2.1 What are interpersonal skills?
We use our interpersonal skills to communicate and interact with people. Having good interpersonal skills can often result in us having positive relationships with our family, friends and work colleagues especially. We use our interpersonal skills in everything we do. However, these skills are not something we are taught in a classroom. We usually learn them in daily life by seeing others use them with positive results.
Here are some examples of interpersonal skills:
- the ability to express yourself clearly and confidently
- being aware of body language and facial expressions
- listening to others completely and with empathy
- being willing to collaborate and work as a team
- understanding implied rules of behaviour
- being able to assert yourself without making the other person seem small or you to appear angry and aggressive
- being responsible and timely
- being able to speak for, or support, others who are less able to do it for themselves (advocacy).
It takes time and practice to develop good communication and interpersonal skills. The more you interact with other people and the more you are exposed to a wide range of experiences, the more likely you are to develop these important qualities. One of the most important interpersonal skills you need in your role as a carer is being able to collaborate and work as a member of a team. Often the people you are caring for will have support from a wide range of people and agencies, and good communication is key to being part of a team that works well.
In the next activity you are going to be thinking about the people who make up teams, and how those teams work. You will also have the opportunity to reflect on your own experiences of being part of a team.
Marie is a paid carer, who works for an agency. Read her story and then answer the questions that follow.
Case study: Marie
I have been really busy since I started working for the agency. I have done a lot of work with Leonard Cheshire as a home carer. I feel that I have established a good reputation for reliability as I never like to let my clients down. My kids are quite happy to look after themselves before and after school and they are old enough to leave safely. I think they would like me to be around a bit more, but I tell them that if they want the extras they have to put up with doing more around the house and eating ready meals. They don’t really mind because they can choose what they eat!
The manager of the agency says that I am one of her best workers and lots of my regulars know me now and ask after me if I’m not there. She knows I’d prefer permanent work, but the agency pays more, otherwise I’d work for Leonard Cheshire permanently.
One of the best things about being agency staff is you don’t get involved in all the office politics and I find some of the other carers can be very spiteful, especially about us agency people. They think we don’t work as hard as they do, or that we don’t care about the people we are looking after.
It’s hard to find time to get to know other people and they all seem to have friends already, so maybe they don’t want to mix with agency people – I don’t know. I sometimes feel like they resent me because I am paid more than them for the same work, but I tell them they could leave and work for the agency as well. I don’t understand why they don’t if the money is so important.
Now see if you can list all the teams that Marie is part of, and say what her role is in each team.
- What advice could you give Marie about working in each team?
- Have you worked as part of a team? Was it a successful team? If so, what made it work well?
- If it was not successful, can you think of why it did not work well?
This is a useful activity for reviewing your understanding of the ideas in this section about interpersonal skills.
Marie is part of three teams: the agency, Leonard Cheshire and her family.
In her agency team Marie is part of a support network for other services.
In her Leonard Cheshire team, Marie must be flexible, filling whatever role she has been asked to fill, but she does not belong to the wider team, as they see her as an ‘outsider’.
In her family team, Marie takes on the role of team leader, and allocates tasks to other members of the team (her children) and expects them to be fulfilled.
Advice about working in each team
Marie could develop a better understanding of the agency team that she is part of, and how that supports other teams, such as Leonard Cheshire.
Alternatively, she could start to gain a better understanding of the relationships in the group where she spends a lot of time (the Leonard Cheshire team) and where she fits into this.
Marie might also look at the change in roles in her family now that she is working longer hours, and whether her children feel they are part of a team.
For your own reflection on being part of a team, you probably identified good communication as the reason your team worked well. You probably received clear instructions and everyone understood what they had to do. Or poor communication may have meant that people didn’t really know what was expected of them, or they had misinterpreted instructions that were unclear. You might have considered whether you led the activity or were happy to play a supporting role. You might not have thought your part was important, but looking back on the activity you might now see that everyone has a part to play in a team.