Building Your Interpersonal Skills: Change the Lens

Guest Post by: Miranda Holder, GUAA Coaching Partner

Improving your interpersonal skills is about changing your point of focus. I studied art alongside literature in college and spent as much time as humanly possible in the darkroom. I will never forget the blissful feeling of my brain shutting off and my hands taking over. In a photo, much of the power of the image comes from where and on what you choose to focus.

This same principle is true of our interpersonal skills. When we try to appear capable socially or interpersonally, our focus is on ourselves because that’s what concerns us. It feels counterintuitive, but letting go of your internal dialogue and turning your focus on the other person is what strengthens those skills. Your subject can feel when they have your complete attention. We are hungry to be seen, to be heard and to have someone truly give us their energy. Whether or not we are aware of it, we are also looking for a real connection. You have amazing internal muscles that you can strengthen as you practice this: the muscles that support deep listening and attentiveness to another.

Reflect
Although we studiously avoid it, a little reflection for yourself can go a long way. Take a moment and a few deep breaths. What do you feel concerned, nervous or anxious about in social situations? If you could wave a magic wand, what would change about those situations to make you feel excited or comfortable about them? What support systems can you create to help you? What assumptions are you making about other people in social situations? The answers to these questions may provide you with some insight that help you personalize your plan.

Plan + Prepare
If the thought of extemporaneous speaking makes you feel queasy, take a few minutes before you head to an event and write out a few questions to which you are genuinely interested in hearing the answer. This will help internalize them for you. You can keep them on your phone if you blank when you walk into the room! Come prepared with a few anecdotes for yourself, as well. What’s exciting you these days? What are you surprised about, or what you have learned recently that interests you? Do you have a goal that you’re working toward? This way, you’ll have something prepared for the lull in the conversation.

Listen Deeply + Let Go
Nearly all humans are not listening, not really, even when their mouths are shut. They are listening enough to be thinking about how to respond with their own thoughts, because that’s what we’ve been taught. It can feel utterly nerve-wracking to not prepare what we are going to say in advance. This lack of listening kills our ability to be present.

If you listen deeply, a question will naturally come up from inside. It will be there for you as you open your mouth to speak: coming up from your gut, your intuition or your heart as you process what you’re hearing. Deep listening often leads to more interesting questions and a better connection to your fellow human.