People skills are essential for any job, regardless of your profession

People skills are defined as the skills used to communicate and engage with others effectively. Common people skills include communication, patience, empathy, and conflict resolution.

Think about someone in the workplace who is highly likeable, a master of communication, has lasting confidence, can decode emotions, and possesses emotional intelligence and social assertiveness. This is a person of great ability in terms of people skills. 

In this guide, learn what people skills are, discover some examples of people skills, and get advice on how to add people skills to your CV and reference them in an interview.

What are people skills?

People skills are also known as soft skills or interpersonal skills. Unlike technical skills, which are job-specific skills acquired by gaining experience in a certain industry, people skills are the qualities which enable you to get along with your colleagues, managers, and reports. Someone with strong people skills may be described as “likeable yet professional,” “has a good personality,” or “is a great communicator.”

People skills are required in all industries, regardless of your job title, so they're important to cultivate throughout your career and display clearly on your CV when job hunting.

Alternative ways to say “people skills”

There are alternative ways to say “people skills” that you might find listed in a job description. They include:

  • Soft skills

  • Interpersonal skills

  • Social skills

  • Communication skills

  • Active listening skills

  • Social competence

  • Interpersonal relations

Why are people skills important?

People skills are pivotal in an organisation's success. You can have the best job-specific skills in the world, but if you can't communicate or work with others in the right way, your technical capability is wasted. 

You'll need to converse with your colleagues appropriately, empathise with them, have patience with them, actively listen, negotiate, and proactively problem-solve, amongst other things. 

If you have the skills to navigate the behavioural layer of the workplace, you can avoid misunderstandings, solve conflicts, earn support, drive a high-performing team, and find success for yourself and the business.

Examples of people skills

If you want to succeed in the workplace, a strong suite of people skills is essential. Here are 16 must-have people skills:

1. Strong communication

Excellent communication skills are fundamental in any role, and you will often see this skill listed as a requirement in job adverts. 

Communication skills encompass writing, listening, speaking, and everything in between, such as persuading and negotiating. 

Being articulate is highly prized in today's workplace, where our experience of communication is still a little hazy as we continue to settle into a hybrid in-office and remote working routine. 

2. Patience

A patient person can keep a level head in a stressful situation. They don't grimace at the thought of something going wrong and they don't huff when something isn't going their way. 

Patience is kindness and an example of empathy and understanding. For example, having patience with a colleague while training them will cultivate psychological safety and trust. 

A boss will notice who has the calmness and clarity worthy of promotion over those that channel aggravation.

3. Trust

The ability to trust others will help you, the team, and the business to excel. Without having faith in others to get the job done, projects would stall. 

Democratic leaders trust their team. They encourage collaboration and creativity, ask for feedback, showcase a team player attitude, and prioritise communication and transparency. They want to hear from different skill sets in the team and trust that the thoughts and opinions offered will help them to make strategic decisions. 

4. Empathy

The ability to recognise emotions in others and to understand other perspectives is the cornerstone of empathy. If you're a particularly empathetic person, you may find that you can support someone through a difficult situation and improve their mood, too.

Empathy enables us to forge and develop relationships. Offering support in the workplace will often bring positive emotional returns too. Call it “corporate karma.”

5. Active listening

Active listening involves more than just hearing what someone has to say. It's being present in the conversation, seeking to understand what the person means and the intent behind the words. Active listening requires you to be an active participant in the communication process, which makes people feel valued and heard.

6. Flexibility

A flexible person can adapt to the needs of others in changing circumstances. If this happens in a time of need in the workplace, it can build trust between two people and help to create a more positive and productive work environment. 

Planning ahead, staying calm when things go wrong, and having alternative options available is a sign of a flexible person and a good leader too.

7. Conflict resolution

Conflict is technically a skill that incorporates a range of other skills, like active listening, flexibility, mediation, stress management, and cultural awareness. 

Having this skill set can help an individual to manage and resolve conflicts in a constructive and effective manner, which can improve relationships and lead to better outcomes.

8. Persuasion

Persuasion skills in the workplace refer to the ability to influence and convince others to take a particular course of action or to adopt a specific point of view. To persuade effectively, you need to communicate well, build relationships, understand others, be flexible, and demonstrate credibility. 

With strong persuasion skills, you win advocates for your ideas, goals, and proposals, which come with plenty of benefits for the team and the business.

9. Negotiation

Negotiation can happen in many ways in the workplace. Examples include negotiating a higher salary, swaying coworkers to your way of thinking, or pitching a new idea to a client. 

Negotiation skills are vital for reaching an agreement, which is often a daily occurrence in business and professional interactions. 

Negotiation skills can also help to avoid conflict and find creative solutions to problems, which can boost the overall productivity and effectiveness of the organisation.

10. Proactive problem solving

Proactive problem solving is the process of identifying and addressing potential problems or issues before they occur, or nipping something in the bud swiftly if it's unravelling. 

This approach helps to prevent problems from escalating and causing more significant issues and can help employees and businesses to be more efficient, effective, and resilient. It can also help to foster a culture of continuous improvement, which can lead to better performance and success in the future.

11. Honesty

Honesty in the workplace refers to the ability to be truthful, transparent, and trustworthy in professional interactions and relationships. Honesty is a core leadership trait, and examples of honesty include being truthful and transparent, keeping promises and meeting commitments, and being accountable and authentic.

