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10 Interpersonal Intelligence Skills you Need to Master

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High Interpersonal intelligence (PQ) will help you gracefully navigate social settings and understand both verbal and nonverbal communication. Those with high PQ tend to be good at teaching and leading others.

There’s this misconception that those who are good with people come by it naturally, and you either lucked out or didn’t. 

In reality, like any other type of intelligence, PQ is something that you can develop—here are 10 aspects of PQ you can master. 

What is PQ?

PQ stands for interpersonal intelligence. People with high PQ are good at navigating social interactions. They tend to be natural leaders who can understand others’ feelings and are skilled at interpreting both verbal and nonverbal cues. Typically, they make friends quickly and learn by engaging in discussions and dialogue. Most people with high PQ are welcoming and inclusive. PQ is a counterpart to IQ or book smarts.

What is The Difference Between PQ and EQ?

Emotional intelligence (EQ) describes how well an individual can identify and manage their own emotions and understand the emotions of people around them. Interpersonal Intelligence (PQ) refers to the ability to understand diverse perspectives, communicate effectively in verbal and nonverbal ways, and lead teams well. It incorporates EQ but also takes it a step further.

Many with high EQ will also show a combination of the following: 

  • interpersonal intelligence (PQ) 
  • intrapersonal intelligence (or self-awareness)
  • Adaptability
  • Stress management
  • Positive outlook on life  

The characteristics associated with PQ, such as group leadership, the ability to speak and negotiate well, and empathetic nature, come more naturally to some than others. Still, there are steps one can take to develop a higher PQ. 

Who was Howard Gardner?

In 1983, Howard Gardner, a Psychologist, and Professor at Harvard, published the book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. This book had a huge impact on how we view intelligence. 

While previously, intelligence was limited to what we call IQ (the ability to reason and problem solve), Gardner’s theory suggested nine types of intelligence. 

Gardiner’s 9 types of intelligence

  • Musical intelligence: identifying sounds and rhythms
  • Spatial Intelligence: visualizing and being aware of one’s surroundings
  • Linguistic Intelligence: using words effectively
  • Logical-Mathematical Intelligence: thinking conceptually and abstractly 
  • Interpersonal Intelligence: understanding and interacting with other people effectively
  • Intrapersonal Intelligence: understanding one’s innermost feelings
  • Kinesthetic Intelligence: using the body effectively
  • Musical intelligence: identifying rhythms and sounds
  • Naturalistic Intelligence: having unique knowledge about plants and nature

Each individual has varying amounts of each of these intelligences. Different people will naturally have more of one type of intelligence than others, but one can develop and improve all.

10 Interpersonal Intelligence Skills You Need to Master

Interpersonal intelligence is a precious skill to have. Think about how often you have to work alongside other people to accomplish goals! 

Take a look at these 10 components of interpersonal intelligence. 

Give authentic encouragement

The “World’s Best Boss,” aka Michael Scott from The Office, is great at giving authentic encouragement. He gets to know each of his employees and gives them compliments that are tailored to them—even if they do make us cringe. 

When people feel seen and valued, they will generally be happier while working and produce better work. Research shows that receiving a compliment activates the same part of the brain that lights up when people receive rewards. 

When you want to give a genuine compliment, make eye contact and speak with a sincere voice. A sincere tone of voice shows cheerfulness, warmth, and phrases ending with a downward inflection. Try not to overthink it too much—when you’re saying something you honestly mean, a sincere tone of voice will happen naturally. 

Practice makes perfect; compliment a friend or coworker the next time you notice something you appreciate about them!  

Action steps: Try to make your compliments more specific. For example, instead of telling your coworker, “Good job on that presentation.” Think about something unique that you enjoyed about how or what they presented. 

Something like, “Great job presenting today. I thought you had a lot of presence and spoke well.” Or, “Good job in the meeting! I liked how seamlessly you incorporated research and thought your slides gave a great visual element to your presentation.” 

