The Matryoshka of Interpersonal Skills

The Matryoshka of Interpersonal Skills

This idea was inspired by psychologist Dr. Darius Tarczynski who once said, “You won’t be a good manager if you can’t negotiate and you won’t be a good negotiator if you can’t sell”1. It became obvious to me that you also can’t be a good salesman if you’re a poor communicator. And if you’re a leader with gaps in any of your communication game, then you’re far from good.

As the idea matured, the analogy of the Matryoshka, the traditional Russian set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside another, appeared to me to be a good visual representation of the interdependency of interpersonal skills.

The Layout of Interpersonal skills

The subject of interpersonal skills is so vast that it can be equally confusing for the beginners (where to start) and for the professionals (what to do next).  This article is an explanatory guide that will allow you to evaluate your skills and choose the next one to polish.

Interpersonal skills go as follows starting from the core: communication, salesmanship, negotiation, management, leadership.

the matryoshka of interpersonal skills

We will look closely at each level and examine those traits of smaller dolls that necessary to make the Matryoshka of interpersonal skills complete, because if it’s not complete you are running a risk of becoming a pushy salesman, a careless negotiator, an unlikeable manager or a leader with no guts. So, let’s fix it or avoid it in the first place.


If you’re on the path of professional development and becoming increasingly autonomous, then self-actualization seems to be within your reach. And to accomplish that, you have to start by turning inward to find what it is that you want in life. We call this a goal-setting process. Only once you’ve found your goal, can you start thinking about successful communication. Because if you can’t communicate with yourself, how on earth are you going to communicate with others?

The next step is to get to know yourself and see what you have at your disposal. Psychometric tests can also come handy but even an honest conversation with your friends will do. It’s not only about your strengths and weaknesses, biases and temptations, but also about your resources or lack thereof. Howard Gardner, the author of Frames of Mind, calls it ‘intrapersonal intelligence’ and without a doubt, it’s the grassroots of your interpersonal skills.

Assuming you’ve found your goal and have a somewhat clear idea about your personality traits, you’re ready to share your message with the world. Let’s look at the basic components of interpersonal communication.


The first thing people see is your appearance. Starting from clothes, as they usually cover more than 80% of our bodies, hairstyle, accessories and last but not the least, your teeth and nails. Have you ever meet a well-dressed salesman who had never seen a pair of nail clippers? If yes, what was your impression? Did you feel that something was out of place? Did it undermine your trust? 

clothes make the man

The pieces of your appearance should match to create one, coherent picture. It will be a picture of your personality as what we wear says a heck of a lot more than you might think.

Did you know, for example, that the colour of your top reveals your current attitude? For example, navy blue is the colour of the people who like to be in charge, like managers. Furthermore, what you wear can shape your behaviour.

But the exact meaning of the colour changes depending on the body zone it’s being worn on. It will send different signals if it’s a top, bottoms, hat or an accessory.  

The chosen outfit is a part of your interpersonal skills as you are always signalling something. The only question is are you’re doing it consciously or not?

Body Language

I won’t be elaborating on this subject because all you need is to read one book. And perhaps have a training or a consultation session.

I can recommend a brilliant book by Anna Jaskolka, ‘The picture book of body language’.  It will give you basics for understanding peoples’ emotions through their behaviour. Body language is an absolute must if you’re serious about developing your interpersonal skills.

I trust body language more than the actual words and even the subtitle for Jaskolka’s book calls it, ‘The only language in which people can’t lie’.

Listening Skills

Some people say that listening is more important than talking. And you have probably heard the phrase that you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. People who claim this are the same people who struggle to listen. Listening isn’t more important than talking; it merely precedes it.

Listening is the ability to understand where the other person is coming from. And to listen you actually have to go there with them mentally, leaving expectations, preconceived ideas and opinions out of the picture. You can’t possibly utter a single meaningful word if you skip that part.

listening skills

To me listening and talking are equally important as they are complementary pieces of the verbal communication.

Find Your Voice

First of all, spoken language is just a set of sounds; squeaks, hisses and oinks. By decoding these sounds we make up the meaning in our minds. But the quality of your voice and the way in which you speak can greatly influence your interlocutor. It can be either a tool of seduction or repulsion.

