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Nigel Walpole Are interpersonal skills something you can learn?

Research suggests that over 50% of workplace relationships start on training courses.

Apologies, this isn’t actually a researched statistic! But, what this headline does prove is the importance of a first impression – an impression created by those all-important interpersonal skills. So, it’s no wonder that employers regard them as vital.

Given they are so important, perhaps the key question for Learning and Development professionals is: are interpersonal skills something that can be learned?

It’s true that some people just seem to have these skills; they just seem to have the natural gifts of influence, communication, listening and negotiation.

But are they in fact ‘gifts’? What we’re really talking about are the seemingly straightforward skills of:

  • What we sayAre interpersonal skills something you can learn?
  • How we say it
  • How we interpret the messages sent by others
  • How we communicate without words
  • How we work with others to identify, define and solve problems
  • How we explore and analyse choices to make sound decisions

And, whilst there is no quick fix, these are undeniably skills that can be learned, they can be practiced and they can be perfected.

The challenge for L&D professionals is how to support that development with a target audience of four generations in the workplace.

And actually, that is the key starting point - identifying specific, common needs and, most importantly, getting individuals to identify, and in some cases accept, their development needs. This is unquestionably a sensitive area but a lot of help is available in the form of self-assessment questionnaires, peer reviews and managers’ feedback.

Once the range of needs is identified, I believe a similarly wide blend of training solutions needs to be developed and deployed. Very often individuals will need exposure to several, often incremental solutions. Here are my top solutions based on the services we have delivered for our clients:

  1. Psychometrics / Self-assessment – people often find these a good way of expressing ‘development needs’ without them being too personal
  2. Mentoring / Reverse mentoring – a huge amount of trust is required, but equally often hugely developmental for both parties
  3. Job rotation, secondment and shadowing – new environments force rapid development
  4. Social learning – learning from watching and analysing the interpersonal techniques of others
  5. Simulation – formal training courses providing a skilfully facilitated and safe environment for skills practice
  6. Forum theatre – a really focussed examination of the impact of interpersonal skills but without participants having to ‘act’ the part
  7. E-guides, webinars, tutorial and videos – a vast array of web-based learning, often free
  8. Coaching – 1:1 support often linked to some form of self or peer assessment

With these interventions, interpersonal skills are definitely something that can be learned and by offering a blend of developmental solutions, there will be opportunities for the skills to practiced and perfected.

If you’d like more information on how we can help you deliver interpersonal skills development, please contact us.

Nigel Walpole

Nigel Walpole, MD, Bray Leino Learning

In my series of blogs I’ll talk through my thoughts on some of the key issues facing managers in the workplace - lessons learnt, tips for success and general musings.

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