Boost your Interpersonal Savy!

BY: Center for Creative Leadership

How strong are your people skills? Do they come easily to you or do you get dinged on interpersonal skills in performance reviews? The good news is that everyone has the capacity for interpersonal savvy — building and maintaining solid working relationships with colleagues, superiors, and direct reports. It’s a key leadership competency, and problems with interpersonal relationships is one of the most common reasons leaders derail in their careers.

The key to interpersonal savvy is to learn behaviors that demonstrate valued people skills. This includes such as good listening, showing empathy and sincerity, and being trustworthy. Honesty, supportiveness, a team orientation, and a willingness to share responsibility are also part of the interpersonal skills mix. Our guidebook, Interpersonal Savvy: Building and Maintaining Solid Working Relationships offers a practical approach for improving how others view you and experience your people skills. Rather than digging deep into your emotions or personality, it focuses on behaviors that make a difference.

To improve your interpersonal skills and boost your interpersonal savvy, try these steps:

  • Set a Goal.

Figure out what — specifically — you’d like to improve. Maybe you know you interrupt or override others in meetings, sending the message that you don’t listen. Or you’d like direct reports to know they can trust you or that you are willing to share responsibility. If you’re not sure where to start, ask yourself: How do I want others to perceive me? What qualities would I like others to see in me? Do I have a reputation to overcome? Ask a trusted colleague to help you see the positive ways and the negative ways others perceive you.

  • Focus on behaviors that will help you meet your interpersonal improvement goal.

What can you do to change perceptions? For example, to promote trustworthiness, you should guard information that was given to you in confidence. You could also find sincere ways to talk positively about others — both to them and to others. Trust others — share your own experiences and feelings.

  • Identify red-flag scenarios.

What situations get you into interpersonal trouble? When are you most likely to undermine your best efforts? Often, red-flag scenarios are tied to feeling rushed or boxed in. You might need results in a hurry, especially if you feel the stakes are high or that you are personally vulnerable, and start issuing orders rather than actively listening to understand the ideas of others. If you know what’s most likely to have you behaving in ways that don’t help your interpersonal goals and may undermine the leadership image you’d like to convey, you stand a chance of stopping yourself before you react.

  • Enlist help.

Find one or more sources of support for your efforts — people to help you clarify what you are doing, encourage you, and point out when they see improvement (and when they don’t.)

Above all, boosting your interpersonal savvy can help you become a more effective, emotionally intelligent leader who can bring out the best in others.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

We offer lots of ways to help you boost your interpersonal savvy. Or, up-skill your team with customized leadership development tailored to your organization’s unique challenges. Available topics include: Psychological Safety, Emotional Intelligence, Listening to Understand, and more.

Since 1970, The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL®) has been committed to delivering results that matter through leadership solutions customized to clients’ needs. CCL helps its clients to grow by accelerating their leadership performance, their knowledge and partnerships drive sustained results for clients, and committed to create a better world through our work in the social sector. More resources available at

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