There are plenty of exercises that can improve your utterance and for the best results I recommend you see a voice coach. However, to leave with something to practice, I’ll give you this three tips:

  • Warm up your facial muscles
  • The lower the pitch of your voice the more persuasive and authorative it seems
  • Give your speech some rhythm, like you were singing a song or reciting a poem

Say It Right

Speaking is where your interpersonal skills can work magic. People can be mesmerized by your appearance, bodily expressions and your voice but, eventually, they will listen to what you’ve got to say. Therefore, eloqution is essential. The content of what you say should be relevant, concise and interesting. And here is the quick recipe for it:

  • Give your speech some structure: introduce the subject, explore it and then summarize it (can be remembered as the ‘what am I going to say/what am I saying/what did I say’ approach)
  • Start from general and then move to details
  • Try to give a maximum of three important bits of information at any one time – people generally don’t remember any more than that

Adhering to these three simple rules will make your speech both comprehensible and memorable as our brains like to be fed with information that has some logical structure and limits so we don’t feel overwhelmed.

If you would like to learn more about the above, then download our free self-management eBook ‘21 Days to Clarity’. It contains nine useful exercises that will improve your basic interpersonal skills.



An assertive person has the ability to draw the line where necessary in a way that isn’t offensive to others. The same rules apply when it comes to asking for a pay rise, proposing your solution or applying for a promotion.

I’m often approached by managers whom would like to be promoted but, for some reason, they’re rejected. If you’re one of them, put yourself in the position of the person reviewing your application. Would you like to be pushed, nagged and pressured, hearing that they have something that’s yours? Do they owe you?

Assertiveness is not only the art of saying ‘no’ but also the art of asking. And the art of informing.

Another potential trouble spot is giving feedback. So, whenever you want to have your say about someone, make sure that first you think about it. It’s very easy to cross the line and offend a person. Remember: people will remember you by the way you make them feel.

Here are the three basic rules of giving feedback.


Can you imagine a salesman who isn’t dressed and groomed as appropriate to the occasion? Or a salesman who shrinks whenever he sees a client? In addition, one who speaks so fast that you can’t understand a damn word? Not to mention one who doesn’t care about you and your needs. He just cares about your money.

Well, I don’t have to use my imagination as I meet them on a regular basis. They probably haven’t heard about the importance of interpersonal skills. But they have a solid product knowledge and can tell you everything about it. Absolutely everything. Including all the stuff that you don’t want to know.

Don’t get me wrong, product knowledge is important, but the experience itself could be better.

You can’t be an exceptional salesman if you can’t communicate properly. Therefore, I will present and shortly describe the three essentials of professional salesmanship:

  • Trust – gained through likeability and credibility
  • Empathy – gained through understanding
  • Persuasion – gained through exerting influence


You need to break the ice and create common ground ASAP. The first is achieved by a warm and welcoming approach, hence an icy atmosphere can’t even form. The next step is to say something that you and your client can relate to emotionally i.e. a common preference, experience or interest. You can say something like, “Hey, we’re wearing the same colour today”. If you can truly connect with your client, even for a short moment, then this part is done.

consultative selling

The credibility is achieved by the display of authenticity, quality and knowledge. Even though the first two are more personality traits, all can be trained and learned. When it comes to product knowledge, I would say, even to the experienced salesperson who thinks it’s the most important factor in the process, you can do great without it.

I used to make sales with very little product knowledge, which I simply learned on the go. The ability to handle the client’s needs is far more important. Because if people like you and trust you, they will be more forgiving as long as you know how to provide an honest explanation. Such is the power of interpersonal skills.


In my practice, I also teach salesmanship to small businesses. Most of the inabilities to pursue and close sales lay in thinking about yourself, your product and your goals, rather than thinking about the client, his situation and his needs.

But in order to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you need to take off your shoes first. Consequently, prepare yourself mentally: others might have something to say which is important to them. And if it’s important to them, there is a possibility it will be important to you. So for the time being, your say doesn't matter. Jordan Peterson wrote a chapter about emphatic listening in his latest book, ‘12 Rules for Life’.

Furthermore, try to understand the feeling. That just might open a possibility to see and understand the situation from your clients perspective. Only then you will be able to come up with a satisfactory solution.  


In short, selling is the ability to make others want what you want them to want. So, if you want to convince your associates of an idea, new solution or to stay longer at work, you need to exert influence. And there are techniques that can be extremely useful. Let’s look at three:

  • Argumentation using benefits
  • Framing and presuppositions
  • Dealing with difficult customers

I teach all of the above techniques (and more) in my training and consultations and you need to know that without proper guidance and practice they will be nothing but tricks. And eventually, people will see through the tricks.

Public Speaking

I know it supposed to be only three so let’s make a public speaking a bonus on our salesmanship list. I specifically listed it here, between salesmanship and negotiation, because sometimes you need to do a presentation of your product or idea to a group of people. Even two potential buyers can be considered a group.

As with body language, public speaking is an essential skill for all professionals. You really should take a course or hire a coach to eradicate some cardinal mistakes, correct the little ones and build your speaking style upon your strengths – because even if you look the part, the little mistakes can damage your credibility. In the meantime take a look at this article we’ve posted some while ago.


man is an animal that makes bargains

You can’t be a good negotiator if you can’t sell. However, for the sake of this article, we will assume that you a brilliant at sales.

