Interpersonal Skills – a Guide for Beginners

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Group of people at the sunset

“Are you a team player?” – you’ve certainly heard this question in your job interviews before. It is common for interviewers to choose the candidate with the best interpersonal skills. The need for strong interpersonal skills is constantly increasing, but why is that so?

Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.

Most tasks and projects today are complex and require more than one person in order to complete them successfully. Teamwork is required and as our world becomes more and more challenging, the number of projects in companies are constantly growing.

In most jobs, you’ve to be able to work in teams. Professional tasks are becoming more and more demanding and so are the challenges you and your team have to face. Therefore, the combination of hard- and interpersonal skills is an important criterion for many employers when deciding who will be hired and who will not.

In this article, you’ll learn what an interpersonal skill is and why they are important for your personal happiness. We’ll then show you how you can develop exceptional interpersonal skills and what role active listening plays in this.

Jump ahead to any of the sections below:

What Are Interpersonal Skills?

People shaking hands

We define interpersonal skills, as people skills that cannot yet (!) be proven with certificates or diplomas. In addition to functional competence, i.e. hard skills, these skills ensure a pleasant and happy togetherness. Often interpersonal skills are called soft skills, but there are some differences.

In contrast to interpersonal skills, soft skills include more than just dealing with others, as they combine personal skills and traits such as self-confidence, ambition, and passion.

Although hard skills have to be developed through hours and hours of work, interpersonal skills are partly innate and partly learned. The pedagogy of the teachers, the upbringing of your parents, the relationships you have had and many other aspects play an important role in the development of your interpersonal skills.

Some people have a natural talent for them. They understand exactly what it takes to get along well with other people. At the same time, many of them don’t even know what interpersonal skills are.

The meaning of interpersonal skills is mainly expressed in communication skills. Strong communication and interpersonal skills go hand in hand. To give you a better feel for what these skills really are, here’s a list of examples (there are even some overlaps with analytical skills):

  • Active listening
  • Empathy
  • Conflict resolution
  • Leadership
  • Problem-solving
  • Teamwork
  • Intercultural competence
  • Communication
  • Negotiation skills
  • Networking
  • Coaching skills
  • Control over emotions

Why Are Interpersonal Skills Important?

As indicated above, people skills are playing an increasingly important role in the workplace. However, there are plenty of other reasons why you should have strong social skills, because:

People surround us in almost every part of our lives.

Social competence is one, if not the most important factor for a positive attitude to life. Through social relationships with other people, that each of us needs to be happy, interpersonal skills are present in every aspect of life, no matter how small.

We all crave a sense of unity and the feeling of being part of the big picture. Belonging to a group is an important need that is deeply rooted in us. Being close to others makes us happy. It is scientifically proven that every one of us tries to play his or her social role in society.

Group of people working together at a desk

Simply put: everyone needs other people to be happy.

Therefore, it is essential that you understand how to interact with others and build deep relationships. Interpersonal skills can be learned. Work on your abilities because it’ll make it easier for you to build relationships with your people and make you happy on a personal level.

How to Improve Your Interpersonal Soft Skills

Now that we’ve talked about the importance of interpersonal skills, let’s see how you can improve them. There are several ways to do this. Here are some examples and exercises that are particularly suitable for beginners. Ideally, you do these exercises on a daily basis so that you can program them into your subconscious mind and make them a habit.

Give Credit

You can show your appreciation and respect for others in three different ways:

  • When someone does something better than you, praise them and highlight their strengths.
  • If you receive help, be grateful and don’t take it for granted.
  • Appreciate creative ideas and any feedback you get.

Gratitude and acknowledgment is an inspiring and important factor for a healthy self-confidence. Many people just want to hear a “well done”, even if they don’t say it directly. Don’t spare your praise and be open and honest with your colleagues and friends. Let them know that you appreciate their hard work. They’ll thank you for it.

Practice Empathy

Worrying about the well-being of others is an important step towards exceptional interpersonal skills which all of us should work towards.

Compassion, also called empathy, is the ability to understand and respond to the feelings of others. No matter if anger, sadness or sorrow, as an empathetic person you are aware of what the person wants to hear in every situation.

If you notice that someone is having a hard time, a bad day, or a disturbing experience, offer your help. Listen to what the person has to say, find the source of the problem and try to understand why that person feels the way he or she feels. Make the person realize that you are actually interested and that they will always get compassion from you. This will greatly strengthen your relationship with that person.

