I refer to them as “social skills”. Interpersonal skills are a set of skills that people use when interacting and communicating with one another. These skills show up in countless interactions, from public speaking, group projects and team presentations, to professional writing (work e-mails, contracts etc.) and talking with friends. As a young entrepreneur and recent undergraduate just a few years back, I do not consider myself to be the “go-to Guru” on public speaking. However, I did, and still do consider myself to be pretty good at holding more dynamic conversations with individuals or small groups. I believe the quality of an entrepreneur can be judged by a couple of key characteristics: the quality of their work and the quality of their personality (i.e. interpersonal skills). The purpose of this article is to discuss the importance and acquisition of interpersonal skills as they relate to entrepreneurs.
I used to think that a successful entrepreneur had a set of interpersonal skills that could not be taught in a classroom. As I have transitioned from student to young entrepreneur, I couldn’t disagree more. That is not to say that interpersonal skills aren’t taught or acquired outside of the classroom as well, but the classroom provides a more structured learning environment in which to absorb and develop these skills. When I ask myself,“as a student, what were some of the most valuable things that were taught to me and that apply to my current situation as an entrepreneur”, I realize they were not taught to me at all, but rather, disguised in practice. Sure, my accounting and law classes were relevant and gave me a general understanding of how to run the back-office functions of a business, but I think one of the most important educational aspects of college was learning to effectively communicate with others.
The standard classroom presentation is only useful for learning how to talk at people. The ability to talk at a group of people holds significantly less relevance in the real world than the ability to talk with them. Professors that want to effectively prepare their students for the real world need to, and have started, concentrating on assigning team projects. Structured team projects require students to communicate and coordinate with the members of their team in a more formal environment than if they were working with their friends.
As a 23-year-old CEO of a web based business, FullDorm.com, I’ve found that everything I do involves using my interpersonal skills. Whether it’s pitching my company to potential investors, proposing web design changes to my developers, dealing with potential advertisers, educating college students (our users) about our site or even interviewing candidates for positions with my company, interpersonal skills have played the single largest role in determining the outcome of every situation. When investors decide to invest in companies, they’re not just investing in an idea; they’re investing just as much in the people behind that idea. Poor interpersonal skills can ruin a sale, even if the product or service you’re selling is worth twice its value.
It is important to practice and improve interpersonal skills because they are the foundation of building relationships with others. I do not believe there is such a thing as the perfect set of interpersonal skills. I do believe, however, that everyone can and has the ability to practice to further develop their skill set. Here are a few tips on how you can improve your skills:
- Be an active listener– Take the time to listen and show others that you’re listening and understand their perspective-even if it is not in line with yours.
- Body language– I don’t know many people who enjoy being around unhappy individuals or those who appear to be unhappy in any given moment. Make sure to smile, stand tall, make eye contact and do your best to give off a good vibe. Your body language introduces you to those around you before you even open your mouth.
- Empathize– Try putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand their perspective. This will allow you to better respond to their feelings and it will show them that you care.
- Humor– It is not all about business. After all, we are all human. Be spontaneous and say something at an appropriate time that you think will make the other person smile. If they smile, you know they’re probably working on their interpersonal skills, too.
- Optimism– Be optimistic, open minded and have an overall positive attitude. Positive attitudes are contagious to those around you. Everyone knows someone who has a negative attitude and you definitely do not want to be “that guy”.
- Think on your feet– It is important to be sharp, pick up on, and react to both verbal and nonverbal cues of others.
- Be patient– Not everyone processes and understand concepts in the same way. Take the time to make sure that whoever you’re talking to understands what you’re saying.
- Practice, practice, practice– The more interactions you have with others, the more progress you’ll make.
Most importantly and probably the toughest for an entrepreneur is to keep their ego in check. In my experience, nothing good ever seems to come out of situations where overinflated egos are involved.
By no standards do I consider myself to be an “expert in” or “master of” interpersonal skills. While I like to think I have a well developed set of interpersonal skills, I acknowledge that I still have a lot to learn.If you’re a student, next time you’re sitting in a class and the professor assigns what you think to be a ridiculous assignment, remember that they may be interested in more than just your knowledge of the subject.
By: Jeffrey Weiss, Founder/CEO FullDorm.com