8 steps to improve your interpersonal skills

Good interpersonal skills are one of the most important characteristics of a successful legal professional. Whether we’re meeting with clients, attempting to persuade a judge or jury, or simply negotiating law firm life, solid interpersonal skills are critical to career success.

Unfortunately, not everybody was born with a knack for working with people, which can present real problems in the workplace. Insufficient social skills could lead to inadvertent rudeness and unawareness of one’s own shortcomings. Managers who lack good people skills might experience high turnover in their firm, conflict between colleagues, and overall low morale.

The good news is, effective interpersonal skills can be taught. In fact, recognizing the importance of this skill in law firm life, some law schools are now making a point to include interpersonal skills in their curriculums.

Just in case you missed that class, we’ve put together a list of the top 8 ways you can improve your interpersonal communications.

#1 Assess the problem

Let’s face it, if you don’t think you lack interpersonal skills, you’re never going to take steps to improve. If your communication style is truly, horrific, however, your colleagues may be afraid to bring it to your attention. Fortunately, there are self-assessment tests you can take to determine whether you have an issue you need to address.

#2 Get some help

So, you’ve taken the test and realized that you’re not exactly a people person. What next? Well, luckily, there are throngs of online courses to teach you to improve this important skill. Now you just have to choose one (or more) and commit at least a little time each day to working on this issue. Emotional intelligence, communication skills, and conversation mastery are all achievable through these courses.

#3 Smile

In the meantime, there are some simple steps you can take to immediately improve the way other people in the office perceive you. The first is probably the easiest – just smile more. Studies show that people are drawn to other people who seem happy. So, give it a try. The good news is, it can’t hurt anyone.

#4 Listen

This tip sounds easy (no pun intended) but there is a very big difference between hearing and listening. To work on being an active listener, repeat what someone has said to you using your own words. This signals that you’ve considered and understand what the other person has said. That simple process will make them feel more important to you.

This trick will also make it clear if you are misunderstanding someone. They can hear your interpretation and confirm or deny its accuracy.

#5 Include others

People with poor interpersonal skills tend to be isolationists. Even if you’re very skilled at your job, you can be better at it if you include others in what you’re doing. Teamwork and cooperation tend to make those around you feel welcomed and important. You don’t have to delegate portions of your current project to someone else, just talk to them about it. Not only will they feel included, you may gain insight that makes the end product even better than it would have been without their input.

#6 Show some appreciation

Throughout the day, people do all sorts of things for you that you may not take time to appreciate. Maybe they did a good job on a project you assigned them, pointed out a spelling error in a brief you wrote, or even just held a door for you. Regardless, taking the time to say “thank you,” can motivate your colleagues to want to work with you more frequently.

#7 Check yourself

The legal profession is undeniably hard. From time to time, we all get overwhelmed. If you can regulate your emotions around others, however, you’re less likely to be off-putting to your colleagues. So, the next time you want to bang your head against the wall, just shut your office door before you do it.

#8 Be confident

This last tip is of particular importance in the legal profession. Clients, colleagues, partners, judges, and opposing counsel have one thing in common – they will all think more highly of you if you exude confidence.

Confidence is shown to increase the level of trust other people have in you. This one can be tough when you’re starting out in the profession but with time, hard work, and consistent preparation, everyone can achieve this goal.

Even the best communicators in your firm could probably use a brush up on one or two of these skills. Feel free to share this list with your colleagues. Because, hey, sharing is a great interpersonal skill!

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About the Author

Jennifer Anderson practiced business litigation in California from 1999 to 2016. When she’s not writing from her floating cabin on the Columbia River, she can be found hiking or kayaking around the Pacific Northwest.

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