12 People Skills to Succeed at Work

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Your ability to work well with others—your people skills—is a valuable ability. Learn more about key people skills to feature on your resume.

[Featured image] A person waves to a woman onscreen in a video call.

Working with others—and working well with others—is often a key part of many jobs. People skills, sometimes called interpersonal skills, are important traits you can develop or strengthen to create stronger relationships and improve how you work with others. As automation continues to escalate, “the need for finely tuned social and emotional skills will rapidly grow” by 2030, according to a skills report from McKinsey [1].

In this article, we’ll review several important people skills you can build or refine to succeed in your role.

Why are people skills important?

People skills are typically used in social situations to work with others, be they colleagues, managers, clients, or some other type of work-related relationship.

People skills are essential because most people do not work alone. Even though you may work independently at times, you likely have relationships at—or as part of—work. It’s vital to build and maintain those relationships. In fact, refining your people skills throughout your career can bolster other valuable job skills, such as technical and workplace skills.

12 people skills to help you succeed in the workplace

The vast majority of people skills draw on some emotional or social component. The list below gathers the top people skills with examples of what they look like in the workplace. If you’re interested in strengthening your people skills, we’ve developed a helpful guide for just that purpose.

1. Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is your ability to understand and manage your emotions and those of others. Developing greater emotional intelligence can be useful when it comes to regulating how you feel at work and cultivating greater self-awareness, empathy, and social skills.

Emotional intelligence looks like:

  • Thinking through situations carefully before reacting

  • Avoiding judging others

  • Problem-solving in a way that benefits everyone

2. Communication

Workplace communication varies, often entailing an array of written and verbal efforts, and understanding how to communicate clearly and effectively with your colleagues. Being strategic about the way you communicate can lead to smoother interactions and better results.

Communication looks like:

  • Listening to and engaging with what others have to say

  • Asking questions to gather more information

  • Being concise rather than over-explaining a message

Learn more about key communication skills.

3. Collaboration

Teamwork—or collaboration—is an essential people skill. Collaboration often means working towards a shared goal, which requires several abilities, including communicating, establishing responsibilities, and managing your time strategically.

Collaboration looks like:

  • Making sure everyone understands the central goal

  • Establishing communication preferences and methods

  • Trusting colleagues to do their part

4. Active listening

In the workplace, it’s important to listen to others and hear what they’re saying. This skill is especially critical in facilitating strong relationships. With active listening, you should make eye contact, develop thoughtful body language, focus on what the other person is saying, and ask relevant questions.

Active listening looks like:

  • Concentrating on what someone has to say rather than thinking of your response

  • Smiling, making eye contact, or nodding to show engagement

  • Paraphrasing what someone has said and asking questions to gather more information

5. Flexibility

When you work with others, it’s essential to be flexible. Sometimes plans or projects change, and flexibility can help keep things on track and running smoothly. Being flexible may also mean reordering tasks according to new priorities.

Flexibility looks like:

  • Approaching things with an open mind

  • Remaining calm when things change

  • Developing contingency plans to make pivoting easier

6. Supportiveness

Being a supportive colleague, team member, or manager is crucial to building and developing relationships in the workplace. You can be supportive by offering encouraging words or helpful actions, like reorganizing a project to distribute the workload more equitably.

Support looks like:

  • Checking in with colleagues and seeing how they’re doing

  • Offering advice to those open to hearing your perspective

  • Being positive when listening to others

7. Respectfulness

Respecting those you work with, ranging from your immediate colleagues to any outside vendors you may encounter, helps lead to stronger and more positive relationships. Actively listening to what others say and respecting their perspective—even if you don’t always agree—creates structured, safe workspaces.

Respect looks like:

  • Responding to emails or messages in a timely fashion

  • Expressing gratitude

  • Apologizing if you do something that hurts or offends someone

8. Patience

Being patient can help you do your work with less stress and contribute to teams and projects more smoothly. To cultivate patience, it’s helpful to recognize when you feel impatient and what may be causing that, and then take steps to develop better structures, organization, or time management.

Patience looks like:

  • Noticing what’s causing your impatience

  • Letting things you can’t control go

  • Establishing priorities so you can better manage your deadlines

9. Assertiveness

While you should aim to be respectful and supportive when working with others, there may be times you’ll need to be assertive. This skill is more about cultivating confidence and calm so that you can strategically communicate your ideas to others and stand up for what you believe. 

Assertiveness looks like:

  • Speaking up when you have an idea, using “I think” or “I believe” statements

  • Making eye contact when speaking to others

  • Saying “no” when you can’t handle additional work requests

10. Negotiation

Similar to assertiveness, being able to negotiate with others—which tends to involve active listening and compromise—is a valuable asset. It can help avoid larger conflicts and is an excellent way to use valuable problem-solving skills.

Negotiation looks like:

  • Holding a discussion to facilitate clear communication

  • Being honest about your needs or goals

  • Thinking creatively about potential solutions

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11. Conflict resolution

When you work alongside others, conflict might arise. Listening to others, hearing what they’re saying, and identifying a solution to the problem will make for healthier, more long-lasting relationships.

Conflict resolution looks like:

  • Identifying your emotions

  • Respecting the other person’s perspective and how it might differ from yours

  • Letting things go once you’ve reached a resolution

12. Leadership

No matter your role at work, whether an entry-level employee or a manager, developing leadership skills can help you work well with others. Leaders are dependable, organized individuals who listen to what others have to say and communicate clearly and effectively.

Leadership looks like:

  • Approaching work and others positively

  • Communicating with others in a timely fashion

  • Being dependable

Explore further

Looking for a new skill to add to your resume? Develop critical employability skills with a course on communication from Wharton or interpersonal skills from IBM. Enrol in a free, 7-day trial today.

Or check out a Professional Certificate from Google, IBM, or Meta to develop job-ready skills in areas like UX design, data science, project management, marketing analytics, and sales.

Coursera Plus
Build job-ready skills with a Coursera Plus subscription
  • Get access to 7,000+ learning programs from world-class universities and companies, including Google, Yale, Salesforce, and more
  • Try different courses and find your best fit at no additional cost
  • Earn certificates for learning programs you complete
  • A subscription price of $59/month, cancel anytime

Article sources

  1. McKinsey and Company. “Skill shift: Automation and the future of the workforce, https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/skill-shift-automation-and-the-future-of-the-workforce.” Accessed October 9, 2023.

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