Interpersonal intelligence, otherwise known as people skills, is key to success in our careers, relationships, and life in general. It helps us set healthy boundaries, connect with others, and resolve conflict. Without them, life would be grim.
In an earlier blog post, I wrote about how books, such as memoirs and fiction, can help us develop empathy by putting ourselves in someone’s shoe. While empathy can help us understand people’s feelings and perspectives, sometimes, it’s not enough when it comes to dealing with others.
Recently, I’ve read two self-help books on interpersonal intelligence: Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life (by Henry Cloud and John Townsend), and Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People (by Vanessa Van Edwards).
What’s interesting about these books is that they both focus on the importance of prioritizing our needs. This is counterintuitive for many people because we may think doing so is selfish and self-absorbed. Especially when it comes to succeeding with people, isn’t it important to think about others first? The answer is no. In order to form authentic relationships with others, we need to be true to ourselves.
Below are my takeaways from each book.
Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
I picked this book after discovering that I had weak boundaries. It was so easy for people to control my situation because I did not know how to say “no” and recognize when I’m being taken for granted. I hated conflict and displeasing others, so I would allow others to step all over me in order to appease them, which only made things worse.
This book gave me the courage not to succumb to people’s emotional black mail. Saying no to someone does not mean you reject their love, and vice versa. It’s possible to set boundaries on someone and still be in good terms with them. In fact, it’s highly encouraged. If you agree with someone even though you secretly disagree, you’ll become resentful by not speaking the truth.
What’s also eye-opening about this book is that it has shown me boundaries are not walls where you close off from others, rather, it’s a gate where you can choose to let in good things and keep out the bad stuff—sort of like airport security.
Here are some highlighted quotes from the book:
- “Seeing that taking responsibility for yourself is healthy, and taking responsibility for other adults is destructive.”
- “We can’t value or treasure our souls when they haven’t been valued or treasured.”
- “Whatever we don’t value, we don’t guard.”
- “Boundary-injured people are slaves. They struggle to make value-based decisions on their own, but they most often reflect the wishes of those around them.”
Learning how to set boundaries—and taking responsibility for ourselves—is essential for personal growth. Boundaries help define who we are and what we stand for. Without them, as the authors of the book say, we’d be slaves.
Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People by Vanessa Van Edwards
I found this book after listening to an Unmistakable Creative podcast, with Vanessa Van Edwards, author of Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People as guest speaker. What made this book inspiring is the notion that even socially awkward introverts have a chance at becoming popular. The secret is to take control of your interactions by identifying your strengths and needs.
For instance, some people are energized at conferences while others at parties. Each person has a “thrive situation” where they find themselves most comfortable, and a “survive situation” where they are least comfortable. The author also talks about the Big Five personality tests and the Five Love Languages, and how we can use them to help us understand ourselves as well as others.
There are 14 hacks in the book, which I won’t be covering. But the underlying idea is clear: honouring our own needs as well as the needs of others is key to succeeding with people.
Everyone wants to feel valued, understood, and empowered. By being genuinely interested in others, reading people’s emotions, and creating engaging interactions (rather than trying to impress people), you’ll be far more captivating.
Another interesting takeaway is that you don’t have to be extroverted and loud in order to be social. Ironically, it’s the people who listen and talk less who are better conversationalists. Why is this? It’s because everyone wants to be heard. As Vanessa Van Edwards says, “Being curious about someone is one of the best ways to show you like them.” Often times, this involves being an active listener.
What interpersonal intelligence is really about
Although the first book focuses on drawing boundaries and the latter focuses on how to captivate others, both book emphasizes the importance of prioritizing our needs in order to succeed with people. For instance, by setting healthy boundaries, we become more authentic in our relationships. When it comes to captivating others, we need to take control of our interactions so we become less drained. By taking care of ourselves, we’d be in a better position to connect with others. And this is why interpersonal intelligence has more to do with how we prioritize our own needs, rather than how we please others.