There is a clear line between selling and negotiating that you need to be aware of. Selling is persuading the customer that they want something. Negotiating is agreeing on all the details regarding the realization of the sale i.e. price, quantity, delivery, warranty etc. You negotiate a package, so therefore there needs to be more than one variable.

Negotiation is the art of giving and taking in order to achieve a compromise so we can move forward and develop a mutually beneficial relationship. But before you decide to negotiate you need to consider the alternatives.

What Are The Other Options?

The first is of course to persuade the other party that your proposition is the best possible. We already covered that in the smaller doll of our Matryoshka of interpersonal skills.

Another interesting option is to simply postpone until the circumstances change. An example could be asking for a promotion where there simply are no vacant positions within the business. You should signal your readiness whenever you feel ready but only push when the time is right.

You can also try to impose your will. However, that will be a sign that you have stopped thinking win-win and all you care about is yourself. That might break your relationship – at the very least it will harm it.

One more option to consider is giving up. I know, it doesn't sound good. But it’s actually reasonable when you don’t have another choice and are going to lose anyway. Conversely, giving up is a bad idea if you pay the price in the long run.


preparation to negotiation

Now, you’re in a position where you have more than one variable and all the other options don’t seem appropriate. This is where you start when negotiation is the way to go.

So, gather necessary information about your negotiation partner. This is vital to think about the other side as a partner, because your true enemies are the differences that you ought to overcome.

First of all, you need to establish whether your partner has the authority to make the agreement; otherwise, you might be wasting your time. However, if they do, make sure you come to the table with clear objectives.

Second, think about the factors that can influence the process, like the place, time, interpersonal distance or possible presence of an audience. All of them can make a difference and if you never thought about it then you have a lesson to learn.

Third, think of which style of negotiation you are going to employ. It’s also crucial to be able to recognize which style is being displayed by your partner. Knowing this will give you the edge but only if you have mastered the basics of interpersonal skills.

Broadly speaking we have two interfering factors: importance and complexity. The more important and complex negotiations, the more time you need to spend preparing.

Be Ready To Walk Away

negotiation walk away

There’s no way you can negotiate if you’re not ready to do that! Your partner needs to be absolutely convinced that you will walk away. To achieve that, your body language has to be coherent with what you say.

Showing nonchalance within culturally accepted limits is highly recommended but don’t exaggerate if you want to stay in the game. A reasonable ‘whatever’ attitude will do but you need to know how to tell when to stop and move on to details.

Remember, if you’re not ready to walk away, you’re running a risk of being screwed. I mean, it might not be the worse deal ever, but surely you could have done better.

So, your negotiation Matryoshka is solid and contains sales and communication dolls inside. It’s time to insert our little set into something a bit bigger.


The most important part of a manager’s role is to know how to manage yourself effectively – because if you can’t manage yourself, managing others will be mostly accidental. And that’s never going to end well. Instead of elaborating on this subject I’ll direct you to my free eBook ‘21 Days to Clarity’, which shares nine exercises you can practice daily.

21 days to clarity

Furthermore, below is a list of three essential interpersonal skills that every manager should master:

  • Managing yourself in time
  • Team building
  • Empowering and dealing with conflicts

Managing Yourself In Time

We all have different personalities and different circumstances that place various demands on our time. Obviously, you need to prioritize. To do that, you need to know your and your company’s goals.  

In the context of the interpersonal skills, you need to know how much time you can spend on particular human-related tasks. That includes briefings, dealing with conflicts, meeting your boss or clients and individual conversations. You need to find time for all of them and prioritize accordingly. Some conversations, like personal issues, can’t be dealt with in five minutes. You need to make sure that you put aside a sufficient amount of time, so you won’t have to come back to it ever again.

Team Building

team work

First and foremost, you need to know that there is a difference between a team and a bunch of people. If you like football, then the best example of such a difference would be the German national team from 2014 and 2018. In 2014 they became the world champions and yet with only a few changes in 2018, they went out at the group stage in the World Cup. Just watching them play one could clearly see that the team spirit evaporated long ago.

To build a team and effectively manage people you need to be able to recognize and categorize people’s behaviour. Therefore, you’ll need a basic knowledge of psychology, which will simultaneously expand your interpersonal skills. In my blog, I have a section of books so you can browse and see if you can find something for yourself. Or simply book yourself in for an initial consultation so we could find a suitable solution together.

