Have you ever worked for one of those people who seem to have a natural inner glow that somehow seems to attract other people? Wasn’t it nice to work with such a person?

Such a person has a way of keeping everyone well motivated and happy to work. As a result, the desired outcome is achieved faster and the quality of the finished products or the delivered services is higher.

Would you not like to be this person?

To put things into perspective, let’s compare the above scenario with working with a controlling and ever demanding boss. You’ll find that most of the time, you hate yourself every morning when you have to leave for work.

When at work, you will not be sure about yourself in most of the tasks because you are not sure if your results will be perfect enough for the boss.

The Role of Interpersonal Intelligence for Career Progress

The difference between these two scenarios is different levels of interpersonal intelligence and that is what we will discuss today. However, before we go into details of what interpersonal intelligence is and how it can help your career, let’s take a step back and look at the multiple intelligence theory.


This is a theory by a Harvard psychologist that was originally developed in 1983. It has so far been revised to cover more elements. The theory states that there are at least eight different ways that human beings understand the world. These different ways are the intelligences that Gardner talks about in his multiple intelligence theory.

Gardner focused on a number of these intelligences, but his list is still not exhaustive. Here are the main intelligences in the theory:

  • Spatial Intelligence: This is about an individual’s ability to conceive and manipulate different sizes of spatial arrays. Let’s take a look at an example. A pilot on his day to day duties has to think about the position of the aircraft, its size, the rate of change of speed, and the destination. The fact that he doesn’t have a bird’s eye view of the airplane calls for a high level of spatial intelligence.
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence: This one is about the ability to move parts of the body, or the complete body to create a desired effect. An example would be a dancer or an artist making a painting. This intelligence enables them to skillfully control their bodies and leave us all with our eyes sparkling with admiration.
  • Musical Intelligence: This one is more obvious than the others. It’s about being sensitive to rhythm, pitch, tone, melody, meter and timbre. Ever listened to a good song? To the rest of us, it’s just good music. A musically intelligent person will dissect it and tell you why it’s good music. There’s a good chance you’ll still not hear what they hear in the song even after they’ve told you.
  • Linguistic Intelligence: These are the people who have a way with words. They can play with the arrangement of words, their order, their sounds and the way they can be used to get the message across. A common group of people in these categories are the poets. We can also put the people we love to hate on social media and forums when they correct our grammar or punctuation.
  • Logical-Mathematical Intelligence: People with this intelligence include scientists and mathematicians. These people will be able to identify complex relations among different variables or symbols. They can identify patterns with less difficulty and they possess more powerful inductive and deductive reasoning abilities.
  • Naturalistic Intelligence: This intelligence is about nature, plants, our surroundings, and the universe. People with a high naturalistic intelligence will be able to easily distinguish different elements of nature like one planet from the other.
  • Intrapersonal Intelligence: This one on the other hand is about the individual possessing the intelligence. A person with high intrapersonal intelligence is sensitive to her goals, visions, anxieties and feelings. They know how they can balance the dynamics to get the most out of their own life. They know what works best for them and how they can fit best in the world. Unlike the other intelligences, it is useful regardless of the career path the individual has chosen to take.
  • Interpersonal Intelligence: This is similar to intrapersonal intelligence except that it’s about the way an individual interacts with others. Indicators of this intelligence include sensitivity to other people’s feelings, moods, motivations and temperaments. This intelligence is a must-have for negotiators, judges and other careers where you will need to look at things from another person’s perspective to determine your next move.

We will focus on interpersonal intelligence in this discussion.


While every intelligence is unique and important in its own backyard, for a person interested in growing their career, the impact of interpersonal intelligence cannot be overemphasized. This is because it will help you to manage relationships, negotiate conflict and to better understand situations.

These key elements are sometimes the tie breaker when considering candidates for promotions in professional environments. Let’s take a look at how interpersonal intelligence is different from the other types of intelligence and what that means in career advancement.

