|Interpersonal skills and relationships
Posted on 6/28/2022 by Maggie Mackenzie
Interpersonal skills and relationships
by Emilee Kerper
Interpersonal skills can be thought of as the know-how we bring to relationships with others and how it impacts those relationships. The way we interact with and relate to others comes from a variety of experiences we have throughout our lives, many of which start in our early experience with family and caregivers. Often we tend to repeat what we know, as long as it seems to be working okay. But what if we notice it’s not? What can we do to work on our relationship skills?
Communication plays a huge role in how we connect with others and is a skill that translates across different types of relationships, both personal and professional. Starting conversations with curiosity and requesting feedback can be an effective way to build trust and collaboration in relationships. If you’re unsure about something, ask! This can also be an effective way to mediate conflict, by drawing out the issue and discussing it with more clarity. If you notice a rise in emotions that are disrupting communication, taking a break can be an important skill to practice, to avoid damage through unnecessary or unexamined comments. If you are struggling with communication, returning to self-awareness is important, to clearly identify what you want to say. Writing can be a powerful tool for clarity.
As with communication skills, give and take in relationships is an important way to build trust and encourage effective collaboration. We should strive to create an equal exchange in relationships - this means one person is not working harder than the other to meet shared goals. Communicating about shared goals is a great first step to creating equity in a relationship, and then both parties can check in periodically about how their side of the exchange is going.
If someone is unwilling to communicate about shared goals or challenges, that would be a major red flag. We all need to be on the same page about what we’re doing - otherwise, what’s the point?
If someone speaks to you in an angry tone, insults you, makes inappropriate comments and ignores your concerns, those are all red flags. We need to have room in our relationships to give feedback, share our ideas and be treated like a human being.
What are some red flags you can think of in relationships you’ve experienced or heard about?
Just as it’s important to be able to collaborate and define shared goals, we need to be willing and able to ask for help when we need it. This may also mean accepting feedback, even when we don’t necessarily want it or agree. Someone else may have an idea that you haven’t yet thought of! Collaboration can be an excellent learning tool, if we allow ourselves to accept the idea without taking it personally. Allowing someone to share their input does not mean there’s anything wrong with what we’ve done, who we are or the ideas we have. When we work as a team, we’re practicing putting all our ideas in a shared pot and seeing what comes out of it. It can be challenging because personalities are all different, but so rewarding when we’re able to work together for a common goal.
The most important thing we can do to establish trust and safety is first find that in ourselves. It sounds simple, but this on its own can be a challenge. It comes back to our first point: self-awareness. Do you trust your own feelings to let you know if something is off? Do you know how to respond if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe in a relationship? Our feelings are powerful messengers about what we need and whether or not we’re getting it. We need to understand how to maintain feelings of safety within ourselves to bring this into our relationships with others.
If we’re working on helping others trust and feel safe, being open, honest, willing to be vulnerable and receive others’ input can be powerful ways to build trust in relationships. We can ask questions to show we care about others and continue to check in with them about their needs and feelings.
Often others struggle to share their emotions, so a willingness to share your own can get the conversation started and give permission for the other person to share, too. It wouldn’t be desirable to treat a relationship like a therapy session, however, so keeping our emotional shares brief is an important boundary in professional relationships. Read the room, as they say. If another person is sharing, offering your own personal share can build a powerful reciprocal connection, too.
Finally, a healthy practice in relationships can be making a regular “check-in” a part of the relationship culture. For example, you might say something like, “Hey, we haven’t checked in for awhile and I’m curious if you’d be willing to share how you think this relationship is going? Is there anything we could do to make this work better for you?” Initiating this conversation and doing it regularly can open up the topic and help it be a comfortable part of the relational work that is such a big part of our lives, both personally and professionally.