What are the most valuable interpersonal skills?

Humans start to develop social skills in infancy and continue to advance these skills throughout life. (Think: sharing toys with other kids in kindergarten or practicing teamwork while playing soccer.) In adulthood, your relationships become more varied and your responsibilities more complex. 

Now, whether you’re negotiating a chore schedule with a roommate or sharing your ideas for a project at work, interactions with other people may require a little more intention than before. You’ll need strong interpersonal skills.

People standing talking to each other in two separate groups.

Table of contents

What are interpersonal skills?Why are interpersonal skills important?Different types of interpersonal skillsHow to improve your interpersonal skills

What are interpersonal skills?

Interpersonal skills, or social skills, apply to the ease and efficacy with which you interact with others. You rely on these skills to communicate and collaborate with others in every area of your life. When you’re navigating a difficult conversation with a loved one or trying to persuade a hiring manager to give you a shot at that job you want, your interpersonal skills are at work.

Why are interpersonal skills important?

Interpersonal skills affect your ability to communicate and work with others. And even if you’re an introvert, much of what you do in life requires interaction with other people.

Your teachers and mentors have likely stressed the importance of networking as part of your job search. Turns out, that’s pretty good advice—your ability to interface with others is just as important as your technical skills and work ethic. A 2016 survey, conducted by LinkedIn and the Adler Group, found that 85 percent of all jobs are filled through networking. 

But don’t be intimidated: Networking is just a fancy term for “building relationships.” You never know when your boss from your first internship could tip you off about a job opportunity or put in a good word with the hiring manager. Even once you’ve landed that dream job, you’ll still continue to build rapport with your coworkers to tackle projects. Just like back in high school soccer, mutual trust and clear communication are required to be an effective part of the team. 

Outside of the workplace, interpersonal skills are equally important. You need the ability to communicate with your landlord if there’s an issue with your apartment. Problem solving skills come in handy when mediating a difficult conversation between roommates. And your friends will be able to connect with you more meaningfully if you’ve mastered active listening. 

The point is, good interpersonal skills are absolutely vital for adult life, and working to develop them is a great way to invest in yourself. Not only that, they will help you build relationships that could make your career and personal life more fulfilling.

Different types of interpersonal skills

Active listening

The ability to communicate effectively is key to any interaction with other people, and it’s impossible to develop strong interpersonal communication skills without active listening. This means listening with the intention of understanding the other person’s input and perspective while paying attention to their body language and facial expressions. 

Not only does this make the speaker feel valued, it can be essential for gathering information—and it’s the only real way to connect or collaborate with another person. Active listening is also an important step to gaining emotional intelligence. If you have trouble focusing when others talk, try removing distractions like your phone or laptop. 

Emotional intelligence

Emotional Intelligence refers to your ability to recognize and manage your own emotions. It also means you have empathy, meaning you feel and are sensitive to the emotions and needs of those around you. 

In the workplace, this could mean maintaining a positive attitude and keeping the focus on problem solving when you’re having a difficult conversation with a coworker. In your personal life, it could manifest as speaking kindly to a friend who you know has had a tough day. Either way, it’s an important skill for navigating emotionally charged situations peacefully and without damaging your relationships. You can often improve your emotional intelligence by practicing active listening. 


You’ve probably heard that hiring managers look for “team players.” You may have even seen the phrase in a job description or added it to your cover letter when filling out a job application. Teamwork is really just a collaboration between two or more people to reach a common goal. So when you and your roommate picked out (and built) that Ikea couch, that counted as teamwork. 

Participating as an effective part of a team requires the use of several other interpersonal skills, including active listening and leadership. A good team player will put the team and its goals above personal gain and glory. This means clearly communicating with others, following through on your responsibilities, resolving conflict peacefully, and valuing each member’s contribution. 


The concept of negotiation can feel intimidating or even contentious, but a negotiation is just a conversation had with the intention of reaching an agreement. This means, whether you’re discussing a starting salary with your hiring manager or deciding who gets which bedroom with new roommates, you’re on the same team as the person with whom you’re negotiating. Being a good negotiator requires communication, active listening skills, and creative problem solving.


Early in your career, you might not think you’ll have many opportunities to practice leadership skills. And it’s true that your manager will likely be the main point of authority in many situations, but odds are your coworkers will depend on you to own certain aspects of shared projects. No matter how small your responsibility, take a proactive approach and become an expert in that area. 

And because leadership isn’t limited to the workplace, you can also practice your skills by arranging weekly roommate dinners or taking charge when your friends plan a vacation together. Just remember, being a leader requires active listening and emotional intelligence to create an inspired, motivated, and happy team.

A group of people sit in a circle and look on while one man speaks.

How to improve your interpersonal skills

As is the case with any form of self-development, improving your interpersonal skills can be achieved through practice. Here’s how to do it. 

Identify your strengths and weaknesses

Now that you have a better understanding of a few important interpersonal skills, the first step to improving them is to consider how well your current practices have been serving you. One way to do this is to reflect on which types of interactions you feel you approach confidently and compare them to the types of interactions you tend to avoid. Which skills have you mastered to handle the former? And which skills do you need to develop to become more comfortable with the latter?

Ask for feedback

Because interpersonal skills are all about communicating with other people, it’s important to solicit feedback from your coworkers, friends, and family. Not only will you get an outside perspective from the people with whom you interact the most, it will show them that you are invested in improving communication within your relationship. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to practice active listening. 

Practice daily

Once you’ve identified the interpersonal skills you’d like to improve, recognize and take opportunities to practice them. Just like you learned to share your toys with your friends as a kid, you’ll learn to actively listen and become a leader by flexing those muscles again and again. 

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