12. Reliability

If you're a reliable person and demonstrate this skill in the workplace, you will sit at the top of the promotions list. If you can consistently meet commitments and follow through on your responsibilities, you show that you can be depended on. 

Being reliable helps to establish trust and credibility with colleagues, clients, and managers, which can lead to better opportunities and advancement in your career.

13. Respectfulness

Treating colleagues, managers, and clients with consideration and dignity, regardless of their rank, position, or background, is a demonstration of respect. It's an important aspect of creating a positive, productive, and professional work environment. 

Ways you can be respectful include using appropriate language and tone, listening actively, giving credit where credit's due, being punctual, following through on your word, and being aware of cultural and individual differences.

14. Body language awareness

We communicate with people all the time, even when we're not speaking. It's important to be mindful of more than what we say. The tone of voice, expressions, and gestures must also be considered, as one wrong move could cause offence. 

It's more than being aware of our own bodies though. It's being aware of the person you're conversing with too, so that you can determine what they're really thinking.

15. Teamwork

Teamwork is always a highly sought-after skill in the workplace. It encompasses a range of additional skills, like communication, leadership, cooperation, flexibility, problem-solving, emotional intelligence, and trust.

Having this suite of skills can help you to be an effective team member and contribute to the success of the team. 

16. Leadership

There are many leadership theories, but common characteristics of a good leader include vision, strategic thinking, decision-making, communication, emotional intelligence, delegation, coaching, mentoring, and flexibility.

How to improve your people skills

People skills are a must-have for the workplace, can improve your performance in a job interview, and help you to build relationships with colleagues and clients. They're also useful in your personal life, as you navigate relationships with family and friends. 

In short, people skills are necessary for life. Here are a few ways to improve yours:

Harness emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your emotions and recognise and influence the emotions of others. 

Strong emotions can govern behaviour. If you learn to pause and recognise the emotion you feel, reason with it, and understand it, then you can manage it in a positive way to overcome challenges.

This practice will enable you to more accurately perceive the emotions of others, and recognise when the emotion may be influencing behaviour. As a result, you can communicate in the best way possible because you understand.

Practice active listening

Very few people know how to listen properly. Most of us hear what someone else is saying and simultaneously think about what we can say next. This is not listening. 

To actively listen, concentrate on what the person is saying and allow them to finish speaking before you talk. While they are speaking, pay close attention to their body language and verbally acknowledge what they're saying to show you're listening. 

Cultivate conversation skills

Conversation skills are a collective group of skills required for having an effective conversation. To improve your conversation skills, practise active listening, look for any non-verbal cues, be polite, professional, and empathetic, pay attention to details during the conversation, and talk slowly and thoughtfully.

Respect cultural differences

Social engagements can differ from culture to culture, and something accepted in one may be jarring, or even offensive, to another. 

For example, in China and Japan, it's often considered rude to maintain eye contact when talking to someone, whereas it is a sign of politeness in Western cultures.

In addition, personality types can differ across countries. For example, French people, most often Parisians, typically hold themselves to incredibly high standards and so the smallest error can lead to an emotional response.

Step outside your comfort zone

To build upon anything, you have to push yourself. And in this instance, you have to push your social and emotional experiences to grow your people skills. 

For example, you could try talking to someone new at work or try pitching an idea to your team. Use your active listening and conversation skills to show your engagement too.

How to show people skills on your CV

As we've established, people skills are vital in any role. In fact, it's likely that a recruiter would favour a candidate with stronger people skills and weaker technical skills, than a candidate with strong technical skills and weaker people skills. Technical skills can be taught relatively easily, but people skills… less so.

The best way to demonstrate people skills on your CV is by showing achievements that occurred as a result of this skill set. For example, you could explain how you upsold a client by 25% through negotiation, or how you coached a team of five to achieve better process efficiency. Always remember to add facts and statistics for each point to make your achievements tangible.

If there are references to specific people skills in the job description that your skill set aligns with, it's worth adding the desired skills, mimicking the phrasing, to your core skills and competencies section. The most common people skills include:

  • Strong communication

  • Teamwork

  • Emotional intelligence

  • Decision-making

  • Leadership

  • Proactive problem-solving

  • Conflict resolution

  • Negotiation

Be aware that while the whole suite of people skills is desirable, there are certain qualities that are preferred or required for different job levels. For example, the people skill requirements of an entry-level professional are likely to be basic, whereas a Director position requires a broader collection of well-rounded people skills.

Read the job description thoroughly, so that you have a decent understanding of what the prospective employer is looking for, and tailor your CV appropriately to show you're a match for the role.

People skills example interview questions

In a job interview, you will likely receive some behavioural interview questions designed to gauge your level of people skills. Common questions about people skills include:

  • Tell me about a time when you had to work with a coworker you did not like or trust

  • Describe a conflict at work

  • If you have direct reports, how would they describe you?

  • When you start a new job, how do you build relationships?

  • What is your leadership style?

  • Describe a time you worked effectively in a team

  • What are the qualities of an ideal boss?

  • Tell me about a time you helped a colleague to resolve an issue

  • How do you handle criticism?

  • Describe a time you struggled to communicate something to your boss or colleague

  • If someone questioned your credibility, how would you react?

  • How would you deal with a difficult co-worker?

  • What would you do if your boss asked you to do something you disagreed with?

  • How would you deliver bad news to a client?

  • What methods would you use to motivate your team?

If you're looking for a job, highlighting your people skills on your CV is imperative. If you want to make sure that you've showcased your abilities in the best way, submit your CV for a free review.

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