How Good Are Your People Skills?

Soft skills enhance your technical skills.

© iStockphoto/peepo

In almost all jobs, your people skills – also known as "soft skills" – have as much of an impact on your success as your technical skills.

That's especially true when you're in a management or leadership role.

The importance of having solid people skills transcends industry and profession; so, whether you lead people, aspire to lead people, or work within a team of professionals, you need to apply people skills to achieve your objectives.

So, how good are your people skills? Take this short quiz to assess your current skill levels.

Once you've answered these questions, we can then point you toward specific tools and resources that you can use to develop and improve this important area of competency.

How Good Are Your People Skills?

Take the online test below, and click the "Calculate my total" button at the foot of the test to assess your people skills.

Instructions:

For each statement, click the button in the column that best describes you. Please answer questions as you actually are (rather than how you think you should be), and don't worry if some questions seem to score in the 'wrong direction'. When you are finished, please click the 'Calculate My Total' button at the bottom of the test.

   16 Statements to Answer

Not
at All
Rarely Some
times
Often Very
Often
1 I make sure that I display the same standards of behavior that I expect from other people.
2 When providing feedback, I wait until I've observed enough incidents of a behavior to make a generalized statement that is accurate.
3 I go along with others' decisions rather than inject my ideas into the mix.
4 I say "thank you" to the people I work with.
5 During times of conflict I think about how to preserve the relationship and still get my needs met.
6 While actively talking with someone, I have composed my answer before they have finished speaking.
7 I look out for myself at work and do what is necessary to get ahead.
8 I think about how others perceive a problem or issue.
9 I speak first, and think later.
10 I collaborate with others to solve problems using a variety of problem solving tools and techniques.
11 I cause more harm than good when trying to resolve a conflict.
12 When someone gives me feedback, I ask him or her to provide examples so that I can better understand the issue.
13 I pay attention to other people's body language.
14 Where team agreement is necessary, I figure out the best solution to a problem and then explain why it's the right decision.
15 I study my audiences' needs, decide what I want to say and then figure out the best way to say it.
16 I make sure everyone knows about my contribution to a positive outcome.
Calculate My Total
Total = 0

Score Interpretation

Score Comment
16– 36 Your technical skills may have taken precedence over your people skills in your career to date. You aren't making the most of the relationships you have at work, and this may be limiting your career growth. It's time to assess how you can work better with others in the workplace and develop a more collaborative, understanding, and open approach to getting your needs met – while still achieving team and organizational objectives. (Read below to start.)
37– 58 You recognize that working well with others in the workplace is important; and you are trying to work collaboratively while still making sure your needs are met. There is room for improvement, however, as old habits may creep in during times of stress and pressure. Make a plan to work actively on your people skills so that they form the natural basis for how you approach workplace relationships. (Read below to start.)
59– 80 Your people skills are good. You understand the give and take involved in complex issues involving people. You might not always approach situations perfectly, however you have a sufficiently good understanding to know when and where you need to take steps to rectify things. Keep working on your people skills, and set an example for the rest of your team. And take some time to work on the specific areas below where you lost points.

The quiz assesses your skills according to the four main themes below. Review your scores for each theme, and read more where you need to.

Interpersonal Communication Skills

(Questions 6, 9, 13, 15)

Many people spend more time working with other people than they do with processes or products. This means that they need to communicate well with others, and this makes communication skills some of the most important skills in the workplace.

Some of the key communication stumbling block to be aware of include:

  • Message barriers: These occur when the person communicating fails to communicate clearly.

    If you find that you often confuse people, then a good starting point for fixing this is to figure out what you want to say. Do you want to persuade? Are you trying to motivate? Are you simply informing? Or are you attempting to build a relationship? The purpose of your communication will largely determine what you say and how you say it, and our article on Communications Planning   shows you how to prepare for a variety of communication exchanges.

  • Receiving barriers: These barriers occur on the receiver's end of the communication, and they typically result from ineffective listening. We hear and understand faster than we speak, and this can lead to boredom and a wandering mind when on the listening end of communication.

    To combat this you should try to listen actively to what the speaker is saying. When you engage active listening you respond in a way that makes it clear that you understand the feelings and intent of the speaker. In our article Active Listening  , you'll find some useful guidelines to follow when you are on the receiving end of communication.

  • Decoding barriers: Here the real message is not fully grasped or translated because of misperceptions, misinterpretations or missing information.

    The most common problem here is with mismatched non-verbal communication. A lot of non-verbal communication is unconscious – meaning that the sender isn't aware of the messages he or she is sending, yet these messages can reveal a great deal of someone's true thoughts.

    If you can learn to understand people's non-verbal communication, you can improve your people skills significantly. Our article on Body Language   will show you how to understand other people's non-verbal communication – and manage your own.

For more on improving your communication skills see the Communicate! Learning Stream, and visit our Communication Skills main page.

