How to effectively communicate, build rapport, and relate to all kinds of people.

From Episode 74 of The Complete Leader Podcast.

Some think that once you’ve read a book or completed a course, you’re done learning a new skill—if only it could be so easy! In reality, there are skills you must come back to again and again throughout your career. These skills, interpersonal skills especially, can take on new meanings, bring new challenges, and offer new ways to advance as leaders.

Interpersonal skills are all about creating the context or the environment to be more influential leaders. Because, sooner or later, leadership always boils down to your relationships with other people. A leader who is a clear thinker doesn’t offer much value if they don’t use their clear thinking skills to work with and influence others. The same goes for leaders who can lead themselves—it’s all well and good to be accountable, well-managed, and have your emotions under control, but what good is any of that if it doesn’t influence how you interact with others?

Ultimately, I think the greatest role of a leader is to be an influencer who uses clear communication skills to build networks of a variety of different people. Interpersonal skills are then a crucial part of your overall leadership matrix, and something you can learn to leverage, amplify, and adapt over time.

How to Build Interpersonal Relationships

Here are some practical and conceptual tips to build your interpersonal skills.

Be more interested in the other person than you are in yourself. It sounds simple, but when you choose to take a greater interest in the person you are talking with, instead of always wanting them to be interested in you, you’ll have greater success in developing your interpersonal skills. I like how Ralph Waldo Emerson said it: “Every person I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from them.” If you adopt this attitude every time you meet or talk with someone new, you will begin to notice how you learn interesting and even potentially valuable things about each new person you meet. You can also think about what to share that would enrich their life in some way through encouragement, connection, or shared data. This is not to brag, but to create value for them as well.

Be frugal with your advice. Sometimes leaders believe their job is to tell everyone else how to make their lives better. In reality, people would much rather know that you understand and hear them long before they want your advice. A great and easy way to build strong interpersonal skills is to always ask if another person wants advice. Asking gives them the opportunity to be prepared to receive your advice.

Keep a database of the people you know. Harvey Mackay talks about the data he keeps on his network in his book, Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive. Noting important information such as birthdays, family members, and hobbies can help you build your relationships. Mackay keeps almost 60 data points—and you certainly don’t need to go that far—but even keeping up your LinkedIn connections or contacts list can be useful.

Build connections within your network. Connecting people within your network who don’t know each other is one of the greatest ways to build relationships, and your database can help you with this. Building new connections creates value between the two parties and is one of the most potent and powerful ways to build your network.

Learn to love diversity. Many people are hesitant in the face of diversity. Perhaps you meet someone from another part of the world and have a hard time understanding their accent or their experiences. It can make you feel like you can’t be your best self around them, and even make you way to avoid them. But instead if you think of this as an opportunity to learn from someone with a different experience than yourself, it’s a fantastic way to enrich your life, relationships, and communication skills.

Creating a system using these tips is a great way to develop your interpersonal skills because it allows you to be disciplined and repetitive in your practice—you’ll literally build new neural pathways with enough practice, reflection, and repetition. Remember interpersonal skills are just that—learned skills—that you can grow and use throughout your career.

Photo by Marcelo Dias via Pexels.