A 2013 study from the Project Manager Journal revealed that a project manager’s interpersonal skills affect project outcome, particularly communication apprehension and conflict resolution. To members of the profession this should come as no surprise; you are the glue that holds the project together, of course being a good communicator and a savvy judge of character is important.
We are a social species and have been interacting with other humans since we were children. Thanks to this, we all have baseline interpersonal skills. Chances are, if a person is drawn to project management, this baseline is quite high. This can lead to complacency; if you already identify as a ‘people person’ why would you put effort into an asset you already have? This is flawed thinking – research has shown that that strong interpersonal skills predict workplace success across all fields. None of us our perfect and have weaknesses we should be addressing. Here are some ways to understand and improve interpersonal skills.
Understand the different aspects of interpersonal skills
Interpersonal skills can be separated into six sub areas:
- Verbal communication
- Non-verbal communication
- Negotiation, persuasion and influence
- Critical thinking, problem solving and decision making
- Working with groups and teams
Take some time to think about each of the areas, what they mean and how they are applied in a work situation. Perhaps enlisting the help of a trusted friend or colleague, rate yourself on each of these skills on a scale of one to ten. ‘Improving your interpersonal skills’ might be a broad and overwhelming goal, so why not focus on the area you’ve given yourself the lowest mark for the next fortnight? Once you’ve achieved your goal in that area, move onto the next lowest.
Relieve some of the pressure on yourself
Project managers are under a lot of pressure, much of it social related. The project is on your head and you have to build relationships with your team, stakeholders, contractors… it’s a lot to handle. This may sound counter-intuitive but actually one of the best ways to be better socially is to release some of the pressure on yourself to be perfect. Social perfectionism leads to social anxiety and that doesn’t help anyone. Actually, don’t try to be too popular. People can tell when their leader is trying to hard and it can make them uncomfortable. It is impossible to be liked by everyone so don’t waste energy trying.
A simple but effective technique endorsed by Oprah among other social experts is the art of active listening. Being approachable not only makes you more liked, it gives you the opportunity to learn from your team. They have a lot of useful information that you could miss if you don’t take time to listen. Remember however that sometimes people don’t need any advice and just want a listening ear. If they feel they have somewhere discuss problems at work, they will be happier, more comfortable and more productive.
Interpersonal skills are a vital skill for everyone, but project managers in particular. This is a study that doesn’t stop when we finish college – we continue improving our entire lives. Take the opportunity to learn from every social interaction and enjoy the journey.