Managing Differences

(Questions 3, 5, 8, 11)

People can seem to disagree about almost anything – what caused a problem, how to solve it, what values are right, what values are wrong, what goals should be pursued; the list goes on! On top of this, you have the personal, non-job-related differences between people that lead to obvious differences in outlook and approach.

Because of this, respecting and managing the differences between people can be one of the most important skills you can develop! Indeed, it can be a huge advantage if you learn to celebrate and enjoy differences, and make them work to your advantage.

Key to this is recognizing that, in many cases, conflict is not "bad". In fact, conflict often causes significant, positive change. It spawns creative and novel approaches to problem solving, and can actually improve organizational performance if managed properly. In our article on Resolving Team Conflict  , we discuss how you can build stronger teams by facing and embracing personal differences. And then, with our Conflict Resolution   tool, we outline how to use the Interest-Based Relational (IBR) approach for solving interpersonal issues. Both of these articles outline how you can emerge from conflict with strong and healthy relationships.

When resolving conflict, it helps a lot if you can understand other people's needs and points of view – this can often help you find solutions that may otherwise not have occurred to you. And when you take the time to understand another person's perspective, you are demonstrating your willingness to work together to find a solution. Our articles on Empathy at Work   and Perceptual Positions   can help you develop this aspect of people skills. These help you to adopt different vantage points when resolving differences.

Finally, you need to be appropriately assertive if you're going to manage differences effectively. Aggression is clearly counter-productive if you're trying to resolve conflict, but also, if you fail to recognize your own needs in a situation, you run the risk of agreeing to a solution that works against your own interests. Again, it's important to remember that differences aren't necessarily negative, so suppressing your thoughts and ideas just to come to an easy agreement isn't effective or efficient. You can read more about assertiveness   in our article here  . And our piece Yes to the Person, No to the Task   is a useful approach to use in everyday situations where you need to manage differences assertively and effectively.

Managing Agreement

(Questions 2, 10, 12, 14)

While managing differences may be an obvious application of people skills, managing agreement may not seem to be. However, helping people come to an agreement with one-another is important, and requires a great deal of skill!

"Synergy" is one of the most important things that you're looking for with teamwork. This is where the team's output is better or greater than the sum of each individual's input. To achieve synergy, you need to get people working together collaboratively.

If you've ever participated in a team decision-making process, you probably realize that reaching a decision by yourself can be much more straightforward! The problem with individual decision-making, though, is that you miss out on all of the insights that other people can give. With strong people skills, you don't need to back away from collaborative situations: you can approach team meetings with a genuinely positive attitude!

Tip:

When you're engaging in group decision-making, make sure you avoid the common pitfalls. See our article on Groupthink   for more!

Part of this involves feeling comfortable with different kinds of questions, and with when to use them, and how. In our article on Questioning Techniques  , we look at open and closed questions, as well as other common types of question that you can use to keep conversation flowing and get the specific information you need.

As well as this, it's useful to have a good selection of problem solving tools in your arsenal. When you are confident in your ability to find solutions you will be more likely to participate in these conversations and add value to your team. In our article Opening Closed Minds  , we show you how to get your point across effectively, so that you can reach the agreement you are seeking. These types of tools will give you the confidence you need to confront differences, knowing that you can also manage the agreement side of the equation.

Another aspect of managing agreement relates to feedback. When given poorly, people reject feedback: it's viewed as destructive criticism, and it can damage relationships. Delivered well, however, feedback can lead to an improved understanding of one another's needs and perspectives, as well as improving performance and productivity. We look at this in detail in our article, Giving and Receiving Feedback  . Also, in our article looking at the Johari Window   we outline a great technique for increasing interpersonal understanding through self-disclosure.

The bottom line is that, to develop strong people skills, you need to be able to accept what others are saying and learn from this. Not only will this help you personally, it will help you relate openly and honestly with others.

Personal Integrity

(Questions 1, 4, 7, 16)

Integrity is the cornerstone of people skills. Integrity means basic honesty and truthfulness when dealing with others. It also means working with people openly, and in such a way that people's interests aren't compromised for the sake of the team or the organization.

Basic courtesies like saying “thank you" often, and giving credit where it is due, are the types of people-oriented behaviors that can make all of the difference to other people. Whether you are in a leadership position or not, recognizing your teammates' contributions and acknowledging their efforts will go a long way towards creating a positive, harmonious, and productive team climate. Our articles on Rewarding Your Team  , Leading by Example  , and Ethical Leadership   are all great resources that help you learn how to behave with integrity on a daily basis.

Key Points

With well-developed people skills, you can communicate effectively on an interpersonal level; manage conflict positively; work productively with others to find solutions and reach agreement; and work with integrity and ethics to motivate and inspire others.

These are all skills that can be learned and developed. Even the most technically-oriented worker can begin to incorporate people skills in his or her work setting.

Best of all, people skills are not limited to the workplace. When worked on actively, they will enrich all aspects of your professional and personal life.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Click here for more, subscribe to our free newsletter, or become a member for just $1.

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