For more ideas on how to help your colleagues know that you value and appreciate them, check out these tips on team appreciation by industry.  

Build Meaningful Relationships

Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher, is a great example of someone who used her ability to build meaningful relationships to make a difference. Keller became blind and deaf when she was 19 months old due to an illness. In her lifetime, she became a disability rights activist, author, and lecturer. 

Keller even appeared on the Alabama state quarter!

But little of what she accomplished would have been possible without Anne Sullivan. When Sullivan started teaching Keller, Keller was a blind and deaf seven-year-old who was rambunctious and rude. The world had been a strange and scary place that she didn’t understand. Sullivan, who was nearly blind, had no formal training in education but took on the formidable task of helping Keller. 

She started by building a relationship and trust. She patiently taught Keller sign language and would have Keller set her hand on top of hers while she signed so she could feel the movement of her hands and understand what she was saying. 

It took a long time for Keller to understand that these movements had meaning, but Sullivan continued to work with her until, one day, things clicked patiently. From there, Keller learned quickly and could connect with the world around her and communicate with others in a way she had never been able to before.

Action steps: It can be easy to start “coasting” in the relationships that mean the most to us. But let’s stop coasting. Think of the three most important people in your life—the people that REALLY matter to you. Do you take them for granted? Could you be a little nicer to them? Can you improve your relationship? Dedicate some time towards deepening those relationships. 

Here are some ideas for how you can do that:

  • Ask meaningful questions that help you get to know them better, and you might be surprised by stories from the past or dreams for the future that you didn’t know about.
  • Sign up for a weekly class with a friend—whether it’s pottery, Zumba, or a cooking class, this will ensure you see them at least once a week.
  • Take a weekend trip with your significant other.
  • Call your parents while driving to work in the morning to check in on how they’re doing. 

Promote Peace

Those with high PQ are typically skilled at conflict resolution. They can understand various points of view and inspire people to work together towards a common goal. 

Mahatma Gandhi was a lawyer and activist who led the nonviolent resistance against British colonial rule in India. Throughout his time of leading non-violent civil disobedience, he was imprisoned multiple times but continued to inspire his fellow countrymen as they worked to come out from under British rule. 

His model of peaceful protest inspired civil rights movements around the world. 

Gandhi shows us that the path you take towards achieving a goal matters. While there is a possibility to attain freedom from British colonial rule through fighting by peacefully leading people, Gandhi impacted future generations worldwide. 

Actions steps: 

“I have so much to accomplish today that I must meditate for two hours instead of one.”

—Mahatma Gandhi

Research shows that practicing mindfulness can help reduce stress and increase your sense of wellbeing. To help others peacefully, you should experience peace yourself. Check out 14 Amazing Benefits of Meditation That Can Actually Rewire Your Brain to learn more about the benefits of meditation.

As lovely as it is to experience peace yourself, here are some ways you can be a promoter of peace for those around you:

  • Offer to help a friend declutter their space—researchers have found that people living in a space they describe as “cluttered” display higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. By helping someone organize and clear out clutter, you can help them experience more peace. 
  • If you notice an argument brewing between two loved ones, offer to help mediate it. Some helpful phrases when navigating conflict are, “Tell me more; I really want to understand where you’re coming from.” “Correct me if I misunderstand you. Are you frustrated because of XYZ?” “I don’t think X finished talking. Can you hold onto that thought until they finish, please?”
  • Be a safe space for your loved ones to voice their frustrations. When they finish venting, ask them how they would like to see the situation change moving forward and encourage them to take action to create change.

Inspire change through your words

When you watch this video of Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking to a crowd, you can feel the energy shift. People understand the dream he has for eradicating racism. They trust him and become inspired by him—this is a component of interpersonal intelligence. 

Not everyone will have a national platform like King. However, everyone has a sphere of influence. Inspire change with your words through the platform you have. You can do this through your social media accounts or in-person conversations with friends, coworkers, and family. 