  1. Interpersonal intelligence is about other people. All the other intelligences are about yourself and what you can do. Interpersonal intelligence helps you become a better friend. Someone who other people can trust with their problems and their issues. It helps you become a better friend and as a result helps you achieve more when working with others.
  2. When building teams, having different people with different intelligences builds a strong team, but you will not be able to reap maximum benefit without interpersonal intelligence. Interpersonal intelligence brings unity to the team.
  3. To the individual, interpersonal intelligence will expand your opportunities. You may be good at your trade, but if you can’t connect with other people, you will not be able to connect well with other people. This means that you are likely to miss some good opportunities in the workplace simply because you didn’t know about them.
  4. Interpersonal intelligence is what will make you a leader. The rest may make you an expert or specialist in your field but if you are looking for that managerial or supervisory role, you have to work on your interpersonal intelligence.
  5. Interpersonal intelligence is more easily acquired when you are willing to work at it. It’s not as complicated as musical intelligence and when you take some time to consider your options, you will be able to become better at it even by yourself. Most of the other types of intelligence will require more than just a deep desire to learn.


To better understand interpersonal intelligence and how it can help you advance in your career, let’s take a look at some of the things that indicate the presence of interpersonal intelligence.

The following are social characteristics that you will find with people who have a high interpersonal intelligence:

  1. Social Sensitivity: Different people have different limits in regards to how far you can go in social situations. This is the reason why some people are quickly labeled as arrogant in almost every social gathering that they find themselves in. The difference is usually in the limits. However, if you have high interpersonal intelligence, you will know how far a discussion can go. You will know this by recognizing their different emotions from their reactions. You will also be able to tell their moods, feelings and motives from the way they carry themselves around.
  2. Socially Influential: Once you are sensitive to the way other people feel, you will find it easier to make them do what you want. In fact, people will naturally gravitate towards you and want to be a part of whatever it is that you are doing. With this strong persuasive power, building a strong team of loyal followers will be easier.
  3. Concerned with the greater good: With other people following you, you will find that you are almost always on the spotlight. This is to mean that your actions will always be analyzed and criticized. This means that for you to gain influence and maintain it, you will need to possess another special characteristic: the greater good. Your followers are following you because they believe that they stand to gain something when they follow you. That is human nature. So make sure that whatever you do has them in mind.
  4. Good verbal and non-verbal communicators: One big plus of being high in interpersonal intelligence is seen when trying to get the message across. You will be aware of the message you are giving by measuring the impact of the words and any non-verbal cues you might be giving. Interpersonal intelligence also equips you to accurately understand both verbal and non-verbal messages.
  5. Highly Empathetic: When you are able to understand the message the other person is trying to get across, you will be able to better understand how they feel. As a result, you will react appropriately to their needs and they will thank you sincerely for that, especially if you are in a position of power.
  6. Confident: Interpersonal intelligence gives you control over the emotions around the room. You will know when people are happy, offended or uncomfortable. In addition, it will be easier to know why they are feeling the way they are and the best way to react. This control brings with it a sense of confidence because you will know exactly what’s going on.
  7. Establish rapport quickly and easily: With high interpersonal intelligence, you have no problem hitting it off even with complete strangers. You can easily tell the kind of person you are dealing with early into the conversation hence you will know how best to handle them.
  8. Very comfortable in social events: While the nerds will have a hard time in social gatherings, the opposite is true for people with high interpersonal intelligence. These people actually enjoy social events because they like interacting with others. As a result, they learn best by working with others hence interactive learning sessions are best for them.

Now that we know the characteristics of someone with interpersonal intelligence, let’s take a look at a couple of examples that show interpersonal intelligence. We will use the example of the wprkplace.

Example 1

Bob is a salesman for ABC Insurance Company. His salary at the end of the month is calculated based on the amount of business he brings during that month. This means that his pay check will be as fat as the number of customers he brings.

Ashley is one of Bob’s prospects. Unlike Bob, she is looking for value. She doesn’t care how much money Bob earns. Her only goal is to get value for the money spent on the insurance cover. So when Bob approaches her, she will be thinking about what she gets out of the cover.

Since Bob has high interpersonal intelligence, he won’t come telling Ashley to purchase any premium and present a list of all the different products available from ABC Insurance Company. Instead, he will start with identifying a need in Ashley’s life that can be addressed by one of the products. He will put himself in Ashley’s shoes and present the value in a way that she will understand.

The result? Ashley sees that indeed she needs the cover and she will be happy to pay.

Let’s look at another example:

Example 2

Mike knows that he has enough leverage to ask for a raise. However, whether he is granted the raise or not will depend on the way things will go when he goes to ask for it. He knows that the company can afford the raise, and his work has been of value to the department.

