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Orchestrate Change

ORCHESTRATING CHANGE: Interpersonal Skills

By Paul A. Douglas, Ph.D. Founder & CEO, P.A. Douglas & Associates Inc.

Clearly, the rules at work have changed and continue to change. Today you are judged by a different yardstick.

Success today is not solely determined by how smart you are, how much education you have, or even how well you can do the job from a purely technical perspective, but more and more you are being judged by how well you can work with other people.

This new measure of success is being used increasingly in recruitment, advancement, and even termination. We are of course talking about interpersonal skills. Not only must the outstanding administrative professional have excellent technical and business skills, but he or she must also have excellent interpersonal skills.

It has certainly been my experience in working with over 100,000 administrative professionals over the past four decades that that the most successful and respected AP’s score high on these ‘soft skills.’

Soft skills are character traits and interpersonal skills. Character traits tend to be genetically ingrained, unlike occupational or hard skills, which are learned and honed over time. They are less what we know and more the core of who we are. While experience in similar positions may get you the interview, your ability to showcase these so skills should get you the job. I believe the following ‘soft skills’ are essential for any administrative professional.

Superior Communication Skills

The ability to communicate effectively with superiors, colleagues, and subordinates and clients is essential, no matter what industry you work in. The administrative professional interacts with a wide range of people, frequently exchanging information, but also training and supervising others. The quality of communication can make or break your professional image. It directly influences how others view your work and performance.

Excellent verbal and written communications are all called for when delegating tasks, giving instruction and providing feedback. This essential interpersonal skill fosters teamwork and creates positive connections with bosses, co-workers and clients.

Improved communication skills have another important upside. Administrative Professionals who communicate effectively are perceived as being more mature and responsible and are more often rewarded with raises and promotions.


Be diplomatic: Diplomacy and tact is close to the top of my list of soft or interpersonal skills. It is an absolute must have.

The art of dealing with people in a sensitive and tactful way becomes even more important when you rise higher in the organization. You have to be able to handle office politics carefully and professionally. Unfortunately, diplomacy and tact doesn’t always come naturally. Even when it does, such communication can easily be derailed by your emotions. It takes awareness, mindfulness, and possibly training, but it is a skill you must develop.

Be a Good Listener

Most people are “hard of listening,” rather than “hard of hearing.” By listening effectively, you let the other person know that they have been heard, and encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings more fully. Active listening is just that, ‘active.’

Active listening communicates a genuine interest in what the person is saying and includes eye contact, posture, facial expressions, and gestures. It will involve paraphrasing what you have heard in order to show the person that you truly understand what has been said.

Consciously avoid bad listening habits of interrupting the person you are speaking with, or talking before they have had a chance to finish what they are saying. Talking too much is another issue.


Concision is minimizing words, while still fully conveying an idea or important information. It aims to enhance communication by eliminating redundancy.

Good communication means saying just enough – not too little, but also not too much. Other people’s time is valuable, particularly your boss’s. Try to convey your message in as few words as possible. Say what needs to be said clearly and directly, whether you are speaking to someone in person, on the phone, or via email: BE CONCISE! If you ramble on and on, people just tune you out.

Think about what you want to say before you say it; this will help you to avoid talking excessively.

Honoring confidentiality

Many AP’s handle information that must be kept confidential. The administrative professional is in a position of trust, which imposes certain ethical obligations.

But it is not just financial or personal issues. The same is true for information that your boss or colleague might mention in conversations without taking out the ‘top secret’ stamp. The rumor mill has enough grinders. Like it or not, your job as an administrative professional puts you right in the middle of things.

That often means dealing with office politics and confidentiality issues. Assistants often have to deal with professional problems and complaints, but sometimes personal ones as well. Try to stay neutral and be as diplomatic as you can, recognizing that your job is not necessarily to resolve these issues, but rather to act as a messenger or liaison: always try to be fair and helpful.

To succeed and advance as a top level administrative professional you require intelligence, discretion and exceptional people skills.

Good luck and best wishes.

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