As a future healthcare professional who will be meeting, as well as taking care of patients daily, I have found myself becoming more and more curious about human behavior and human-to-human relationship. “What makes an encounter with another human being pleasant or the opposite?” ”How do we build relationships that last?”
Are there such things as relationship skills? People skills? If there are, I suppose that there is no agreed-upon way of measuring it. I have met people who make conversations flow like water, seemingly without effort. Encounters with such people are always delightful; a considerable part of it is because communication becomes so easy. Excellent communication, in turn, makes it easier for these people and me to build rapport, especially on my part. I look forward to meeting them again.
Are some of us just good with people? Or maybe they´re only naturally charming people who get along with everybody?
In contrast, my bumping into a cyclist one chilly autumn morning, when I was about to cross the road, remained as a bad scene in my head, even though it only lasted for about two minutes and only one of us expressed no more than two words. He yelled at me, ” Go then!” with all his might, for not crossing the road, even after he gave me a signal with his right arm. Looking at it from my point of view, I thought that he was about to make a right turn. And that his hand-signal was for some cyclists behind him. The whole thing was merely due to a miscommunication. But I am pretty sure that both of us thought that it was such an irritating brush with another person, at least I did.
It was in my last year of high school that I discovered the term ”interpersonal skills” that could explain what ”good with people” actually means. During this time, I was busy finding out how to write a qualified personal statement for applying to some Dentistry schools abroad. One of the criteria that makes a great personal statement, especially for the Dentistry program, is to write in a way that makes your interpersonal skills show. I ended up not getting into any of the schools that I applied to at the time. Many good things came out of it, though. I learned so much from the application process — especially the part where I had to fulfill all the requirements. One is, well, as previously mentioned, understanding what interpersonal skills are and why having such expertise is a desirable trait in a student entering an academic university program. Another thing I learned from it is how to handle rejections in life. But the latter is a topic to be discussed some other time.
So, what are interpersonal skills? I have understood it as skills that we use in our everyday life to communicate and build a relationship with other people. In a healthcare setting, specifically, such skills might include:
- Counseling skills – are needed in conversing with a distressed patient and even in discussing issues at work with colleagues
- Assertiveness skills – are useful when dealing with `difficult` people
- Social skills – are necessary to make patients feel comfortable and patient care as satisfying; to aid in cooperation with colleagues, making such as smooth and pleasant as possible
- Facilitation skills – are needed when, for example, organizing groups for educational purposes (Burnard, p. 32, 1989)
Like many other skills, I am convinced that one can hone interpersonal skills. I have figured that much of it has a lot to do with practice. A college admission process might have only inadvertently invoked my interest in a better understanding of interpersonal skills. However, its application in everyday life is something that I still try to improve even today.
For those of you who are thinking of upgrading your interpersonal skills, here are some relevant questions to ask yourself:
- What kind of mindset do I have?
Have you ever heard of the fixed mindset and the growth mindset? According to Dweck (p. 11-12, 2017), the fixed mindset believes that our qualities are fixed and unchangeable. In contrast, the growth mindset is based on the belief that we can cultivate our basic qualities through efforts, unwavering perseverance in applying our strategies, focus on development, and help from others. When it comes to interpersonal skills, which mindset do you have? Do you think that interpersonal skills are fixed traits that one cannot gain? Or do you think that they are skills that you feel are important and can enhance with practice? If I have to guess, yours is the latter, since you would not have been bothered to read this far if you have a fixed mindset on interpersonal skills.
- How much do I understand about myself and other people?
Many´s the time I´ve heard that changes start from within us. I could not agree more. How can we understand other people if we do not understand ourselves? Not to mention how hard it is to manage a good relationship with anybody if you don´t have a good one with yourself. Travis Bradberry points out the importance of emotional intelligence in his book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0. As he puts it, emotional intelligence is:
“your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationship.”(Bradberry, p. 17, 2009)
First, you need to be aware of how you perceive our emotions; then, you have to manage and use this to direct our behavior positively. Next comes being able to accurately recognize emotions in others and use this to manage your interactions with them.
Understanding yourself and other people might sound like an arduous undertaking. Still, since humans are social beings, we might all secretly, or not, harbor the desire to be understood and to understand others. So, why not try?
- What is it that I want to communicate, and how do I communicate?
Communicating accurately needs effort. Do you always mean what you say and say what you mean? If you have expectations from a particular conversation, have you made them known, or do you expect others to read between the lines? Are you aware of the non-verbal part of communication, such as your body language?
The struggle between balancing to get our message across, while at the same time leaving enough space for others to reply and share their point of view, and having given ourself the space to accept their standpoints, is real. All this, while keeping emotions in check. Why is that? When emotions are high, it is hard to be rational.
- How much do I listen to others?
While wanting to get yourself heard and understood, it is easy to forget that others have the same need. Have you tried active listening, where you make a conscious effort to understand what people are actually saying?
- What are the prejudices that I have, and how do they affect my relationships with other people?
The number of people who roam the Earth is increasing, and each of us has our own opinions, thoughts, and beliefs. The chance of you meeting people with varied backgrounds is high. At some point, you have to amp up your tolerance level and bypass prejudices. The onus is on each and every one of us to make sure that our biases do not get in the way of having an enjoyable conversation and an effective cooperation – in which you can exhange knowledge and information – with someone you already know, want to know better, or anyone you just meet.
Bradberry, T, Greaves, J. (2009) Emotional Intelligence 2.0. 1st edn. San Diego, Calif.: TalentSmart.
Burnard, P. (1989) Teaching Interpersonal Skills – A handbook of experiential learning for health professionals. E-book library (online). Available at DOI 10.1007/978-1-4899-7104-3 (Accessed: 16 January 2020)
Dweck, C. (2017) Mindset – Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential. 4th edn. London: Little, Brown Book Group.