John Donne wrote that no man is an island, and even the strongest introvert would likely agree that it is interpersonal relationships -- relationships with friends, family and lovers -- that shape and move us. "People skills," as they are sometimes called, are critical to our well-being, whether in the home or in the workplace. If you are struggling in your interpersonal relationships, don't worry -- just like any other skill, your people skills can be improved with practice.
Whether it is your boss giving instructions or your partner sharing her deepest feelings, they are going to want to know that you are listening -- really listening, not making a mental grocery list or rehearsing what you are going to say when it is your turn to speak. In fact, people want to feel like they are being heard even more than they want you to agree with them, according to the article, "Interpersonal Skills," on the student health center's website at North Carolina State University. To be an active listener, show the other person that you are listening by looking them in the eyes, learning forward, nodding your head and restating what you hear. Encourage them with small prompts such as "I understand," or by saying "go on" after a brief pause. By actively listening, you show the other person that you truly care about his or her feelings.
Honesty is key to building trust in any relationship, and learning how to honestly express your feelings and opinions in a tactful manner can improve your interpersonal skills. Instead of acting in a passive-aggressive way when you don't agree with someone, practice stating your opinion in a calm, firm manner. Along those lines, don't become too passive: You don't want to be a pushover. Instead, protect your valuable time and learn how to say "no" when you feel unable to fulfill a friend or coworker's request. It is especially important to say "no" if the request makes you feel uncomfortable. An interpersonal relationship where one person continually takes advantage of the other is unhealthy and potentially emotionally damaging. Instead of making others mad with your refusal, you just might earn their respect instead.
Putting others before yourself can be effective when it comes to improving your interpersonal relationships. Look for ways you can give your time or skills to help others without endangering your emotional well-being or health by over-committing yourself. Volunteering to organize the charity softball game at work, for example, might improve your relationships with coworkers, while little acts of kindness -- cut flowers on your neighbor's doorstep or watching a friend's child for free -- can go a long way toward building feelings of goodwill.
Sure, you might feel like rolling your eyes when your spouse complains yet again about your socks on the floor or when your coworker whines about the length of yesterday's meeting, but a little respect can go a long way when it comes to building up interpersonal relationships. Try to see the good in those around you rather than focusing on the bad. Show respect by asking for opinions, honoring personal space and boundaries and by never taking your loved ones for granted.
- North Carolina State University: Student Health Center -- Interpersonal Skills
- Loyola Marymount University: Healthy Relationships Information
- North Carolina State University: Student Health Center
- Psych Central: Become a Better Listener -- Active Listening
- North Carolina State University: Assertiveness