Interpersonal communication skills

From CEOpedia | Management online

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).

Examples of Interpersonal communication skills

  • Active listening: The ability to focus on the speaker, understand their message, and provide feedback. For example, when someone is telling you about a difficult problem they are facing, you can show your interest by nodding and asking questions to clarify their message.
  • Empathy: The ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. For example, when a close friend is going through a difficult time, you can make them feel understood by validating their emotions and expressing your concern for them.
  • Conflict Resolution: The ability to identify and address conflicts in a constructive manner. For example, when two co-workers disagree on an issue, you can facilitate a conversation between them by helping them understand each other’s points of view and come to a compromise.
  • Assertiveness: The ability to express your thoughts, feelings, and needs in a direct and respectful way. For example, when you are asked to do something you don’t want to do, you can politely explain why you can’t do it without being aggressive or passive.
  • Open-Mindedness: The ability to be open to different perspectives and ideas. For example, when discussing a controversial topic, you can show respect to other people’s views by listening to their arguments and considering their points of view.

Advantages of Interpersonal communication skills

Interpersonal communication skills provide a variety of advantages, including the ability to build relationships, increase understanding, and resolve conflicts.

  • Building relationships: Interpersonal communication skills allow people to build relationships with each other by expressing their thoughts, feelings, and ideas in a respectful and meaningful way. This can help create an environment of trust and respect which is essential for any successful relationship.
  • Increasing understanding: Interpersonal communication skills allow people to increase their understanding of others by actively listening, asking questions, and providing constructive feedback. Through this process, each person can gain a better understanding of what the other person is saying and can respond accordingly.
  • Resolving conflicts: Interpersonal communication skills allow people to resolve conflicts by taking the time to listen to each other and understanding each other's perspectives. This could include active listening, compromise, and problem-solving to find a solution that works for everyone.

Limitations of Interpersonal communication skills

Interpersonal communication skills are essential for successful interaction and understanding between two or more people, however, there are several limitations to these skills. These limitations include:

  • Poor listening skills: Not all people possess the ability to actively listen, which can lead to misunderstanding or miscommunication.
  • Inability to articulate: Some people may lack the vocabulary and/or articulation skills necessary to communicate effectively.
  • Insensitivity to others: People may not be aware of the impact their words can have on others, and thus may be insensitive or dismissive.
  • Inability to recognize nonverbal cues: People may not be able to interpret the nonverbal cues of others, such as body language and facial expressions, leading to confusion and frustration.
  • Lack of empathy: Without the ability to empathize with others, it can be difficult to interpret what the other person is trying to communicate.
  • Lack of self-awareness: Without being aware of one's own thoughts and feelings, it can be difficult to understand the thoughts and feelings of others.

Other approaches related to Interpersonal communication skills

Interpersonal communication skills involve a combination of abilities that enable people to interact and understand one another.

  • Active Listening: The ability to focus on the speaker and attentively listen in order to comprehend and interpret the message being conveyed.
  • Self-Awareness: The capacity to recognize and understand one's own emotions, behaviour, and motives.
  • Empathy: The ability to recognize and understand the emotions and feelings of others.
  • Verbal Communication: The ability to express oneself clearly and effectively in a spoken language.
  • Non-Verbal Communication: The ability to effectively understand and interpret body language, facial expressions, and other non-verbal cues.
  • Conflict Resolution: The ability to navigate difficult conversations and reach mutually beneficial resolutions.

Summary: Interpersonal communication skills involve a combination of abilities including active listening, self-awareness, empathy, verbal and non-verbal communication, and conflict resolution. These skills are essential for successful interactions between people.

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Author: Małgorzata Goryl