We’ve talked about interpersonal communication before. Simply put, it refers to your people skills — the ways in which you communicate with the people in your life, whether those people are your family members, friends or work colleagues. And it's not all about what you say, but also how you say it — and how well you receive others' messages, too.
People who are better adept at interpersonal communication are empathetic and do well with regard to both diplomacy and negotiation. That's why employers are increasingly seeking employees who have these soft skills. Let’s break down these skills.
Interpersonal Communication Soft Skills
Diplomacy is the ability to deal with a person in a sensitive and effective way. Anyone can learn knowledge, but a person’s ability to interpret, translate or effectively explain that information is highly valued. When you say someone is a "natural diplomat," it's understood to mean that he or she is skilled at bringing two opposing ideas or individuals together. And that matters to employers because they seek employees who can build bridges within an organization and with that organization's partners in meaningful ways.
A good negotiator is someone who communicates with the goal of reaching an agreement. To succeed at negotiation, one needs to have strong interpersonal communication skills and be someone who can get things done to meet the goals of the organization.
Empathy is often confused with sympathy. The difference is that empathic people can understand or share the feelings of other people — they can put themselves in another's shoes. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone. An empathic person feel sads when his or her best friend feels sad and he or she can understand another person’s reaction and emotions — they have perspective. While empathy is not the same as compassion, empathic people are usually compassionate people.
The good news is that it's not difficult to improve upon these skills by practicing. Here's how you can work on your interpersonal communication soft skills.
How to Practice Soft Skills
Start by listening to yourself and working on your own self-awareness. Make sure that you are in touch with what you are saying as well as how you are saying it — are there ways you can help improve your delivery? Then make sure you are hearing what the other person is saying and paying attention to how they are saying it.
Pay Attention to Detail
Make eye contact and provide feedback when you're receiving a message. Pay attention to your body language and try to keep open in the workplace. (Read: Crossed arms are not open body language.)
Try to focus on remaining calm and steady, especially during emotionally-charged conversations. Being passionate about your ideas is great, but letting that passion get in the way of delivering your message effectively is not so great.
Have an Open Mind
Practice empathy by trying to see the other person’s point of view. It may not change your mind, but it may help to understand where they are coming from.
Develop your diplomacy and negotiation skills by making sure that you always allow the other person to make their points during your conversation. And understand that resolving a conflict or coming to an agreement does not mean that everyone always gets exactly what they want — sometimes negotiation and conflict-resolution mean compromise.
The aforementioned soft skills that develop with interpersonal communication are important both in the workplace and in your personal life. But, beyond practicing, the key to developing those skills is understanding how interpersonal communication works in the first place. It can be broken down into various elements so that it's more easily understood.
Interpersonal Communication Elements
In order to have a conversation, at least two communicators must be present. These communicators should be working interactively and in sync with one another, talking and listening simultaneously. Both individuals are sending and receiving messages to and from each other.
The messages are what is being sent and received to and from each communicator. They're not necessarily verbal; rather, they can be facial expressions and gestures, as well.
The noise doesn't literally refer to noise but, rather, complicated jargon, cultural barriers and the like. Noise refers to anything that can lead to the misinterpretation of the intended message.
The feedback refers to the messages that the receiver returns to the sender — albeit verbal acknowledgment, facial expressions, head nods or otherwise. When a receiver gives constructive feedback, it lets the sender know how accurately the message was received to thus continue or adjust accordingly.
The context is a nuanced element. It includes the setting in which the conversation takes place (i.e. an office or a coffee shop), the social context with regard to the communicators (i.e. their roles and relative status), and the emotional climate that could affect their messages.
A conversation always happens via a channel — it could be a face-to-face interaction or it could happen via phone, email or video call.
In short: Interpersonal communication is important in the workplace, and organizations are seeking to build their teams and foster leaders who strongly demonstrate the soft skills of a good communicator. Showing that you understand someone or a concept in the workplace (your emotional intelligence) is sometimes more important than showing your intelligence by the common sense of the word. It’s great to have a new big idea, to create that new hit craze and innovate in ways no one has. But none of that will matter if you can’t effectively communicate why your new big idea is better than those that came before it. And none of that will matter if you can't be a team member, either.
Lissa Kline is currently the Director of Member Services at Progyny, overseeing the Patient Care Advocates. She worked at Columbia University Medical Center for several years in the division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility. Involved in Patient Services and the Donor Egg Program she loved working patients while they underwent fertility treatment. Lissa graduated with a Master of Science in Social Work from Columbia University.