graphic of two abstract people with talking bubble with images

Relational Skills 

It’s Never Too Late to Be a Kick-Ass Adult



Relational skills are the foundational skills that we need to interact effectively with others.

The Relational Skills fall under the umbrella of communication skills.

However, that term is not only over-used but is rarely defined. Many will roll their eyes at the mention of communication skills because they believe that they know how to communicate. We may not fully understand communication skills and therefore don’t see the need to learn more about them.

Many of us have been required to sit through workplace communication skills training that consisted of superficial touchy-feely exercises that we were unable to apply to real life. Those trainings did nothing to reduce the tension in the office, improve the approach of the aggressive shop floor supervisor, help co-workers get along better, or identify the underlying cause of the disputes at every staff meeting. 

When the average person is asked if they would like to improve their communication skills they often respond with a “been there; done that.”

We don’t communicate effectively because we don’t speak directly and we don’t get specific. 

The lack of specificity and clarity keeps us from increasing our relational skills proficiency. We use vague buzzwords that we never define. We each have our own idea of what something means, but we rarely share that with others. The result is that we crash into someone else’s definition that differs from ours and we end up in a messy conflict or with a broken heart.

Our messages to each other are ineffective because we don’t say what we need to say. We beat around the bush. We talk in cliches and use vague language with qualifiers.

Sometimes we do this because we aren’t emotionally literate and are therefore unsure exactly what we are feeling.

We also do this because we believe that if we get specific or speak more directly, we might sound unkind. That is only true if we have not learned how to express ourselves directly with empathy. We don’t know how to be more specific and we often don’t know what we need. We don’t know how to describe our experiences or express ourselves clearly. We do our best but our vague messages and hesitant tiptoeing often create confusion.

Communication is difficult because we haven’t received any guidance. We have no roadmap. We feel unsure and are afraid of being vulnerable. We may find it easier to stay silent and hope others know what we need. That rarely works.

For starters, improving your relational skills means learning:

  • to be more self-aware
  • to be assertive (but not aggressive)
  • to strengthen our personal boundaries
  • to know when and how to set appropriate limits
  • to identify and understand our emotional triggers
  • to know how to manage ourselves emotionally
  • to strengthen our empathy muscles if necessary
  • to know how to communicate clearly and directly

Relational Skills in Organizations

In an organization, if members have good relational skills, everyone will get along better, have fewer conflicts and know how to resolve the conflicts that do arise.

Members of an organization can have difficulty working as a team in business meetings if the leader is not proficient in relational skills.

Procedural skills also play an important role in the effectiveness of an organization. The relational and procedural skills are interdependent and augment each other. The best leaders have competency in both sets of skills.  

Relational Skills Sequence

This diagram illustrates how self-awareness is a central underlying skill with other skills building sequentially on top of it: assertiveness, boundaries, equanimity, and conflict resolution.


However, there is not always a neatly stacked sequence. We can work on improving skills in any order.


As we strengthen one relational skill we will notice that other relational skills are enhanced. Each one supports the others.

Click on the Relational Skill you’d like to learn more about:

people with their heads in the sand


Self-awareness is a good place to start. While it’s not essential to learn it first, it’s the foundation that other skills are built upon. A necessary element for increasing self-awareness is willingness. As long as we are “teachable” we can increase our self-awareness in ways that will be life-changing. It requires attention to things we previously have not noticed.


group talking


Assertiveness is the opposite of passivity but it is not aggression. What’s profound is that it’s the cure for aggression. It teaches direct communication that includes compassion. Assertiveness improves relationships because it’s respectful with no room for passive-agressive behavior.


Personal Boundaries

Your personal boundaries are what help keep you safe physically, emotionally, intellectually, and sexually. Strengthening your boundaries will change your life. You’ll learn self-care and how to prevent others from taking advantage of you. Learning assertiveness will help you with limit setting.


facilitated group

Equanimity/Emotional Management

Equanimity is our ability to maintain our composure in everyday life under all kinds of conditions, especially when we are under pressure. It’s related to emotional self-management and is our ability to manage feelings of anger and moderate aggressive behavior.


women sitting at a conference table

Direct Compassionate Communication

Direct and compassionate communication does not come naturally to most of us. The NVC communication model teaches how to remove judgment from your messages which will transform how they are received.


Conflict Resolution

The secret to resolving conflicts is for each party to understand the concerns of the other. We often think we understand, but we might simply see it as something we don’t agree with and continue to try to convince them to see it our way.


man and woman couple listening to each other

Receptive & Reflective Listening

Listening is similar to self-awareness in that it holds no place in a sequence but is an umbrella skill. Deep listening is a communication skill that increases proficiency in all the other skills.


laptop with two fists viewed from above and crumpled paper

The Art of Nonviolence

Nonviolence is a holistic paradigm that encompasses all aspects of our lives once we embrace its life-affirming orientation. The late John Lewis was the best modern-day role model of Nonviolence Discipline.