Interpersonal communication skills

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Interpersonal communication skills
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Interpersonal communication skills encompass a set of abilities that facilitate interaction and understanding between people. They are "the means through which relationships are initiated, negotiated, maintained, and ended" (Knapp, M., 2002, p. 567). Krauss lists four main communication models: "Encoder/Decoder models, Intentionalist models, Perspective-taking models, and Dialogic models" (1996, p. 9).

Interpersonal communication means interaction between at least two people, who act as active listeners and speakers (McIntosh, P., 2008, p. 1). The opposite phenomenon, called broadcasting, takes place when listeners are passive, not asking questions but only absorbing the information provided by the speaker (McIntosh, P., 2008, p. 2).

Apart from verbal messages passed to the listener, interpersonal communication skills are reflected through the voice tone, its volume as well as body language (McIntosh, P., 2008, p. 2). As indicated by Abbasi, "these skills are already innate in us but it depends upon our own volition on what to do with these skills" (2011, p. 249). Communication skills are useful both in face-to-face interactions and online contacts, the latter being more common nowadays due to globalisation and widespread popularity of social networking sites (West, R., 2011, p. 9). The importance of communication has also been stressed by Sethi, who called this skill "a lifeblood of an organization" (2009, p. 32).

Although message is at the core of every communication, people involved in it need to consider possible interferences coming from their surrounding. Interpersonal communication skills help to manage these background disturbances, which include:

  • physical noise, i.a. the one coming from the outside
  • physiological noise, e.g. speech disorders
  • psychological noise, involving person's opinions and views as well as prejudices
  • semantic noise, resulting from different meanings assigned to the same piece of information (West, R., 2011, pp. 13-14).

The relation between context and interpersonal communication skills

Taking into account all the constraints and problems that people engaged in a conversation face, it becomes evident why interpersonal communication is considered an ability. However, this ability concerns not only the message itself, but also gives speakers and listeners better recognition and understanding of the context in which the conversation takes place. A skillful speaker can communicate a message in such a way that makes the information understood to the listener in a given context (West, R., 2011, p. 14). Different types of the context determine the selection of verbal and non-verbal communication techniques used in conversations.

As outlined by West, "context is multidimensional and can be physical, cultural, psychological, or historical" (West, R., 2011, p. 14). Thus, while communicating with others, it is essential to adopt to the type of the listeners, by taking into consideration the following aspects: age, educational background, cultural conditioning, social status, level of seniority at work, etc. The speaker who is fully aware of different backgrounds and experiences their listeners demonstrate can get the message across easier than the speaker who is unaware of them.

Cultural differences and interpersonal communication skills

Cultural differences are most pronounced in business relations, where there is a significant exposure to people of different nations and customs. Interpersonal communication skills in business environment may be demonstrated e.g. through the engagement in small talk before the main discussion takes place or addressing listeners in the way accepted in their cultures (avoiding being too direct or too indirect with some of the interlocutors).

Individuals with developed interpersonal communication skills will show considerable respect while addressing listeners coming from high-power distance cultures (like China or India), being less formal in discussions with people e.g. from the United States or the United Kingdom, which are considered low-power distance countries (West, R., 2011, p. 92) Interpersonal communication skills also mean the ability to give and receive constructive and informative feedback on the problem discussed. The feedback can be provided in both verbal and non-verbal manner, the latter involving posture, gestures or mimics (West, R. 2011, p. 16).


Author: Małgorzata Goryl