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According to the Portland Business Journal, people skills are described as:[1]

  • understanding ourselves and moderating our responses
  • talking effectively and empathizing accurately
  • 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.”[2] The term is not listed yet in major US dictionaries.[3][4]

The term people skills is used to include both psychological skills and social skills, but is less inclusive than life skills.


Guidelines relating to what later generations eventually dubbed "people skills" have been recorded from very early times. Two examples of early human guidelines appear in the Old Testament. Leviticus 19:18 advises: “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 includes: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”[5] However the Bible also condemns 'flattery' (Psalms 5:9).

Human-relations studies became a movement in the 1920s, as companies became more interested in the “soft skills" and interpersonal skills of employees.[citation needed] 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 and Influence People and How to Stop Worrying and Start Living throughout the United States of 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.[6] (By the 1980s, "traditional education" and a “back-to-basics” three-Rs emphasis largely pushed these programs aside,[7] with notable exceptions.[8])

By 1974 the actual term "people skills" had come into use.[9]

Educational importance/impact

A significant portion of the deaths in the United States can be attributed to psychosocial[10] deficits in people skills for stress management and supportive social connection.[11] Business, labor and government authorities agree that wide-ranging people skills are necessary for 20th-century work success in the SCANS report.[12] At least one foundation, Alliances for Psychosocial Advancements in Learning (APAL), has made support of SCANS-related people skills a major priority.[13]

UNESCO research found that young people who develop speaking/listening skills and getting to know others have improved self-awareness, social-emotional adjustment and classroom behavior; self-destructive and violent behavior also were decreased.[14] 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.[15]

See also


  1. Rifkin, H. “Invest in people skills to boost bottom line” Retrieved on 2009-10-14
  2. “Macmillan Dictionary” Retrieved on 2009-08-18
  3. definition. Retrieved on 2009-08-18
  4. Encarta dictionary definition. Retrieved on 2009-08-18
  5. “New International Version Biarrarara44rr4arra4rra4rrr4rra4rble” Retrieved on 2009-08-18
  6. Schaps, E.; Cohen, A.Y.; and Resnik, H.S.:“Balancing Head and Heart” PIRE. Retrieved on 2009-08-18
  7. Doll, R.C. “Humanizing Education by Improving Communication” ERIC. Retrieved on 2009-08-19
  8. “Stop. Think. Act. Program” Learning Matters. Retrieved on 2009-08-18
  9. See for example: (1974) Toward Effective Social Work Practices, Ardent Media. URL accessed 2013-06-02. "To begin with, the selection process often provides little opportunity to adequately measure whether or not students have adequate people skills."
  10. Retrieved on 2009-10-14
  11. “Century of research confirms impact of psychosocial factors on health” APA. Retrieved on 2009-08-18
  12. “Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS)” US Dept. of Labor. Retrieved on 2009-08-18
  13. “Communications Connections” APAL. Retrieved on 2009-08-18
  14. “UNESCO Research” British Telecommunications. Retrieved on 2009-08-18
  15. “CASEL "Select" Programs” Retrieved on 2009-08-18

Further reading

  • People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts (book overview) [1] Robert Bolton, Touchstone
  • People Skills & Self-Management (online guide) Ernest Llynn Lotecka, APAL
  • The People Skills Revolution: A Step-by-Step Approach to Developing Sophisticated People Skills [2] Pamela Milne, Global Professional Publishing

External links