Coworker patiently looking at monitor

Dealing empathetically with your peers offers even more advantages than “just” building relationships. It’s proven that people who empathize with others are generally less stressful in their daily lives. Empathy ensures that your body produces fewer stress hormones.

Positive thoughts are known to spread from person to person. Thus, if you pay more attention to others and make them happy, this happiness will also spread to you. Let us tell you at this point: only a few emotions can be compared with the feeling that you get when you do something good for other people.

Show Interest

Perhaps you know the following situation: a hard day at work, where your boss has spoiled your day by every trick in the book, leaving you more than fed up with your job. Loaded with energy and tension you come home to your partner who wants to talk to you about his or her problems. How’re you supposed to have the nerve to talk about other people’s problems in such a situation?

That’s not easy, especially when you are struggling with problems yourself. For this reason, first, try to be at peace with yourself before you can get involved with the problems of others.

Two friends celebrating reaching the summit

Sincere interest in others is the best way to develop strong interpersonal skills and deep relationships. Before you start complaining next time, ask the person you’re with how he or she is doing at the moment. Talk about hobbies, passions, and interests. Always remain attentive and show your counterpart that you are sincerely interested. This way you’ll get to know people on a deeper level.

Listen Actively

A relationship between two people, whether positive or negative, always begins with communication. Every conversation and every long-term relationship stands and falls with it. That’s why interpersonal and communication skills go hand in hand. If the communication is good, positive emotions will arise and if it’s bad, negative ones will. This makes active listening the most important interpersonal skill you should learn.

Active listening is about devoting your full attention to the person who’s talking. It is important that you make them aware that you share your unbiased attention with them through signals such as nodding your head, a gentle “Yes, I see” or a soft “Mhm”. Eye contact and a pleasant body language reinforce these signals as well.

That’s why you have to pay attention to your body language when you listen to someone actively. Slightly more than 90% of people use body language to form their first impression of a person. Watch your gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice, because they say a lot about you.

The interpersonal ability expresses itself in body language primarily in your facial features, hands, eyes, and posture while you listen to others or talk.

Guy listens to another person

By listening actively you will develop other types of interpersonal (and soft) skills such as intercultural competence, patience, and better empathy. This is where the true importance of interpersonal communication becomes apparent. Active listening is the absolute foundation for further relationships and skills because, in order to communicate effectively, you should learn not only how to express yourself correctly, but also how to listen correctly.

For the upper three exercises (credit, empathy, and interest) active listening is the ideal foundation because:

  • Attention is a signal of acknowledgment and equality. It’s the perfect way to give credit to others. 
  • You collect more information about a person, can understand them faster and will develop empathy more quickly. 
  • Active listening reveals the interest in a person and their ideas.


There are an incredible number of interpersonal skills (and soft skills) which are worth learning. Not only do they help you develop your personality, but they are also good for networking. As already mentioned, people surround us in almost all areas of life, which is why interpersonal skills have such a crucial role in our lives.

Acknowledgment, interest, and empathy are good first steps in the long and hard way to a distinctive social competence. However, active listening is the absolute cornerstone that should be laid before you start to develop other people skills.

Most importantly, you should do each exercise regularly to create an automatism for it.


The topic around the different skills can be very confusing. For this reason, we’ve summarized a few answers to the most frequently asked questions.

How Many Interpersonal Skills Exist?

This is a difficult question because there is no unified definition of the various interpersonal skills. As a result, the skills are often categorized differently. A common estimate is 90, although we personally believe that there will be more and more of them in the future.

How to Measure People Skills?

That doesn’t really work. You can measure it with pleasure, but your results will be so daring that the work is hardly worth it. Interpersonal skills don’t even have standardized definitions, let alone standardized measurement methods. However, we’re optimistic that it’s only a matter of time before we can welcome the first more precise methods.

Which of the Various Interpersonal Skills Is Most Important?

The importance of interpersonal skills cannot be weighted. Basically, you have the upper four skills that we have shown you as a foundation, which you should develop in any case.

All other skills depend on you and your environment. If you work in a national working environment, skills such as intercultural competence might not be so important to you. In other words, your environment and the people surrounding you, define which interpersonal skill you should improve.

Is There a Difference Between Interpersonal Skills and Soft Skills?

Strictly speaking, yes. There is indeed a difference between the term “soft skills” and interpersonal skills. Interpersonal skill is a subcategory of soft skills.

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