I used to know this guy in college. He was beyond smart. His major was math, and he was the type of guy who just seemed to innately know things you or I would probably never grasp, no matter how we studied. Naturally, he was in the honors program, and was on track to graduate early. Despite all that, the guy was incredibly difficult to talk to. He was a friend of a friend, so I would run into him a lot, but small talk just was never on the table. Whenever he tried for a joke, it would either sail over my head, or come out all wrong. Our mutual friend once coined that phenomenon “Math humor”. That was a nice way of acknowledging that while this guy was smart, talented and capable, he just did not “get” people.
Like my college acquaintance, you might be the most brilliant computer programmer, pastry chef, administrative assistant, or payroll specialist a company has ever interviewed, but unless you have the right interpersonal skills, they may not hire you. What gives? Like any other skill, interpersonal skills are something you need to work at a bit. While it is true that some people just seem born to be social, others have significantly more trouble with it. Likewise, while you may find something like technology, or history, or architecture comes naturally to you, someone like me might have a much harder time grasping it all. Practice makes perfect though, so don’t fret. You can learn these skills, just like you can learn anything else. Let’s get started…
Right out of the gate, let’s start with a really difficult interpersonal skill. If you struggle a bit with conflict resolution, let me reassure you right now that everybody does. From high school kids working their first part-time jobs all the way up to the CEOs of mega corporations, knowing how to deal with disagreements, hostility and hurt feelings is a key part of the job.
Any work environment will experience disagreements from time to time, and the nature of the job can sometimes dictate the nature of the disagreements. No matter how they shake out, conflict at work always boils down to the same thing, and that is hurt feelings. When you have different people from different backgrounds, different generations and different home situations coming together, there is bound to be a conflict sometime.
Learning to approach these conflicts openly and decisively is key. Never go into a discussion looking to be hostile, but do be clear about what you want out of a resolution. Listen to the other person’s concerns as well (don’t spend your time in the conversation just waiting for your turn to talk again), and work with management to make sure the conflict can be resolved appropriately.
“Work is work, right? By its very definition it is not supposed to be fun. I’ll have fun on my own time, later.” If that sounds like you, you might be bringing more negativity into the workplace than you realize. While it is true that few of us spring out of bed, and dance all the way in to the office, there is a lot that can be accomplished by simply working to adopt a more positive attitude.
You don’t have to lie to people to be more positive. If the work in front of you is stressful, or affecting your mood in a particularly negative way, change the subject. How was your weekend? How is that puppy you adopted? Are you going to that concert? Not only will this topic shift get you away from projecting negativity onto others, the mental “coffee break” you take will be great for you too. Besides, any real bonds you are going to make with the people at work are probably not going to be about work anyway, but rather the things you have in common outside of the office.
Sometimes, we are so wrapped up in our day, we forget that those around us have their own lives going on. To you, it is so clear that you are in need of assistance, or that you deserve a raise, or that your work space is too noisy, you are almost surprised when the people around you didn’t already know that.
Communication is so important for that reason. If you can articulate your needs clearly and directly, then take those needs to the people who can help you, you are far more likely to get your situation resolved than you would be if you just sat around, hoping someone would notice. Sometimes, shyness is the reason for us holding back, other times it is intimidation, or perhaps simply not knowing how to say what you need. Remember that it is always okay to ask for help from those around you. If you don’t know who you should bring your concerns to, maybe someone else will.
Being up front and confident about what you need is the way to get those things. Being vague and uncommunicative only leads to you resenting a situation more.
You might be the absolute best at what you do, but if you can not convey what you know to others, or help them along in their own pursuits, your skills are not being fully used. When businesses hire employees, they do so on the basis of adding them to a team. The team is made up of many people, including you. If you have skills you can pass on to others, and improve the team as a whole, you are not only benefiting the business, but also your team, and yourself. Being a strong leader is important for personal growth, as well as professional growth. Not to mention, it can make you more of a staple at work. When people come to you for advice and guidance more often, you get to know them better as individuals, and improve the connections you have with those you work with.