Facts for Living: How are your people skills?

By Rebecca McFarland, Frontier Extension Agent

The longer I work in the field of human services, it seems the more I realize how many people lack “people skills”. One would think that things as basic as friendship, love, caring, kindness and helpfulness would come naturally, almost like breathing. But, reality is, we are not born with effective interpersonal skills, we have to learn them. Some people learn these skills easily as children, allowing them to be warm and friendly and get along easily with others, the rest of their lives. Others aren’t so fortunate. They relate to others as best they can, but they may experience a lot of hurt feelings and conflict, which they do not understand.

Most of us like to think of ourselves as friendly and helpful. But, for most of us, at one time or another, have difficulty in relationships. It may be a broken friendship, a falling-out with a coworker, frequent arguments with family members or perhaps others in our community. We probably feel puzzled by the attitudes and behaviors of those ‘other’ people. Yet, in reality, we may need to look at our own inner resources for the answers to our problems.

Carl Rogers, a renowned psychologist, suggests that we ask ourselves certain questions, which help determine our ability to relate well with others:

  • Am I a person learning or willing to learn the skills of interpersonal relationships? Do you consider yourself a ‘life-long learner’? Are you willing to continue to develop yourself personally?
  • Can other people see me as trustworthy, dependable, and consistent? This means active listening, keeping information confident and being available when needed.
  • Can I let myself experience positive attitudes toward this other person – attitudes such as caring, warmth, understanding and respect?
  • Can I respect my own feelings and needs while respecting another’s? Do our differences cause me to become depressed, frightened, or consumed with his/her dependency?
  • Am I secure enough within myself to permit him/her to separateness? Can I permit him/her to be what he/she is – honest or deceitful, childish or adult, disapproving or arrogant? Can I give him/her the freedom to be or do I feel that he/she should follow my advice, and remain dependent on me?
  • Can I let myself enter in to his/her world fully (feelings and personal meanings, seeing these as he/she sees them)?

So many of life’s joys, fun, excitement, and personal fulfillment are dependent upon a fulfilling relationship with other people. Making new friends and maintaining friendships, falling in love, and our general happiness depends upon how well we relate to other people. The ability to relate to others is at the heart of humanity. And in order to develop and maintain a fulfilling interpersonal relationship, each person should be:

  • Distinguishing and trusting of others, which involves acceptance of yourself as well as, others. Self-disclosure, self-awareness and trust are important attributes in obtaining fulfilling relationships.
  • Accurately understanding of others. This involves listening, expressing feelings appropriately, and communicating warmth and liking.
  • Mutually supportive and helpful. This means making oneself available when needed and spending time with another person.
  • Learning how to resolve problems and conflict constructively, and handling anger appropriately.

McFarland_RebeccaRebecca McFarland is the Frontier Extension District family and consumer sciences agent. For more information, she can be contacted at the Extension district’s Ottawa office, 1418 S. Main, Suite 2, Ottawa, KS 66067, or call 785-229-3520, or email [email protected].


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