Interpersonal skills are about you and your professional ability. That’s why it’s worth spending time honing them

Most professional résumés say the person has “good” interpersonal skills because companies for years list them as a requirement.  But what are they and why are they so critical to your professional IT career?

Much of how we work — communicating, collaborating, problem solving and negotiating — never happens in a vacuum. IT professionals, it may be argued, particularly rely on their interpersonal skills to get the job done. More and more IT training includes subjects for written communications.  However working with and for others deserves more attention if you expect to be a high quality IT professional.

Communications typically begins with what you wish to say. Consider how your audience might understand what you say. Put yourself in their position as a reader or listener. Here’s a favourite quote of mine, attributed to Richard M. Nixon, “I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”  More than pure clarity, interpersonal communication skills focus on how to communicate the message.

Good communication balances detail while being concise.  Consider your audience and balance the details. If you are focused, you will sound assertive. Be blunt when necessary.  Cloudy messages are poorly received.  If you struggle being concise you need to step back and think more about the message and how it will be perceived.

Good listening skills are much more than being polite.  How you present yourself and participate as a listener is your responsibility. Genuine listening gets little thought by many IT professionals yet it is a critical interpersonal skill. Depending on culture and working environment, connect with the speaker: face them and make eye contact. This creates the connection necessary for great communication. During long meetings or presentations try and picture what the speaker describes. Sketching, focusing on keywords or phrases or notes on the agenda can help us remember and not wander. Develop different tools for different situations.

Do you actively notice verbal and nonverbal cues?  Likely you do. These cues offer good insight.  Even if others don’t look at you, check out your audience for shyness, uncertainty, shame, guilt or other emotions.  While you have to work with the cards dealt you, play them as best you can. Good interpersonal skills mean making the most of the situation and becoming aware of your environment is your first step.

And deal with the logistics.  Prep the meeting space and put aside papers, books and other distractions.  We often forget such simple steps or consider them ‘administrative’ however that’s all part of your professional skills.

Interpersonal skills are about you and your professional ability.  How you conduct yourself can advance or terminate your I.T. career. Everyone gets angry and how you deal with your anger matters. Politeness, not interrupting or imposing your ideas and congeniality are all good interpersonal skills.

As important as these skills are to our daily personal and work lives they are often taken for granted.  It’s always a good time to invest some time on honing your interpersonal skills. As an IT professional, turn you good interpersonal skills into great ones!

Don’t forget you’re not alone.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised the interest from your peers. Professional societies such as CIPS offer valuable networking opportunities for informal discussions with your peers on everyday issues.

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