“I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!”

— Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Actions steps: 

Get a few friends together and start a discussion group. Before the meeting, agree on what topics you will be discussing. Research that topic and write down bullet points of thoughts that come to mind. Think through all the various perspectives one could have on this topic, and find compelling research and evidence to support your view. 

When you get together, practice listening to others, using well-reasoned thoughts, and speaking in concrete ways that reference your research. 

If you need any help, this article can help you win an argument like a pro

Observe Cues 

When we first meet Sherlock Holmes, he’s an eccentric genius presented through the eyes of John Watson. Watson is amazed that within moments of meeting one another, Sherlock seems to know so much about him. 

In this video of their first meeting, Holmes doesn’t know anything about Watson besides what the cues and details tell him. 

Pay attention to details. They can tell you a lot about people! 

Action steps: Pick up a copy of Cues, and work on learning to identify the nonverbal cues that people around you are using. It will help you learn to be observant of all the details, from facial expressions to body language to tone of voice, that make up communication. 

Become a Good Negotiator

Mark Cuban purchased the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks franchise in January of 2000. On paper, it looked like a bad purchase—and for someone less skilled in negotiation than Cuban, it likely would have been catastrophic. 

In his sales pitch and the analysis of why it worked, we see that one of the best things he did when making a call was show the listener that he understood who they were and was able to anticipate their concerns. 

Rather than make an empty promise, “If you come to the game, the Mavericks are sure to win,” he appeals to their desire to build meaningful memories with their children. Then, he offers the annual basketball tickets as an inexpensive way to do this. 

“We create special experiences. I can’t guarantee we will win or lose, but I can guarantee … when you look at your son or daughter’s face, you will be thrilled to death and know that you can’t get that experience anywhere else. And it’s $8 a ticket.”

—Mark Cuban

Negotiating can get a bad rep sometimes. We sometimes associate it with manipulation, but good negotiation is nothing. A good negotiator anticipates and solves people’s problems—which is why it’s a characteristic of high PQ. 

Those with high PQ are skilled at understanding what makes people tick and can help them get there. 

Action steps: Practice asking “why.” This will help you understand why people want what they want. Start with yourself. For example, the next time you think to yourself, “I really want to door dash dinner,” ask yourself, “why?” 

Is it because of the convenience of having your dinner brought to the door? Is it because you want to have Chipotle but don’t want to have to speak to someone to place your order? Or maybe you want to support a worker by giving the door dasher a great tip! 

All of these are fine reasons to door dash your dinner! It’s not about judging people’s motivations but understanding them. 

Level up your negotiation skills by understanding the motivations behind decisions.

Build Empathetic Connections

The phrase, “Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes,” helps us understand that when you take time to imagine what another person is facing, you’re practicing empathy.

Empathetic connection is the ability to understand the person’s emotions you’re speaking with. This helps you become more sensitive to their motivations and better understand who they are. 

Patricia Moore is a product designer who uses empathy to bridge the generational gap in product design and advocate for the elderly. In the late 1970s, Moore experimented. She took walking a mile in someone else’s shoes literally, and despite only being 26 at the time, she disguised herself as an 85-year-old woman. 

Over three years, she visited various cities across the US wearing fogged glasses to diminish her vision, uneven shoes to create an uncomfortable hobble, and bandages and splints on her hands to simulate arthritis. This helped her understand the elderly and design products to make the world more accessible to them.

Action steps: Try envisioning what someone else may be experiencing. For example, if a friend is disappointed or sad, consider why they might be experiencing that emotion. Have they recently been going through a stressful time at work? Are they in the process of moving and may be feeling overwhelmed? 

If you’re having difficulty understanding why they feel sad or disappointed, try asking them, “I’m sorry you’re having a hard day. Can you help me understand what’s going on so I can be sad with you?”

