‘Must have good interpersonal skills’ is a phrase that you will often see on job descriptions for Assistants, but what does that mean? What are interpersonal skills and why are they so crucial for Assistants? Interpersonal skills, or soft skills or people skills are the same thing. They are the skills you need to interact and communicate with the people around you. They are the emotional skills that you need to get on with your colleagues, clients and managers and they are crucial for Assistants. These are the skills that make us thrive in our roles. We are constant contact with people of all levels within our organisations, and we have to work with all of them if we want to succeed at what we do.

So, interpersonal skills are essential. But what are they, how do we use them and what interpersonal skills are needed to thrive in the modern day role of the Assistant?

What are interpersonal skills?

The first thing to say is that interpersonal skills are only going to get more and more important as technology and communicating through technology becomes central in our working lives. Adding a personal touch, making that face to face connection, will make all the difference. So what are interpersonal skills? Simply put, interpersonal skills are the skills we need to deal with people, to communicate and work effectively together. Interpersonal skills are crucial for Assistants and are in high demand. Look at any job description, and you will see an array of interpersonal skills need to succeed in the role.

These skills are often inherent within us; they are what we do and what comes naturally to us. That is why I often say that the role of the Assistant isn’t a job we fall into as much as a job that we find ourselves naturally good at. But, say that, like any skill, interpersonal skills can be improved. If you can master what effectively are the skills you need to get people on your side, your life (not just your job) becomes a whole lot easier.

So I’ve put together what I think are the top 15 interpersonal skills for Assistants and I thought I would give you some more information on why these skills are crucial for your success:

Top 15 interpersonal skills for Assistants

  1. Communication – This one kinda goes without saying right? Communication is everything in this role; from the way you use body language to how you listen to other people communicate, you have to be a good communicator. On top of that, you have to be aware of how your Executive expresses themselves so that you can compliment their style. Remember, communication is just about speaking; it is about actively listening to what people are telling you. Being present at that moment (which is really tough) and listening to what people are saying to you.
  2. Adaptability – Assistants have to roll with the punches, they have not to let the never-ending changes (hello rescheduling) get them down. Organisations are now moving at such a speed that adaptability is becoming a real sort after skill. You have got to get yourself in a mindset that allows for constant change.
  3. Leadership – Leadership comes in all shapes and sizes and is never about the job title. If you start to think of yourself as a leader, you will begin to change how you view your role and how you work with your colleagues. Leadership is about taking responsiblity for yourself and those around you, it is about owning your work, and it is about making a difference in your organisation and adding value.
  4. Motivation – Being able to motivate other people is an incredible skill to have and something that Assistants should work on daily. Be inspiring, get people to want to work with you and be around you. As Assistants, we have to get people to do things for us, for example, attend those meetings that we organise, get that board paper over on time, meet our deadlines. These things are much easier to ask for and get if you can motivate people to want to do a good job and influence them to your way of thinking.
  5. Responsibility – Taking responsibility for your work is crucial. You will thrive if you own the work that you do and the role you play in your organisation. That means owning your mistakes too – which can suck, but you’ll make fewer mistakes if you take responsibility for your role because you will want to do a good job! Taking responsibility means showing up every day with purpose and an awareness of what you want to achieve, this mindset gives you a focus and a desire to succeed.
  6. Collaboration – We work so much better when we can collaborate with those around us. It is vital for Assistants to be able to collaborate with their Executive (which makes the relationship a partnership, not a dictatorship), share ideas and opinions and work together towards a common goal. There is a reason that there are so many collaboration tools and technologies available to businesses now. Collaboration makes businesses more successful, and Assistants are really crucial to that outlook.
  7. Empathy – Assistants have buckets full of empathy; you wouldn’t be in the job if you didn’t. What I find is that empathy can often be taken advantage of by people who don’t respect what we do – be it, that colleague who wants your time or that Executive who doesn’t understand your role. Empathy can quickly diminish when you don’t feel respected, or quite frankly someone just pisses you off. So empathy is essential – you have to figure out why someone is acting the way that they are and deal with them accordingly. Compassion is hard to muster sometimes but try to understand where they are coming from you will feel 100% better – trust me!
  8. Problem-solving – Again problem-solving is so vital for Assistants. Firstly finding those problems and identifying issues in the organisation and then coming up with solutions adds so much value and secondly dealing with issues as they arise in a cool, calm and professional manner makes an Assistant worth their weight in gold!
  9. Diplomacy – Diplomacy is ‘the art of dealing with people in a sensitive and tactful way.’ It is the ability to communicate with people using an approach that considers their feelings and potential reaction to the situation. It is a skill that allows assistants to find common ground with every person at every level of business. You can read more about diplomacy for Assistants here.
  10. Patience – Ooofff, patience is a tough one right? When your Executive asks you the same question 20 times it is your human right to go bat shit crazy at them. But don’t. You’ll be sacked, even if you are obviously in the right. That is where patience comes in because part of our role is to answer all of those questions and be helpful. Breath, reset and go again.
  11. Inspiring trust – It is crucial for Assistants to gain their Executive’s confidence. They rely so heavily on you that the only way for the relationship to work is if they can trust you with anything they throw at you. You also have to inspire trust in your colleagues; you are the bridge between the top level. Executive’s and the rest of the employees, so they have to trust that you know what you are doing. If they don’t, you will find they go straight to the Executive rather than coming to you first. This can cause no end of headaches for you. So, inspiring trust both in terms of keeping confidence but also inspiring others to trust your skills. Getting this right will make your job a whole lot easier.
  12. Persuasive – Persuading people to do things for you or getting them around to your way of thinking is tough but, again, how much easier would your job be if you had excellent persuasion skills? Being persuasive comes down to communication and confidence, speaking passionately yes, but also getting people to think it was their idea in the first place. I’ve always found if you talk passionately about something but base what you are saying it is harder to be ignored.
  13. Developing rapport – I’ve written a lot about this over the years, establishing a rapport with those around you, particularly with your Executive is so essential. With communication, it is the key to everything. Affinity comes down to, in my mind, treating everyone with respect, trying to get to know them on a human level, and understanding their work style and how they like to communicate.
  14. Humour – Humour gets you a long way… a loooonnnggg wayyyy!
  15. Networking – Having a strong network makes the job of an Assistant so much easier, I can not begin to tell you, not just within your organisation, but with your clients, your suppliers, other Assistants. It is so important to be able to speak to people and get help when you need to. Networking is a two-way street so help others, build those bridges and connect people that you think could support each other. If you have a strong network, you can solve any problem.

My very last point about interpersonal skills is this. Take an interest in other people, be nosy and ask questions. It can be tough when you have so much work to do, and you want to get your head down and get on with everything that is in front of you. But, you’ve got to work with your colleagues and your Executive and build those relationships.