In my work as an executive coach I have found that the single biggest mistake that people make is assuming that competence and performance are their ticket to success; when in fact they are merely the price of admission. Most people are good performers. It’s a huge mistake to think that good performance is the only element of a successful career.
It takes a combination of self confidence, positive personal impact, outstanding performance, communication skills and interpersonal competence to succeed in your career and life. People who are successful in their lives and careers have mastered all of these five elements, and excel in one or two of them.

Outstanding performance is very important to career and life success. It’s at the heart of the five success elements. No one can be successful without being a highly competent, outstanding performer. The incompetents and poor performers get identified and asked to leave or are placed in marginal positions pretty quickly. However, don’t forget the other four. You also have to be self confident, make a positive personal impact, have highly developed communication skills and act in an interpersonally competent manner if you are going to succeed. These four elements are necessary complements to outstanding performance.

This article is about interpersonal competence.

My model of interpersonal competence has three factors.

1. Interpersonally competent people are self aware. They use this awareness to better understand others and to adapt their behavior accordingly.
2. Interpersonally competent people build and nurture strong, lasting, mutually beneficial relationships.
3. Interpersonally competent people resolve conflict in a positive manner.

In 1988, 20 years ago, researchers at the Department of Psychology at UCLA suggested that there are five dimensions of interpersonal competence:

1. Initiating relationships.
2. Self-disclosure.
3. Providing emotional support.
4. Asserting displeasure with others' actions.
5. Managing interpersonal conflicts.

Self awareness was not one of the interpersonal competence factors identified by the UCLA researchers in 1988. On the other hand, the first three – initiating relationships, self disclosure and providing emotional support -- are ways to build and nurture relationships. The last two – asserting displeasure with others’ actions, and managing interpersonal conflicts -- are ways to resolve conflict in a positive manner.

I believe that self awareness is the foundation of interpersonal competence. Self awareness is the first step in building positive relationships and in resolving conflict in a positive manner. Self aware people understand how they are similar to, and different from other people.

They use this insight to help them do things like initiate relationships with a variety of people; determine how much they should disclose about themselves at various points in a relationship; and determine the appropriate amount of emotional support they should offer others. Self aware people also use their knowledge of themselves and others to determine when and how to assert their displeasure with another person’s actions, and to manage and resolve interpersonal conflicts.

If you understand yourself, you can better understand others. I’ll use myself as an example.

I prefer to think things through before I make my position on an issue known. There are several people I know who “think out loud,” meaning that they reach a position on an issue by talking about it. When I am with one of these people, I join them in thinking out loud. I know that if I don’t, decisions are likely to get made while I am thinking through my position silently.

I make intuitive leaps. My mind goes from A to B to F. A lot of people I know process information sequentially. Their minds go from A to B to C to D to E to F. When I am with these people, I don’t blurt out my intuitive leaps. When I have one, I go back and fill in the B to C to D to E before I come out with F. In this way, I am better able to get my point across to my sequential thinking colleagues and clients.

One more; I am happy to leave my options open, and to change my mind somewhat late in the game. I know a lot of people who don’t feel comfortable with this. They have strong needs for closure. Once a decision is made, they want it to stay made. When I’m dealing with these types of people, I ask myself if the change I am proposing will make a real difference. If not, I don’t propose it. If I think it is necessary, I bring it up. However, when I do, I am very clear that I am revisiting a decision that has already been made, that this might be frustrating to other people, but that I think it is necessary to rethink the decision – and then I give very specific reasons for wanting to revisit the decision and how such a conversation can yield better results.

The common sense point here is simple. It is important to understand how to build solid relationships by taking the initiative, sharing information about yourself and being emotionally supportive. Also, it is important to share your feelings about behavior to which you have a negative reaction in order to resolve conflict positively. However, understanding yourself and how you are similar to, or different from others, is the foundation of interpersonal competence.

Author's Bio: 

Bud Bilanich, The Common Sense Guy, is an executive coach, motivational speaker, author and blogger. He is the Official Executive Coaching Guide at He helps his executive coaching clients succeed by applying their common sense.

Dr. Bilanich is Harvard educated but has a no nonsense approach to his work that goes back to his roots in the steel country of Western Pennsylvania.

Bud is a cancer survivor and lives in Denver Colorado with his wife Cathy. He is a retired rugby player and an avid cyclist. In addition to helping people succeed in their lives and careers, Bud likes movies, live theatre and crime fiction.