Organize Groups

In this clip from the 1995 children’s movie Babe the Sheep-Pig, you can see how with just a few words, Babe organizes the sheep and gets them to work together to (spoiler alert) make him the victorious sheep pig. 

Similarly to Babe, people who can organize groups and get them to work together towards a common goal have strong interpersonal skills. 

Action steps: Offer to plan your friend’s graduation party or birthday party, or invite a few friends over for a movie night. Then ask for help with pulling it together! This will give you the chance to delegate and direct. Ask your helpers what they would like to work on—people tend to do a great job working on something they enjoy. 

Also, since the event you’re organizing is fun, it will be easier to get people involved and excited about it. 

Care for Others 

Oprah Winfrey, the first black female billionaire and famous talk show host has used her success to help others. The Oprah Winfrey Show ran for 25 years. On air, she would interview people in a way that felt caring and sincere. 

One way she would do this is by asking follow-up questions that allowed guests to respond with more depth.  

In the first three minutes of this video, we see Oprah conversing with Mariah Carey about her experience growing up as an interracial person. As a listener, you feel that Oprah truly cares about Carey and is actively listening to her. This active listening happens as she references information Carey has already shared with her in the way she asks her following questions. 

Oprah has also cared for people through charitable giving. She started the Oprah Winfrey Foundation, whose mission is “to lead, to educate, to uplift, to inspire and to empower women and children throughout the world…”

Action steps: Do a random act of kindness for someone you know and love. 

Here are some ideas: 

  • Ask a friend if you can bring them their favorite coffee in the morning.
  • Plan a fun date for your significant other.
  • Offer to cut the grass at your parent’s house. 

For more inspiration, check out these 62 unique ideas for how to be nice

Encourage people to treat themselves

Not everyone is as good at caring for themselves as Donna Meagle—remind them to “treat yo’ self.”

Depending on people’s personalities and backgrounds, learning to recognize their own needs can be challenging. Remind your loved ones that they are worthy of being healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally. By caring for their needs, they will better be able to support and love others.

Action steps: Here are some ways you can do this:

  • Encourage your loved ones to use their vacation time.
  • Assure them you aren’t mad when they don’t answer your texts right away—boundaries with technology are healthy and sound, and having some no-tech time can be refreshing.
  • Repeat, “How are you doing?” to help assure them you really mean it and their emotions aren’t a burden to you.

Final Thoughts on Interpersonal Intelligence

PQ, or “people smarts,” is the ability to understand people and navigate social situations with grace. People with high PQ are natural leaders, skilled teachers, and good social workers. They can correctly interpret nonverbal communication. They tend to make friends easily and build rapport that enables them to influence others. 

If you want to develop your PQ, here are some characteristics of people with high PQ and ways to work on improving it: 

  1. Inspire change with how you speak—Start a discussion group with some friends to get practice listening to other people’s opinions and formulating your thoughts well. 
  2. Give authentic encouragement—Stay away from generic compliments. Instead, compliment something specific that you like about the person or their work. 
  3. Observe cues—Read the book, Cues, to grow your understanding of nonverbal communication. 
  4. Negotiate well—Ask “why” repeatedly as you learn to understand the motivations behind people’s actions. 
  5. Build empathetic connections—Think about why people act and feel the way they do. If you’re not sure, ask them to help you understand! 
  6. Organize groups—Plan a party and practice delegating tasks to others and keeping track of everything going on. 
  7. Build meaningful relationships—Grab lunch or coffee with a loved one and ask them intentional questions. 
  8. Promote peace—Meditate for a few minutes each morning and see how it changes your outlook on life.  
  9. Care for others—Do a random act of kindness for a loved one. 
  10. Encourage others to treat themselves—Try repeating “how are you” to assure your loved ones that you genuinely care and their emotions are not a burden.

If you want to see how strong your PQ already is, this quiz will help you figure out how many interpersonal skills you have and help you identify areas to work on.

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