Empowering and Dealing with Conflicts

Yes, you have to become a motivational power horse as our lives aren’t only about numbers. As a matter of fact, numbers come later, so consider putting a human factor on the pedestal. However, there will be days when even you don’t feel like getting out there – but you have to be able to match the current demands of the situation. If you struggle with it, take a step back and improve your self-management skills.

Conflict (or rather ‘creative tension’) can be good and serve the team well but only when it is handled skilfully. This is where the know-how of dealing with a difficult customer comes in handy, at least in the beginning. In the next stage, negotiations skills are more important.

Furthermore, a knowledge of transactional analysis would be very useful. Understanding human behaviour is crucial when dealing with conflicts. I suggest you read a brilliant book by Eric Berne, ‘Games People Play’. It will make it easier to mediate and arrive at a lasting solution.

I hope you can see it clearly by now: you can’t be a good manager if you can’t negotiate.


Finally, we’ve arrived at the biggest part of interpersonal skills: leadership. If you’ve read this far, you probably realise by now how important all of the listed skills are and how they interfere with each other.

When it comes to leadership you need to remain respectful towards your position and the responsibility with which it comes. A leader, after all, isn’t only someone who can show the direction but is someone who can actually take you there. Here is the list of three that can make it happen for you:

  • Vision – articulated and translated into little, everyday actions.
  • Coaching skills – elevating people
  • Cultural aspects – creating and maintaining a set of desired behaviours within the business

Vision: The Attainable Dream

What sets leaders and managers apart is the vision. If you’re a leader, you certainly see something that others can’t and are able to articulate it in a way that people want to follow you. How vigorously they will follow depends on your communication, public speaking and salesmanship skills. All of that we can describe as influencing skills. I like the way John Maxwell puts it: “Leadership is Influence”.

You also need to become a brilliant storyteller. According to Michael Hauge, the primary objective of any storyteller is to give the listeners and the readers the emotional experience of success. It’s hard to disagree with that because all emotions have to have a physiological reaction. Emotions propel people to action! Explore this subject further by reading ‘Storytelling made easy’.

Coaching Skills

Being a coach is a tricky job because you – like everyone – could do with a coach. However, as long as you are at least a step ahead you can serve others with your advice. But coaching is way more than just a piece of advice; it‘s a process in which you help another person articulate and achieve their objectives. Or to put it differently, to help people fulfil their wishes and make their dreams come true.

The most important aspect to know is that you can’t coach somebody who doesn’t feel safe with you. It just not going to work. To grasp the basics of that, go to my article ‘4 steps to inspire growth’.

Furthermore, you need to ask questions until your coachee comes to clear conclusions about their needs. A minimum of psychoanalytical knowledge is required to conduct this process accurately – otherwise you might find it difficult to ask the right questions.

In addition, you have to be able to suggest the desired course of action. The best coaches navigate the process in a way that coachee believes that he himself came up with the answer. Again, asking specifically tailored, framed and presupposed questions is crucial.

Finally, you need to monitor the process of change and be able to manage that. Change management should be a subject that you have at your fingertips. But do you? It’s crucial for the success of the coachee.

Creating Culture

This is one of my favourite topics and I think it’s the most important of all interpersonal skills when it comes to the leadership doll. The culture is something that creates or breaks civilisations and it all starts with leadership. If the leaders are rotten, spoiled and weak then the whole business will gradually fall apart, like all the empires of the past.

organisational culture

Edgar Henry Schein, professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, noted that when a group achieves success which lasts for a certain period of time, the members of the group become devoted to specific decisions and actions that seem to resolve problems and led them to that success. These are the foundations upon which all organizational cultures are created. To change a culture, you need to take a strategic approach because all tactics will simply fall short with such a lengthy and demanding process.

The best approach developed so far is the culture of kaizen – systematic and continuous improvement. The main statement of the kaizen culture goes like this: everyone, everywhere, every day. It’s quite radical but you can’t talk about the kaizen culture if your organization's approach is: somebody, somewhere, sometimes.

However, it’s definitely worth the effort as the cultural change will not only bring more revenues but will make your people feel fulfilled. Ultimately, it’s all about the people.  


As you can see, our Matryoshka of interpersonal skills has a multi-layer and multi-component structure. Each layer consists of a couple of components, which – when separated – reveal a smaller figure inside. Yes, you still can be a good salesman, manager, negotiator or a leader on the outside. But if you lack in any of the internal building layers you will be like an empty shell or a Matryoshka figure without any smaller dolls within. Your character will be tested under pressure and your shell will break to reveal that there isn’t much inside. To avoid that make sure that your game is solid, complete our quiz and see by how much you could improve. 

Martin May

Managing Director at Intelligent and Lazy Management Consulting. Coach, trainer, blogger. "How we say it is more important than what we say"

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 0 comments