How can you develop your interpersonal intelligence?

The key to get along with a variety of people is to focus first of all on them and their reactions and then on yourself. Interpersonal intelligence requires you to have a range of interpersonal skills and different approaches knowing when to use what with whom.  The result lies in the ease of the interactions where both you and the other parties get what you want.

A person who has a high interpersonal intelligence relates well to all kinds of people, builds appropriate rapport, builds constructive and effective relationships, uses diplomacy and tact and can defuse even high-tension situations comfortably. For this he/she needs to have the ability to understand others and to know how to express his/her feelings, opinions and desires in an assertive manner that doesn’t offend others.

On the other hand, a person who doesn’t have a high interpersonal intelligence relates with difficulty to  people, may not build relationships easily - may lack approachability or good listening skills, doesn’t take the time to build interpersonal rapport, may be to raw and direct at times, may rush to judge others, may be arrogant , may not read others well, may freeze or panic in the face of conflict or attack and criticize others, may be shy or may lack confidence around others.

We all want to have harmonious interpersonal relationships and to get along well with those around us, but people sometimes have the tendency, as when confronted with conflicts or difficulties in dealing with others, to blame them instead of thinking of their own contribution and ways to improve their relationship quality.

But there are some attitudes and behaviors that can help you to improve this ability:

Be interpersonally flexible. We all know people are different. Physical is easy to see. We notice the weight, the height, the eye color and so on. Certain personal characteristics are easy as well to see: rational / emotional, closed and cold / opened and warm, presentable / sloppy. Other characteristics are harder to read: if a person is motivated or not, personal values, integrity, fairness. To understand the differences between people, look to the obvious first. What does a person do first? What does he/she emphasize when he/she speaks? What’s his/her interaction style? Is he/she aggressive? Soft? Focused on facts? To figure these out, try to observe what values, beliefs and emotions hide behind his/her words. To get along well with people, you have to learn to notice their differences, to learn how to deal with them in accordance to those differences, to accept their personal style and not to try to change them.

Tailor your approach to fit other’s personal style or needs. Does your style ease social interactions or not? People who have a low level of interpersonal intelligence are arrogant, insensitive, distant, too busy to pay attention to others whom they devalue, and who feel rejected, angry, undermined. They offer answers, solutions, conclusions, statements, or dictates. They don’t listen and have sharp reactions. If you don’t want to be that way, learn to read people. Do you notice when people feel uncomfortable around you? How do they react? Do they back up? Stumble over words? Think of the best approach you can have, placing yourself in other person’s shoes and imagining what suits him/her best.

Break the ice. The first three minutes are essential because they set the tone. First impressions are formed. Be open and approachable, make people feel comfortable, initiate rapport, listen, share, understand. People who have this approach generally have access to more than one type of information because they make others, being open, also to open themselves up.

Be a better listener instead of rushing to judge. People who have interpersonal skills are very good at listening. They listen to understand and take in information to select their response. They don’t interrupt others, they ask clarifying questions, they don’t instantly judge, they nod and restate what the other person has said to signal understanding.

Manage your non-verbals if you want to show genuine interest.  People with high interpersonal intelligence appear to be open and relaxed. They smile, they are calm, they keep consistent eye contact, they nod while the other person is talking. They have an open body position. They speak in a paced and pleasant tone. Avoid speaking too rapidly or forcefully, using strongly worded or loaded language going into too much detail. Watch out for signals that show lack of interest like glancing at your watch or adopting an attitude that shows you are busy and unavailable.

Make the first move even if you are shy. Do you lack self-confidence? Do you generally hold back and let others to take the lead? Are you afraid of how people will react? Aren’t you sure of your social skills? Want to appear not shy although you are shaking inside? Be the first to say hello, keep eye contact. Ask the first question. Set a goal to know people in different circumstances, discover what you have in common with them. Initiate social interactions as often as possible. Notice if it is as hard as you imagined, if any of those bad things happened. The only way people will know you are shy is if you tell them through your actions. Watch what non-shy people do that you don’t do and then practice those behaviors.

If you are forced by circumstances to interact with people you don’t like, adopt a neutral attitude. Think about their strengths and if you have anything in common. Put your judgments on hold, listen, ask questions, as you would do with anyone else. An observer should not be able to tell whether you’re talking to a friend or a person you don’t like. You can talk less and ask more questions, but avoid to criticize.

If you become an easy target, turn around tense interactions in your favor. What do you do when you are attacked? When someone doesn’t like you? When everyone is angry and upset? Let others vent frustration, blow off steam, but don’t react entering this game. Listen, ask clarifying questions, ask what can you do to help, restate his/her position to show you understand their point of view, but don’t react. Don’t judge. Wait until he/she finishes talking. When the other one takes a rigid position, don’t reject him/her. Ask why is he/she doing this, what are the motifs behind, what brought this about. Separate the person from the problem. Keep your cool even though the other person has lost his/her cool. In response to an attack you can always choose to say nothing. People will usually respond by saying more, revealing their true intentions.

At the end, I invite you to think and write in a commentary what would be other ways to develop your interpersonal intelligence.

 Dr. Ursula Sandner



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