Karen is Mike’s boss. Her number one objective is to ensure that her department wins the department of the year award. She seeks to achieve this by maximizing efficiency in all operations in the department. As a result, she is always pushing Mike and the other juniors in the department to minimize wastage.

One day, Karen comes to work looking unhappy and she doesn’t even say hi to the people she finds along the corridor as she walks to her office. In the next few hours she is sad and even reprimands a fellow employee for arriving to work late. Although Mike hasn’t done anything wrong, if he goes to Karen asking for a raise, chances are that he won’t get it.

However, if Mike waits for a day when Karen is in a good mood, probably after he has done something commendable and Karen has noticed and congratulated him for, he stands a greater chance of getting the raise.

That is interpersonal intelligence at play.


It’s clear that interpersonal intelligence is important regardless of the field or industry. The good thing is that it is not one of those things that people are born with.

It is totally learnable and with a little practice, it can be developed. Here are some of the steps that you can take to improve your interpersonal intelligence:

  1. Get organized: Poor time management can easily make activities like team-building and staying in touch with your network seem unnecessary. By being organized, you will be able to set apart some time for keeping in touch with friends and business associates hence it will be easier to relate on a more personal level.
  2. Set quantifiable targets: Instead of setting a general target like meeting more people, you need to set quantifiable targets that you can measure and track. An example would be meeting a new person every day, week or month depending on your industry and line of work. Sales people for example would want to meet more people so that they can use the wider networks to generate more leads.
  3. Join a group: Even if you are an introvert, sometimes all it takes is pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. You may not be very happy around large groups of people, but staying secluded does little to help. Find a physical activity or hobby that you are passionate about like fishing, dancing or chess and join a group of people that meet regularly for the activity. These regular meetings will help you meet new people and in a way help you get better at relating with people by putting you in different social situations.
  4. Practice active listening: One of the most useful skills when dealing with people is listening. Many of the problems in homes and workplaces could easily be avoided by listening more. Note that listening is not waiting for your turn to speak. You need to take in what the other person is saying, think about it and try to understand what they feel about the matter being discussed. No matter how much you think you are right, don’t just shove things down the other person’s throat. You can do this with your spouse, children or even colleagues at work.
  5. Take a leadership role: Sometimes all it takes is a challenge to know what you are capable of. In most cases, we underestimate ourselves and our true potential comes out when we have no choice but to step up. When you get a chance to lead, take it and give it your best shot. You might be surprised to find out how good you are at it.
  6. Strike up conversation with a stranger: Be it in the morning commute or when you are waiting in line at a public place, initiate conversation with a complete stranger and see where it goes. It may not always go well, but every encounter will help you know how to deal with different kinds of people. Even knowing how to break the ice with a total stranger without sounding creepy is a rare skill that could help significantly improve your interpersonal intelligence.
  7. Read books: There are lots of books about socially competent public figures. These biographies will help you figure out some of the unique traits that helped them become influential. Then you can apply some of the lessons that you will learn in your own life and see the difference in your relationships. There are also a number of non-fiction books about managing people that can be very helpful. Here are nine of the best books on this subject.
  8. Mediate conflicts: When your colleagues disagree, offer to mediate the conflict and find a middle ground that works for both parties. Remember not to take sides, no matter who you think is right. Start with looking at the situation from each person’s perspective and understand why they feel the way they do about the issue.
  9. Observe: When interacting with other people, find something you genuinely like about the other person and find a nice way of bringing it into the conversation. Observe the effect of this on the conversation and the effect on the both of you.


Dale Carnegie in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People said that you can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in others than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you. The same applies in career progress.

Picture this: a senior manager resigns and leaves the position up for grabs. Several junior managers are qualified to take up the position but only one of them will be given the chance. Let’s assume two individuals, John and Jane, have been at the company long enough and they have the requisite skills to fill up the position.

However, John is one of those people who thrives by minding his own business. He is good at his work and is very competitive. When targets are set, he will do all he can to exceed them. Jane on the other hand is the exact opposite. She is always challenging others to exceed expectations and as a result, other people find value in being around her. Needless to say, she is also more influential when compared to John who sees other people as competitors.

Who do you think is more likely to get the promotion? Of course it’s Jane. John is perfect as an employee, but a terrible manager because he can’t connect with other employees. Although Jane may not be producing perfect results like John when working alone, she produces better results when managing a team and that’s what management is all about.

