What are Interpersonal Skills?
Interpersonal skills help us engage, interact, and build relationships with other people, and they are necessary in order to thrive in school, at home, and at work. That’s why it’s critical to start building these skills in children, starting as early as kindergarten and throughout elementary school. But what do we mean when we say “interpersonal skills?”
Interpersonal skills include:
- Communication: Includes verbal communication, or what you say and how you say it, and nonverbal communication, such as body posture, facial expression, and eye contact.
- Cooperation: Working together with others as a team to accomplish a goal.
- Empathy: The ability to identify and understand other people’s emotions.
- Emotion Regulation: The ability to identify your feelings and manage them appropriately.
- Impulse Control: The ability to control your behaviors by considering short- and long-term consequences.
- Social Initiation: Making and keeping relationships by knowing when and how to work or play with others.
Interpersonal skills are also known as social and emotional skills, soft skills, or life skills, but that doesn’t mean you should wait until you’re searching for a job to develop and hone them! Read on to see why these skills are critical to success at all stages of life and view our activities, lessons, and ideas for improving each of these skills.
Why are Interpersonal Skills Important?
Did you know that kindergarten students who show high social competence (or good interpersonal skills) are 46% more likely to have a full-time job at the age of 25?
In 2015, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation published results from a fascinating long-term study measuring social competence for a group of 753 kindergartners and evaluated outcomes for these same students 20 years later.
What they found was startling:
“For every one-point increase on the 5-point scale in a child’s social competence score in kindergarten, he/she was:
- Twice as likely to attain a college degree in early adulthood;
- 54% more likely to earn a high school diploma; and
- 46% more likely to have a full-time job at the age of 25.”
And on the flip side, “for every one-point decrease in a child’s social competence score in kindergarten, he/she had:
- 67% higher chance of having been arrested by early adulthood;
- 82% higher rate of recent marijuana usage; and
- 82% higher chance of being in or on a waiting list for public housing.”
Getting into college, interviewing for a job, working in a team environment, becoming a leader – you can’t afford to wait until junior and senior year of high school to start preparing for these situations and goals. The interpersonal skills, or social emotional skills, that will help you be a standout candidate for colleges and careers aren’t developed overnight. And it’s clear that the earlier they are practiced and mastered, the more likely it is that you will be successful in both school and the workforce.
You have likely been building these skills throughout your life with or without formal training, and you can certainly continue to improve, but you may be wondering how to actively help someone else, such as your child or a student, improve their interpersonal skills to put them on the path to success.
We need to be able to understand others, and help them understand us, so that we can get along. Both verbal and nonverbal forms of communication, as well as active listening, are essential to understanding. Verbal communication includes the words we choose to convey our message. Nonverbal communication includes tone of voice, body posture or body language, and facial expressions.
- Follow instructions and stay on task
- Employ effective listening skills
- Understand personal space
- Give detailed and specific descriptions for others
- Practice effective speaking and listening skills, stay on topic, take turns in the conversation
- Understand the connection between tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions,
- Understand and portray a variety of emotions
- Give and receive appropriate and constructive feedback
- De-escalate a situation by listening and acknowledging a classmate’s feelings
- Use nonverbal communication skills to convey a message
Good cooperation skills help us keep relationships even through disagreements because they enable us to work toward solutions that are acceptable to all. Using communication skills to effectively negotiate your preferences while also knowing when to compromise makes it easier to get along with others.
- Decide when it’s best to work alone or with a partner
- Demonstrate effective teamwork and cooperation skills
- Listen to classmates’ preferences and strengths
- Act as a leader in a group of peers
- Trouble-shoot to find the best solution
- Work with a teammate effectively by sharing resources
- Communicating respectfully with teammates
- Share the workload to accomplish a goal
- Compromise with a classmate
- Effectively negotiate your preferences
Emotion regulation is the ability to identify your feelings and manage them appropriately. It’s important to identify whether a situation calls for a big or small emotions and manage your emotions accordingly.
- Regulate emotions and demonstrate effective coping skills when faced with rejection
- Identify your feelings
- Practice resiliency in the face of rejection
- Regulate emotions not only in disappointing situations, like losing a game, but also in situations in which it’s tempting to boast, such as winning a game.
- Regulate emotions when false accusations are made
- Engage in positive self-talk
- Resist jumping to conclusions and negative self-talk,
- Cope with feeling left out and hurt feelings
- Resist peer pressure
- Identify big emotions vs. small emotions and the appropriate reactions for each
- Identify degrees of feelings in similar emotions
Empathy is the ability to identify and understand other people’s emotions. It requires being able to identify words, actions, and facial expressions that are associated with different emotions. Perspective-taking skills, or putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, are also important to understanding how another person may feel in a given situation.
- Use perspective-taking skills
- Understand which feelings and facial expressions may be associated with different scenarios
- Gather information to identify others’ feelings, and choose the best way to help them feel better
- Resist peer pressure to make fun of a others
- Help others in need
- Recognize when someone is isolated in a fun environment and choose to include them
While emotion regulation involves managing emotions, impulse control is managing behavior and actions. Good impulse control means thinking ahead to possible positive and negative consequences of choices, as well how your behavior could impact short- and long-term goals.
- Stay on task using time-management and organization skills
- Complete steps of a task in a set order
- Exhibit self-control despite distractions
- Pay attention to social cues like when to move forward in line
- Pay attention when adults ask questions
- Follow directions despite a tempting distraction
- Resist peer pressure
- Weigh pros and cons of a situation,
- Differentiate between short and long-term goals
- Recognize what’s inside and outside of your control
Making and keeping personal relationships involves initiating conversations with strangers, acquaintances, and friends, as well as knowing when and how to work and play with others.
- Find friends with similar interests
- Determine who is available and best to work with in a situation
- Identify how to best initiate working with a partner
- Decide between initiating with a group, a single student, or playing by yourself
- Be positive and appropriate when asking about an unfamiliar activity
- Positively initiate with a group after being rejected
- Interrupt and leave a conversation at the appropriate times
- Ask to join a game already in progress
- Be flexible when the rules of a game change
- Initiate a conversation appropriately
- Understand the importance of making and keeping friends
How Can Children Improve Interpersonal Skills?
Through life experiences, interactions with family, friends, teachers, and coaches, you have been in a continuous feedback system that helped you develop your interpersonal skills.
But aside from these everyday experiences, can interpersonal skills be actively taught, and if so, what is the best way to learn? It’s best if the learning has some context and is related to real life experiences.
As an example, we enable students to improve all of these interpersonal skills by testing their abilities in simulated social scenarios using our game-based programs.
And beyond the game-based programs, we have created a number of lessons, activities, and ideas that will help students practice key concepts of each skill in real-world scenarios.
To learn more about strategies for helping kids improve these important life skills, please see: Social Skills Resources for Parents