The term people skills is used to include both psychological and social skills, but is less inclusive than “life skills.” According to the Business Journal News Service, people skills are often described as: (a) understanding ourselves and moderating our responses, (b) talking effectively and empathizing accurately, (c) building relationships of trust, respect and productive interactions. A British definition is “the ability to communicate effectively with people in a friendly way, especially in business.” The term is not listed yet in major US dictionaries.
Basic human relations guidelines relating to people skills have been recorded from very early times. Examples in the Old Testament are Leviticus 19:18 “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against your people, but love your neighbor as yourself” and Solomon’s wisdom in Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Human relations studies became a movement in the 1920s, as companies became more interested in the “soft skills" and interpersonal skills of employees. In organizations, improving people skills became a specialized role of the corporate trainer. By the mid-1930s, Dale Carnegie popularized people skills in How to Win Friends & Influence People and How to Stop Worrying & Start Living throughout America and later throughout the world.
In the 1960s, US schools introduced people skills topics and methods—often as a way to promote better self-esteem, communication and social interaction. These encompassed psychologist Thomas Gordon’s “Effectiveness Training” variations as well as many other training programs. By the 1980s, "traditional education" and a “back-to-basics” 3 Rs emphasis largely pushed aside these programs, with notable exceptions.
Types of skills
People skills encompass a range of interpersonal and intrapersonal communication competencies. In business and organizational human relations, the emphasis is on social-emotional awareness, self-presentation, management, getting along with others, negotiation, conflict resolution and decision-making.
Interpersonal communication skills include effective prosocial interaction, empathy, understanding personalities and ability to work cooperatively as part of a group or team. Influential components are cultural awareness, conversational language and non-verbal communication.
The intrapersonal, or inner dimension, includes forms of self-communication and understanding personal emotions, goals and motivations. Self-regulation of attention and stress management skills depend largely on self-communication (inner imagery and self-talk).
Over 50 percent of the deaths in the United States can be attributed to psychosocial deficits in people skills for stress management and supportive social connection. Business, labor and government authorities agree that wide-ranging people skills are necessary for 20th-century work success in the SCANS report. At least one foundation, Alliances for Psychosocial Advancements in Learning (APAL), has made support of SCANS-related people skills a major priority.
UNESCO research found that young people who develop speaking/listening skills have improved self-awareness, social-emotional adjustment and classroom behavior; self-destructive and violent behavior also were decreased. The Collaborative for Academic Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has identified 22 programs in the US that are especially comprehensive in social-emotional learning coverage and effective in documented impacts.
- People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts (book overview)  Robert Bolton, Touchstone
- People Issues. Five Essential People Skills for Project Professionals (online slides) Ginger Levin, AACE
- People Skills: Best Ways of Being Human (online guide) Ernest Llynn Lotecka, APAL
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