The higher you go on the career ladder, the more interpersonal intelligence you will need. This is because at the lower levels, your seniors only want you to do your job and produce the best outcome. As you move up the ladder, you find that more and more people are working under you and it won’t be long before it becomes your responsibility to keep them motivated and productive during the workday.

As demonstrated in the examples above, interpersonal intelligence affects your career progress in the following ways:

  1. You’ll be more influential hence people will be happier to work under you
  2. You will have better access to information and new opportunities
  3. You’ll have an easier time seeking approvals from superiors
  4. You will naturally rise up to fill any leadership vacuum when the situation calls for it
  5. Interviews will be more enjoyable
  6. Networking events will be more useful
  7. People will remember you more, hence when opportunities arise, you will be more likely to be chosen
  8. By empowering and encouraging your colleagues, you will be able to build a stronger team that will produce even better results in your assignments resulting in more rewards for everyone
  9. You will be able to resolve conflicts early before they turn into rivalry that can impact negatively on the group or department’s results
  10. You will be able to give feedback without offending, hence it will be easy to make improvements without creating conflicts


Let’s finish our discussion by looking at some of the benefits of having interpersonal intelligence and how you can get them.

Understanding others

The first benefit of high interpersonal intelligence is definitely the better understanding of the people around you. Once you know who you are dealing with, it will be easier to make yourself understood by them. The end result is better and clearer communication hence things flow faster and hitches are avoided.

To get this benefit, you need to forget about your own feelings and opinions. You won’t understand how the other person feels when you are only thinking about how you feel. Listen to what they have to say and maintain an open mind the whole time.

Don’t be judgmental even if their thoughts differ from yours. With this approach, you will notice small changes in the other person’s tone or body language and know if they like where the conversation is going. Armed with that information, you will be able to tell what the other person is thinking even before they say it.

Getting the message across

Sometimes what we think we say is not exactly in line with what the other person understands. This is the cause of many misunderstandings which easily end up in undesired results. With a strong interpersonal intelligence, you will know how to express your desires, beliefs and feelings in a manner that doesn’t offend the people around you.

To get this benefit, you need to try and accommodate your audience in what you say. If you know that there are people who don’t agree with your feelings and beliefs, don’t speak to them like your way is the only way.

Say what is on your mind, but stay open to different perspectives on the matter. This will give anyone who has a different opinion a reassurance that they can air their views without fear of judgment.

Airing your needs

One big benefit of high interpersonal intelligence is the fact that you will find it easier to air your needs. It is human nature to shy away from things that might make you look selfish. This can make you reluctant to air your needs in some circumstances. Interpersonal intelligence will help you understand the other person so that you can know how and when to air your needs.

When it comes to making requests and asking for favors, you can get more by timing the request appropriately. Asking nicely will help, but the request will be more effective when you know when to ask. Before making the request, look at the situation from the other person’s perspective and ask yourself if you would have said yes if tables were turned.

Influencing others

Convincing people to work together is not the easiest task. Many times, conflicting interests cause groups to lack harmony. With strong interpersonal intelligence, it’s possible to influence others to forget about their individual interests and work for the greater good.

To get this benefit, you have to speak confidently to your team about what it is you expect from them. By being confident and eloquent, team members will look up to you and want to be a part of your end result.

When you reach here, you’ll find that they agree with the assignments you give them. Of course, the assignments should be reasonable and in line with the task that you are seeking to accomplish as a group.

Conflict resolution

One key strength of having strong interpersonal intelligence is the power to resolve conflicts. Since you can objectively analyze situations and come up with a practical solution, you will be able to reduce tension among colleagues hence promote harmony.

To get this benefit, you need to be as objective as possible when you find yourself mediating a conflict. Look at the situation from each person’s perspective and try to empathize with them. Find out what is causing the problem and why each person feels the way they do.

Next, ask both parties to suggest solutions that would make things better between them. Be an active listener and observe any non-verbal cues that could tell you more about the situation. You want to steer the discussion away from finger pointing and towards a solution acceptable by both parties.

No matter which field you work in, interpersonal intelligence is something that will always be beneficial to you in the long run. Knowing how to live with people will always be beneficial to your career progress so it’s vital to invest time in developing this.

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