

We all need a little help from our colleagues at work sometimes, so interpersonal skills help to break down barriers, work out problems and overcome obstacles. 

Our interpersonal skills have developed from our earliest childhood experiences, but from a professional point of view it is worthwhile to explore what they mean in the context of getting things done in a professional context.

In this article we will explore:

  • The question “What are interpersonal skills?”
  • Top 7 interpersonal skills (with examples)
  • How to include interpersonal skills in a resume
  • How to improve interpersonal skills

When picking examples of interpersonal skills for your resume, consider the demands of the job and show how your people skills will help you to fit in.

Expert tip

What are examples of good interpersonal skills? When outlining an interpersonal skill such as communication, leadership or teamwork, it is important to offer a wider context rather than simply saying: “I am a proficient communicator.” Talk about a time when precise and careful communication was central to achieving a specific result. Strong interpersonal skills create positive outcomes for all.

What are interpersonal skills?

Interpersonal skills are the personal qualities and behaviors that we demonstrate when we interact with those around us. 

Some are innate personality traits that can be developed, and others have been acquired in certain social situations. Deploying our interpersonal skills in a certain situation is always a conscious choice, and the appropriate nature of this choice will go a long way to determining our impact on others and ultimately our employability. Getting along with our colleagues will add to the bottom line.

Whether you are resolving a conflict, gaining someone’s respect or working out what someone is trying to say, interpersonal skills are what keep the wheels turning.

Interpersonal skills come under the umbrella of soft skills, which are social and emotional-based skills, but also include executive functioning abilities such as time management and organization.

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Top interpersonal skills examples

Certain jobs will require more interpersonal communication and collaboration than others. It is our experience that most resumes will contain most of these top seven interpersonal skills. How you convey these skills can make all the difference:

Communication

The efficient communication of ideas in verbal, written and visual forms is central to articulating the right messages and receiving suitable direction. 

Working out how best to make things happen with others is essential in any high-performing team, and the subtle interpersonal skills of persuasion and influencing help to ensure that what you are saying is what others are hearing and acting on.

Example

Coordinated a three-month project plan across seven different business functions that delivered $560k in operational cost savings.

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Emotional intelligence

Working out what other people think and why they are acting in a certain way is far from easy. Interpreting emotions and sharing your own feelings is important in a caring and compassionate workplace where kindness and sensitivity are valued.

Even the rarest emotional intelligence interpersonal skills such as empathy can be developed. Putting yourself in someone’s position and seeing the world through their eyes offers a unique perspective that can, in turn, inform your own actions.

Example

Guided my team of ten through a (shared) forced redundancy process, helping them explore their future career options and acting more as a concerned friend rather than an aloof boss.

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Leadership

Leaders use a broad range of interpersonal skills to get the most out of their colleagues and direct reports in any given situation, inspiring them to unimaginable heights and motivating them when the going gets tough.

The charisma of many leaders is intimately connected with personal character traits, but there are many aspects of situational leadership that can nonetheless be learned. Getting a team pulling in the same direction is an immense achievement.

Example

Led a sales team through a difficult recession and -35% market contraction to smash our budget target by 65% – with 100% employee retention.

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Negotiation

It is rare that two people or organizations want exactly the same thing and are looking in exactly the same direction. Negotiation interpersonal skills come into play where compromises are required, and commercial gain is at stake.

Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are required to arrive at the ideal scenario, while the personal qualities of patience, perseverance and positivity offer both parties the chance to achieve their goals in a win/win outcome.

Example

Consolidated a supplier base of fifteen down to twelve, negotiating 15% cost savings and streamlining the operational process.

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Teamwork

Teamwork involves understanding the impact of your contribution, relying on others to help when required and at other times offering your leadership. This interpersonal skill goes hand-in-hand with many of the others. It’s difficult to be a collaborative worker without excellent communication and listening skills.

Example

Collaborated with a cross-functional team to launch our flagship service into ten new markets and achieve $8 million in revenue in the first year.

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Active Listening

Listening with an intent to take positive action is one of the most productive of interpersonal skills. Demonstrate concern for the speaker, establish a relationship of trust, ask relevant questions and move towards a common understanding.

Clarifying and responding as the conversation takes shape is a great way of solving a difficult problem or reaching a surprising conclusion. Active listening interpersonal skills help you to engage with the speaker and focus on their message.

Example

Helped to chair a dispute resolution panel for our department that sought to understand employee grievances and find sustainable solutions for all.

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Problem solving

Identifying a problem and finding a solution is rarely something that can be done on your own. Soliciting the opinions of others and finding the best approach is key in this most business critical of interpersonal skills.

Evaluating potential solutions to a problem will depend on individual perspectives and experiences, so sometimes the more minds that are involved in solving a problem the more creative a solution can be found.

Example

Identified a new product niche and brought our range to market in record time – six months before our closest competitor could manage.

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How to include interpersonal skills on your resume

You may choose to include the interpersonal skills of problem-solving and communication (among many others) in your skills section as they may be sought out by the ATS software , but there are more powerful and persuasive ways and resume sections to really make your interpersonal skills stand out.

First, there are deeper aspects of every interpersonal skill. Mentioning how you mentored a younger colleague through a tough time will allude to your other leadership skills while offering a far more specific example.

Second, the skills section is often dismissed by employers as it is easy to claim a skill without offering specific evidence. Sure, include some skills that are hyper-specific for the role, but don’t resort to general “common” skills or the hiring manager will think that you have nothing of real value to add.

The evidence for your skills can come in the resume summary, the employment history section and also in your cover letter . Weave the desired skills into your career story and hint at how they will enable your future success. Use powerful action verbs to describe accomplishments and your interpersonal skills will jump off the page.

Keep in mind that all of these interpersonal skills are combinations of other skills. For example, to be an active listener requires focus, active inquiry and curiosity. Excellent negotiating skills include persuasion and research.

If you think of the components of each of the top seven interpersonal skills and illustrate those, you will be offering a more individualized picture of your professional abilities.

Expert tip

How to improve your interpersonal skills. Being honest about your strengths and weaknesses is a great starting point, but the best place to start is asking others about their experience of interactions with you. To improve, there are plenty of online training resources, courses and books. Of course, nothing beats good, old-fashioned trial and error. Choose certain situations that are not overly critical and try a new approach to see how it works out for you.

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Key takeaways

  • Interpersonal skills are qualities relating to how we interact with others.
  • These skills are essential on a resume because they show how you will fit into a workplace.
  • Make sure to give more context to your interpersonal skills including how you put them into practice.
  • Your interpersonal skills can naturally be added to your skills section but they also make a good addition to your summary and employment history.
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