Interpersonal Competence Overview

This is Friday, so this post is on Interpersonal Competence.

All interpersonally competent people share at least three things in common:

  1. Interpersonally competent people are self aware.  They understand themselves, and as a result they understand others.
  2. Interpersonally competent people build solid, long lasting mutually beneficial relationships with the people in their lives.
  3. Interpersonally competent people are able to resolve conflicts with a minimal amount of problems and upset to relationships.

Self Awareness

It’s important to understand yourself – your likes and dislikes, your strengths and weaknesses – if for no other reason that the more you understand yourself, the easier it is for you to understand others.  The more you understand about yourself, the better able you are to become the person you want to be.  People with little self awareness tend to find life to be a constant struggle, as they continue to make the same mistakes over and over. 

There are many commercially available self awareness instruments.  The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is one of the best know and most widely used today.  The DISC is another self awareness instrument with which many people are familiar.  All of these instruments are questionnaires designed to increase our self awareness by giving you insight into yourself. 

However, I think the best way to get to understand yourself is through introspection and the feedback of those closest to you.  Self understanding is the key to interpersonal competence.  Without it, you cannot build strong relationships or deal constructively with conflict.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself about yourself in order to understand yourself.

  • What makes me happy?  Why?
  • What make me sad? Why?
  • What kinds of people do I enjoy? Why?
  • What do I want from the people around me?
  • What do I fear most?
  • What causes me to feel angry?
  • What causes me to feel frustrated?
  • What do I love about my work?
  • What do I dislike about my work?
  • What am I most proud of about myself?
  • What am I least proud of about myself?
  • What are my strengths?
  • What are my weaknesses?
  • What motivates me?
  • What stresses me?
  • What relaxes me?
  • What qualities do I see in others that I would like to see in myself but don’t? Why?

Think about these questions.  Answer them as truthfully as you can.  They will help you can a better understanding of yourself.  Once you understand yourself, you can begin the process of building relationships with other important people in your life.


I’d like to share a story about the importance of relationships.

A few months ago, I had a meeting with a potential client.  I have known this guy for about 20 years.  He was a new HR rep at the company where I worked prior to starting my consulting and coaching business.  Now, he is a senior HR person with that same company.

A few weeks ago, we had a chance meeting.  I followed up and asked if I could have a few minutes of his time to tell him what I’ve been doing recently.  He said “sure”. 

As we were chatting, he said something that really hit home.  “When I was a young guy here, a lot of the people at your level didn’t pay a lot of attention to me.  That wasn’t true of you.  You were nice to me.  I can remember you asking me if I’d like to go to lunch or dinner a few times.  I was never able to make it, but I really appreciated you asking.  Quite frankly, that’s the whole reason you’re here now.  You treated me well many years ago when you didn’t have to.”

I told him that I really didn’t remember those things.  He said, “I do, and they meant a lot to me.”

There is a common sense point here.  Interpersonal competence comes from within.  Build relationships, and treat people well because it’s the right thing to do – not because you have something to gain from it.  People can spot a phony a mile away.

I have identified four tips for building strong relationships.

  • Help people feel good about themselves
  • Listen
  • Put yourself in their shoes
  • Ask for their help

Here are some of additional thoughts on that build on these tips.  If you use them, you will be able to build strong, lasting relationships with the people around you.  A few of them overlap with the points I made in yesterday’s post on becoming a great conversationalist – as interpersonally competent people do well in conversations.

  • Work hard at relating well with all kinds of people.  People who are different from you, might make you feel uncomfortable at first.  However, they also have the potential for teaching you something you didn’t know.
  • Listen well and demonstrate your understanding of others’ points of view.  As questions if you don’t understand, repeat your understanding to make sure you got it right.
  • Be a consensus builder.  If you focus on where you agree with another person, you’ll find that it will be easier to resolve differences and come to agreement.
  • Learn how to relate to all kinds of people.  Focus on building mutually beneficial relationships.
  • Put others at ease.  Be diplomatic and tactful.
  • Be warm, pleasant and gracious and sensitive to the interpersonal needs and anxieties of others.
  • Be receptive to feedback.
  • Take a deep breath when you are angry.  Don’t blow up.  Present your side of things in a measured tone of voice.
  • Take responsibility for your feelings.  Don’t blame others if you are unhappy.
  • Be easy to get to know.  Share your feelings.  Be open about your personal beliefs.
  • Be attentive to the needs of others.  Listen actively.  Set a goal of listening twice as much as you speak.
  • Avoid judging and criticizing and preparing your response while the other person is speaking.  Instead, focus on understanding what they are saying, and the emotions behind what they are saying.
  • Show others the respect they deserve as human beings – listen to them and do your best to put yourself in their shoes.  Respond to the feelings they share with you before responding with facts. 
  • Be humble, not a know it all.  Apologize when you’re at fault.  Give people credit when they are correct.
  • Speak only when you have something to add to the conversation.  Don’t make comments just to hear yourself speak.  Refrain from stating the obvious.
  • Look people in the eye when you are speaking with them.  Ask questions to clarify things that are not clear to you.
  • Acknowledge other people for their contributions and talents.  Everyone likes to hear nice thing about themselves.


Most people dislike conflict – and for good reason, nothing good usually comes of it.  However, this doesn’t have to be so.  Interpersonally competent people use conflict as a tool to enhance relationships and creativity. 

The single best piece of advice I’ve ever received on dealing with conflict came in the book Getting to Yes: when you are in conflict with another person, focus on where you agree, not disagree.  This is not as easy to do as it sounds; as conflict by definition involved disagreement.  However, if you focus on where you agree, it is easier to build a consensus and resolve the conflict.  You’re working from something positive (points of agreement), rather than negative (points of disagreement).

However, no matter how good you are at dealing with people, there will be times when you get into an interpersonal conflict.  Here is a model for resolving interpersonal conflicts:

  • Agree on the real issue.  Talk about it.
  • Ask why.  Why is this a problem?  Why do you need to resolve it?
  • Come up with lots of ideas that could resolve the issue for both of you.
  • Choose the best idea – be willing to compromise.
  • Decide what each of you has to do to make the idea work.
  • Bring closure – shake hands, repeat your commitment, say “thanks”.
  • Follow through on your commitments.

The following general guidelines are helpful when you find yourself in a conflict situation.

  • Use conflict as an opportunity to develop creative solutions to problems and issues.  Treat conflict as a learning opportunity.  It’s just a difference of opinion, and differences of opinion have the opportunity to create something new and interesting.
  • Settle disputes and resolve differences quickly and equitably.  Don’t let them drag on.  Engage the other person in conversation.  Focus on finding a solution that benefits both of you.
  • Manage your frustration – with other people and situations, don’t let it show.  Remain patient, hear people out.  You probably have more in common than you think.
  • Take a deep breath when you are angry.  Don’t blow up.  Present your side of things in a measured tone of voice.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website for more common sense.  Check out my other blog: for common sense advice on leading people and running a small business.

I’ll see you around the web, and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand – my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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