Think about every piece of practical business advice you’ve ever received. Someone may have taught you how to prepare a business plan, seek venture capital, or send a net 30 invoice. This is all valuable knowledge, but what ultimately makes businesses work? It isn’t plans, investments, or invoices.
It’s people! That’s why, if you want to build better business relationships, you have to start with your interpersonal skills. Professionals use these skills to communicate and interact with others every day.
People with developed interpersonal skills tend to have high emotional intelligence and are better able to relate to others. They understand and respect other people’s feelings, life perspectives, and methods of thinking. Strong interpersonal skills are what allow you to develop stronger relationships in business and life.
Here are five interpersonal skills you need to build better relationships in your professional life.
The first skill you absolutely need to build better relationships in business is listening. This doesn’t mean simply hearing. This is active listening.
Here’s a question for you. When people speak to you, do you take the time to listen to them by understanding their message and intention, or do you only think about how you’re going to respond?
There’s a big difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is the process of distinguishing the sounds around you. Listening involves consciously receiving and understanding the message that someone is communicating to you.
How many times has someone said to you, “You heard me, but were you listening to me?” My mother used to say that to me all the time. You may even be able to repeat back exactly what people say to you without actually processing the substance of what they said.
In the workplace, whether you’re the boss, a new employee, or a middle manager, take the time to listen to your colleagues, clients, superiors, subordinates, and anyone else in your professional circles. This could be in meetings, on client calls, or even as you’re shooting the breeze with someone in the hallway.
Especially when you’re in a professional setting, it can be tempting to listen to others only so you can respond in a way that makes you seem engaged. Maybe you’re nervous about speaking to a client for the first time, so you plan your next statement or question every time he talks so that you can impress him. If that’s the case, you’re not really listening to him.
I can almost guarantee that if you really listen to the meanings of what other people are saying, you will be much more able to connect with them, contribute thoughtful responses to what they’ve expressed, and ultimately form stronger relationships with them.
People have two ears and one mouth, meaning listening should always be the first skill you improve. However, just as important in building your business relationships is communicating effectively. If you can’t express your ideas so others understand what you mean, then you might struggle to get anyone to go along with you.
Communicating effectively involves more than just the words you use when you speak or write. It also includes paraverbal communication — such as your voice’s tone, rate, and pitch — and your non-verbal cues, such as those you display in your body language.
Psychology professor Albert Mehrabian said that 55% of someone liking you comes from “facial liking,” while 38% comes from vocal and 7% is verbal. That 55% is a huge number. If your words to someone are kind but your body language is dismissive, chances are, that person will notice that something isn’t right.
Practicing how to be clear in what you say while displaying care and respect in your non-verbal communication is essential to forming strong business relationships.
For example, imagine a coworker has called you over to her desk while you were passing by. She needs some help from you, and it’s going to take you about 10 minutes to resolve the issue.
If you say that you can help, but the whole time she’s talking, you don’t smile, you check your watch, and you face your body away from her, you’re sending her all the signals that you actually don’t want to help at all. Your negative body language could cause some anxiety for your coworker, who could now be confused about how you feel. This certainly isn’t an example of effective communication.
Instead, even if you’re not able to help right now, use your words and body language to say politely that you’re busy at the moment but can make some time later. Face your coworker, look at her when she speaks, and express clearly what you want to say. After that, there should be no doubts about what your response is. Your coworker should respect your honesty and willingness to communicate it.
Let’s face it: disagreement is a part of life. Anytime you’re interacting with other people in your professional world — teammates, clients, freelancers, or anyone else–differences of opinion will arise.
You have to resolve those conflicts if you want to get anything done with these various groups of people. Doing this in ways that bring people together to reach mutual understanding is critical at all levels of business operations.
When conflicts emerge, address the situation promptly and sufficiently, or it may get out of control and hinder productivity. The best way to go about it is to bring everyone to the table to negotiate and work out their differences. You have to do all this without becoming angry or making others feel disempowered or that you don’t care about their opinions.
Say you’re working with your fellow managers on a solution to a staff problem. You have one view that you’re sure is the right one. Another manager is convinced of a totally different approach. A third manager wants to implement a solution that’s somewhere in the middle of the first two. So now, you have to communicate why you believe your solution is the best without hurting anyone’s feelings.
One thought to keep in mind is that rejecting someone’s idea does not equate to rejecting the person. Remember that as you come together with the other managers to work out the best way forward. Try not to become offended at someone disagreeing with you, and do your best to separate your coworkers’ ideas from who your coworkers are so you don’t loop ideas into your argument that could end up hurting someone personally.
When you’re discussing business solutions in this democratic way, all views deserve your recognition and attention, even ones with which you disagree. It’s good to remember, too, that compromising with others is often necessary for resolving conflicts, both in and out of the workplace, so be willing to give in where required.
In the end, when you respectfully disagree with others’ ideas while presenting your own, you allow other people to feel appreciated and heard. As a result, your organization will be able to move past conflict, even when you don’t get everything you want.
Everyone involved in your business ventures serves a specific purpose, but it’s important not to forget that each of those people has real feelings, experiences, and points of view. If you want to make your colleagues feel understood in the workplace, then it’s vital that you practice empathy.
Having empathy means being able to put yourself in other people’s shoes, to understand the situation from their perspectives. Maybe you’re a manager and one of your employee’s productivity has been down lately, and you discover it’s because she has been struggling with a serious personal problem.
What do you do in that situation? If you treat it purely as a business problem, your response will likely be a cold demand to your employee to step things up or face disciplinary action. If you want to lead with empathy, though, you can inquire about her problem, show you understand on a personal level, and find a solution that works for both of you.
Being able to empathize with others can go a long way toward building understanding among colleagues and even preventing conflicts from happening in the first place.
The final interpersonal skill you need to build stronger business relationships is the ability to maintain a positive attitude. Displaying a consistently upbeat appearance in the workplace is a powerful way to attract people to you. It makes you more likable and therefore can help you to develop an easy rapport with others.
Think about it: the work you do every day can be challenging and stressful. Sometimes, people just need a little break from the daily struggle to smile or crack a joke with someone. With a positive attitude, you can be that someone.
If you know your workplace and coworkers well enough, you should be able to tell who will appreciate a joke, and when. There’s a right and wrong place for everything.
Maybe you fire off a one-liner to your buddy as you enter a meeting that hasn’t started yet. Or you enthusiastically dive into your work after a particularly challenging project has come down the pipeline to your team. Your enthusiasm could be infectious and inspire others not to worry so much.
The right attitude can make the business environment a more enjoyable place for all.
Practice These Interpersonal Skills to Upgrade Your Professional Relationships
As you may have guessed, all five of these interpersonal skills — listening, effectively communicating, managing conflict, showing empathy, and having a positive attitude — work together when you’re improving your business relationships. If you can master them all, you’ll be able to extract much more value from your life’s work.
Do you want professional coaching to help develop these skills and much more?
If so, reach out to me, and let’s schedule a free consultation so I can learn more about your professional needs.